With race tensions high in our country – from Ferguson to Charlottesville – it got me thinking: how would St. Paul respond?
It’s a good question, especially since this foundational saint wasn’t shy and he probably would have said something…
In fact, he often told it as it was.
Perhaps, a look at Galatians will give us our answer.
Here’s how St. Paul articulates the gospel there:
…yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ… [and through this] I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:16, 20 RSV)
By faith, we are united to Christ, and, as he says in another place, we become a new creation. That is to say, Christ now lives in us.
We are longer ourselves. As such, we have a new identity, a new purpose for living. A new way of living.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27-29 RSV)
Our old identities have passed away. We are no longer separated by race, class, or gender.
When we look at one another, we see now only Christ.
The prominent sign of this gospel is the fact that all people, of every race, class, and gender, can come together to share the most intimate experience of God: the Eucharistic meal.
In worship, the central act of Christians, we are ONE family.
In St. Paul’s lifetime, the rubber met the road. St. Paul was challenged by St. Peter.
In Galatians, St. Paul explains that he took this message to the leaders in Jerusalem, and they all agreed: yes, this is the way it is.
Even St. Peter, when he was in Galatia, lived with all Christians as one, and he ate with them no matter who they were.
But then, a group “from James” comes, and Peter starts eating only with fellow Judeans and not the Gentiles.
St. Paul takes him to task for it.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel– not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7 RSV)
One cannot be a Christian and turn your back on other Christians. One cannot divide the Eucharistic meal by racial, social, or gender identities.
St. Paul was clear: this was a betrayal of the gospel.
Through baptism, we have put on Christ and have become brothers and sisters, seeing only Christ in others.
But this isn’t just an ideal for gathering to celebrate the Eucharist. It is an ideal for everyday living.
We are called to love our neighbor and follow the example of our Lord: a God who was willing to take on human form so that he could die for us. In other words, we should be willing to sacrifice for Christ and our neighbor.
I’ll leave you with this quote from a very early Christian saint, Justin Martyr, who summed it all up very nicely:
We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.