By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Galatians 3:1-14
1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 2The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? 4Did you experience so much for nothing? — if it really was for nothing. 5Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
6 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” 7so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘“All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” 9For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” 12But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.” 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Perhaps sometimes theological instruction should begin, not with theological statements, but with a query into the human condition: What do we need? Here’s an answer I find in my own life: I want to be a good person, but I’m not. I want the life a good person has, but I don’t have it. I need help.
In one of St. Paul’s densest constructions, he affirms that Jesus came to help us with this need. I want to be good, but the law says that I am a sinner. When I fail to keep God’s law, the law says I deserve to reap the miserable life that a sinner sows. What I need is someone who can free me from this curse, open up the possibility of leading a good life. Jesus is the one who inherited the promise of blessing for all people, and anyone united with Jesus will receive that blessing. What I need is to be united with Jesus.
So I need union with the Lord Jesus, but I am under a curse of the law that says union with the Lord is not something I have earned. What does Jesus do? He becomes our curse on the cross. By bearing my curse for me, Jesus wears on his body for all eternity the nail holes that affirm the cost of sin, the law’s accurate judgment, and God’s love and power. In satisfying the law’s judgment of me, he also unites me with himself in death and in resurrection. I cease to be the slave of a sinner’s lot, and I cease to be a sinner, having become a new creation as a gift of the Christ who loves us and destroyed the curse for all our sakes.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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