Monday, June 27, 2016

Galatians 6:1-18

This passage occurs as the RCL New Testament Lesson during year C, most recently July 2016.

Summary one:  This passage is full of contradictions, or as Lutherans call them, dialectics.  We are called to bear one another's burdens, yet carry our own load; boast in our work, yet only boast in Christ; we are called to do good for all, yet do good chiefly for those in the community.  Phew.  I don't think a preacher or pastor or theologians should resolve these tensions.  This is life in the spirit, which we are called to walk in (5:25).  I think Paul's challenging words here call us into a community of discernment.  Ultimately, we are called in this community back to the cross, where we can realize we will not get it right, but finally Christ will bring about a new creation.

Summary two:  Paul presents us with a couple of images of the church here.  A hospital, a family and a big arrow to the cross.  Perhaps even a military unit.

Summary three:  The canon within the canon, ladies and gentlemen, is, Christ crucified and the new creation.  Done.

Key words:
προσλαμβανω ("catch", Gal 6:1)   The word here for catch is "prolambano." "λαμβανω" is a common word in Greek, meaning give or take. The pro prefix is also a familiar word meaning before or ahead of time.   So this word means 'catch ahead.' Interestingly, this phrase then almost means "If you catch someone before they sin..." The point here is not simply admonishment but prevention of further injury.

καταρτιζω ("restore", 6:1)  The word for "restore" here is "katartizo" which is related to the Greek medical term for "set a bone in place." This obviously takes skill, time and care. What a powerful image about admonishment! Another image comes from Hebrews 11:3, where God καταρτιζ-ed, ie, "prepared", the world by his Word. Talk about skill and time and energy!

πνεθματικος ("spiritual"), 6:1, the word for "spiritual" appears a lot in other Pauline writings, see 1 Cor 2:13, but it is not developed in Galatians. It is worth noting here that the point of our justification, of our ultimate union with Christ, is not to disregard the world, but the enter more fully into it, to help heal others.

βασταζετε ("bear"), 6:2 (and also 6:5).   In 6:2, "Bear one another's burdens" is in the present imperative: Continually and keep bearing one another's burdens. This is an on-going work. It also appears in 6:5.

Curiously there are different Greek (and English) words used for the object of the bearing:
Bear one another's burden (6:2)
Each must carry their own load (6:5)
The first object, burden or βαρος, probably means more weight (and can mean emotional weight).

The second one, load or φορτιον, means more merchandise, a specific thing you could carry, a load. Does Paul intend anything with these different images? Maybe one could say put them together something like this: You are responsible for making your own ship float but this does not absolve you from helping your neighbor's sinking boat either. I wonder if this is a case, like the Gospel of John, where you can try to splice synonyms and not get very far!

καυχμα ("boast", verb in 6:14, 6:4)  The NRSV and NIV locate the pride in different places, based on how they translate εαυτου. The NRSV indicates the pride is in the work. The NIV (and NET) translate it as "Each can take pride in himself." It really says, "in himself" (eauton).   Eauton can mean his as in possessive, but if this were the case, Paul would use the word in the genitive.  (At least I think!)   Here I'd go with the NIV.

Ultimately, none of this boasting really matters because the only thing finally worth boasting about is the cross.  Paul warns here ultimate against spiritual pride, in that we can make the cross (or faith in it) a matter of our own doing by turning faith into works or faith itself into a work, instead of a gift.

oικειος, ("household", 6:10).  This word is really beautiful.  It describes a family member, a relative, one who would dwell with you.  Ephesians 2:19 also contains this:
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,"
I sometimes shy away from the idea of a family as a metaphor for church because it can be closed off (everyone considers their family loving but ask that to a new person coming in).  Yet it speaks to the intense care we can and should have for one another.

στοιχησουσιν ("walk," 6:16) This verb has its root in a military or ordered formation.  Paul also uses this verb in chapter 5:25.  Paul commends us to walk in the "stoicheo" of the Spirit; now we are to walk in-line with the standard of Christ crucified and the new creation

κανον ("standard", 6:16)  The word in chapter 6 is "canon," ie standard or law!  What is the canon within the canon:  Christ crucified and the new creation!

Grammar Review:  Negative imperatives
μη + verb, 6.7.   A μη imperative should be translated, "No longer" ie "Stop being afraid."   In this   "Stop being deceived."  (Notice the case of "mock" -- present.  God is continually not mocked, or in better English, God is never mocked.")

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