St. Paul doesn’t mince words or hold back on his feelings in his letter to the Galatians. I imagine if a teacher or leader today called his followers stupid or bewitched, he or she would find themselves on the receiving end of similar language in a variety of venues, from blogs to Facebook entries to YouTube videos or teaching evaluations. But Paul’s point, which follows closely on his theological explanation of the relationship between justification by reason of following the law versus by reason of faith, is that the Galatians (we) have slipped by regressing into a lesser understanding of how to live, of what faith in Christ means.
According to Benedict XVI, "’Being justified’ means being made righteous, that is, being accepted by God's merciful justice to enter into communion with him and, consequently, to be able to establish a far more genuine relationship with all our brethren: and this takes place on the basis of the complete forgiveness of our sins.” (General Audience, St. Peter’s, 8 Nov. 2006) Paul remonstrates his new converts for falling back into ways of adherence to the law rather than recognizing that faith in Jesus is the essence of their justification. Through His salvific act Jesus made possible the “complete forgiveness of our sins” and thus a fuller relationship with God and each other. Paul remembers the old ways – the ways of the flesh, the ways of the Talmudic law, and says more is required. The Galatians have seen the sacrifice Jesus made for them – what more do they need? Why do they regress?
In Luke’s telling of the parables on the power of persistence in prayer, Jesus helps us understand the need to continue to ask of God, to petition for help and guidance, to form good aspirations and expect good things from our prayer. These passages on one level help me understand that God will answer my requests with good gifts. But the difficult thing is that God gives us good gifts that only God might see as being good (as when Mom said to take the castor oil because it was “good for you”). I recall a story from deMello where the master reminds his followers that our lives are like beautiful tapestries that God weaves with our talents and gifts, and the events and challenges of our lives. We fail to see the beauty many times because we are viewing the tapestry from the reverse side, while God can see it in all its glory. So too the responses we might receive in our prayer – we fail to see their goodness because we look with mortal eyes instead from God’s perspective.
On another level, though, these passages from Luke help me see the need for my own persistence, and perhaps more importantly, my perseverance. In the first story, the visitor continues asking until he receives what he desires. In the second, those who ask, receive – if you don’t ask (if you don’t try, if you don’t pray), you don’t receive. Persistence – continuing to dialogue – God will answer, but we must initiate and ask. I am reminded of a little story – a man would pray every day “Please God, let me win the lottery.” Day after day, with no results. Finally in exasperation, he prayed “Lord, I ask day after day and I wonder if you hear me.” He listened and then he heard a voice say “Jim, help me out – buy a ticket!”
We, like the Galatians, regress. We fall back, we fall short, we fail to live up to our faith potential, we fail to act as we are called. What then should we ask for, what should we pray for, what should we desire? Paul’s answer is faith, faith in the Lord, faith in the message of Jesus, faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, faith in living in Jesus and thus in each other. Through this faith, and not through rigid adherence to the law, we are justified, and we live new lives.
And so my prayer today is one of gratitude for the faith I have received, for the grace to accept its power in my life, and for the gift of persistence.
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