Paul’s letter to the Galatians presents such a clear and unvarnished picture of an early christian community. It’s nice to know they fought even back then. Last week’s reading shows us Paul and Peter in open conflict, and by Paul’s account, never to speak again. Very different from the picture Luke presents in Acts. And they are arguing over the extent of the church’s radical hospitality. Same issue we are arguing about today.
In his week’s reading, Paul tells the Galatians to grow up. They have put on Christ, just like a Roman youth puts on the toga. Now, the paidagogus (tutor) is no longer following the youth around, so things could get wild. But Paul says that justification and maturity comes not through the workings of the law (following the rules of a grown up), but through faithfulness. Now that you are grown-ups, act like grown ups, even if the paidagogus isn’t around to catch you misbehaving. What is stunning in this reading is who puts on the toga: Jew and Greek, slave and free, man and woman. All of these differences, according to Paul, are socially constructed and so can be deconstructed. Jew and Greek, slave and free, we get. But male and female as socially constructed? That’s harder to comprehend. Paul sees that it can be undone. What else can be undone?
Luke places Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ immediately on the heels of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which functions as a type of the community’s radical hospitality. Demoniacs, dead girls, womem with flows of blood — all of them are seated for the meal of bread and fish, the eschatological banquet.
So, who is this Jesus who feeds these crowds? Is he Elijah, returned to usher in the messianic age? An ancient prophet, restoring the kingdom? None of these. He is the Christ of God, and the Son of Man, rolled into one. He is the eschatological figure. But whoever would follow, must take up the cross daily. Mark’s Jesus prepares his disciples to suffer knowing that the eschatological age is coming soon. The Son of Man is about to come on the clouds of glory. Any day now. Luke knows better. The eschatological Son of Man must suffer, and the end is not coming. The disciple must be prepared to suffer daily. That’s just the way things are. Some of those standing in Jesus’ presence have seen the end arrive, and this is what it looks like.
There will not come a time when everything is set to rights. It won’t come by everyone following the rules, but everyone coming to the table. Life is messy and is going to stay messy. We have the vision of the restoration of Jerusalem, but it’s a vision, something we can aim at, but never arrive at. This mess we’re in now, this is what it looks like. We have to be prepared to follow Jesus even without expecting him to come and set it all to rights. Whoever would be my disciple must deny self and take up the cross daily and follow me.