Second Reading: Galatians 6:14-18
The Scars of the Christian Life
14 I will not brag about anything, except about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has died to me because of his cross. And, because of it, I am dead to the world. 15 For being Jewish means nothing now. Being non-Jewish doesn’t mean anything either. All that matters is this: God made us new creatures.
16 May God give peace and mercy to everyone who is Christian. And may he give the same to his people, Israel.
17 Now I am tired. So, don’t let anyone bother me anymore, because I have scars on my body, just like Jesus.
18 Brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
14 May it not be for me to brag, except in the cross of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision is (worth) anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 As many as will walk (in life) by this rule, peace and mercy upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
17 Allow no one to present remaining toils to me. For I bear the stigmata of JESUS in my body.
18 The grace of the LORD JESUS CHRIST (be) with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
6:17b “For I bear the stigmata of JESUS in my body.” The word “stigmata” was left in the original Greek. Paul’s “stigmata” (i.e., scars) were from the many persecutions and beatings he suffered as a Christian missionary. Paul compared the signs on his body to those of Christ on the cross.
The modern sense of stigmata, the wounds on the palms, feet and side of a Christian mystic, began with the report of St. Francis of Assisi’s stigmata. So, this sense of the word does not date back to New Testament times.
This reading finishes those from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In it brevity, Paul took one more jab at his opponents, called for cessation of harassment, and bid his audience farewell.
As we have discussed in the past Sundays’ reflections, Paul opposed those who insisted that salvation from a Jewish Messiah required the faithful to become Jewish. In 6:12-13, Paul criticized his opponents for hiding behind Judaism in order to avoid persecution. (Roman government and Greek society were tolerant of Judaism; they admired the religion for its ancient roots and high moral standards.) And he pointed out the hypocrisy of his opponents; when they preached conversion among the Gentiles in the Galatian churches, they made themselves ritually unclean in the process! Yet, Paul implied, his opponents bragged about their accomplishments!
How did Paul respond to his opponents? First, he held up the reason for salvation: the cross of Christ. Under the cross, the divisions between the Jews and non-Jews were secondary in nature. Indeed, God made his children a “new creation,” a reference to the renewal of the cosmos in the end times.
Second, Paul responded to his critics with his life experiences. He had suffered persecution, beatings and whippings, even imprisonment for the faith. Could his opponents say the same? Through his sufferings, the status the world gave was meaningless. Indeed, the world treated Paul as if he were meaningless. His sufferings, like the cross itself, were treated as folly to the world. So, why should his opponents hide behind Judaism to attack him? Thus, he made a cynical comment aimed at his enemies: “Leave me alone! I bear the marks of Christ’s suffering.” Implicitly, he asked his opponents, “Do you bear these same scars?” Of course, the resounding answer to this rhetorical question would be “NO!” So, his opponents had no right to say anything.
With this final shot across the bow of the “Judaizers,” Paul bid his audience “good-bye.”
Paul’s self-defense presents us with a challenge: how do we measure our Christian life? Do we hide behind religion so we can make “potshots” at others? Or, do we show the scars we bear from a life lived in love, commitment, and suffering? One road is full of verbage, the other is authentic Christian living. One creates enemies, the other creates converts.
Where are the scars you bear as a Christian? How can you help others bear their scars? How do your scars help you love and serve others?