Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 7, 2019
At the time of this writing, the Jews were in deep despair over the slow rebuilding of their home town after a long exile. The prophet calls for the opposite of despair, using tender and sensual images.
Some among the Galatian Christians were boasting about how thoroughly they kept the old laws of Moses. Paul doesn't want that law imposed on new converts, so he boasts about surprising things that are his because of Christ.
You might think of this gospel as the very early church's meditation on the question, "Why doesn't everybody else believe the good news that we believe?"
The Historical Situation: It's hard to pin down the context and author of this passage, from the third great division of the book of Isaiah, chapters 56-66. It would make sense to assume that some godly person spoke this to exiles returning from the Babylonian Captivity. (That was the period, also called the Exile, when many, but not all, residents were taken away from Judea and held in Babylon for a couple of generations in the sixth century B.C.E. We know from the second part of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, that the rebuilding of their hometown Jerusalem was disappointingly slow.)
Apparently the people were losing faith that God would restore things for them, for the prophet is almost defensive in his assertion "the Lord's power shall be known to his servants." And the imagery is quite extravagant. It's as if the prophet himself is whistling in the dark, to stave off doubt and despair.
The Lector's Proclamation: If it is doom and gloom that the prophet is combating, he employs a clever psychological trick, the tender but powerful image of a nursing mother. Who can argue with that? As lector, your job is to deliver this convincingly. But don't sound bombastic, or you'll spoil the tenderness of the nursing imagery.
Say "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her," like you're speaking to dispirited people not inclined to be glad; you're trying to turn around a bunch of complainers. Slow down for the nursing imagery, pausing after "her abundant breasts." This image will take your listeners by surprise (when did you last hear such a suggestion?), so give them a moment to let it sink in. In the next sentence, the prophet repeats his source of authority, "For thus says the LORD," so you should summon an authoritative tone for that and for what follows.
The Historical Situation: Among the Christians in Galatia, some were teaching that, in order to be saved, Christians still had to keep the Judaic law, even to the point of being circumcised. Modern scholars call these the "Judaizers," for their attempt to make Christianity back into a kind of Judaism. Some of these people were boasting that they kept the law so scrupulously. Saint Paul argues forcefully that God requires no such thing, and that keeping such a false obligation is nothing to boast about. These concluding verses of the letter to the Galatians lack the common friendly and personal greetings found in other Pauline letters. That's because Paul was angry with the Galatians for stupidly and obstinately accepting the false arguments of the Judaizers (see Lector's Notes on earlier chapters of the letter, from the prior two Sundays).
Appreciating Paul's Rhetorical Devices: Astonishingly, Paul boasts about what would otherwise be shameful, the execution of Jesus on the cross. (Could you hold up your head in polite society if your brother had been executed for a capital crime?) "Crucified to the world" is another strong image, meaning that Paul's relationship with the world is no longer governed by the old law, or anything else from the past, but by his relationship with Christ. "Marks of Jesus on my body" contrasts with several other kinds of bodily marks familiar in the ancient world: the brand marks on slaves, brand marks self-imposed by the devotees of some pagan gods, tattoos proclaiming the state of life of soldiers, and circumcision. The marks on Paul, some real from the occasional flogging, some figurative like the "gray hairs" our children give us, all come from his service of Jesus.
Your Proclamation: You could deliver this in the argumentative way that Paul originally said it. Then, when you say that circumcision matters not, you'll really be knocking down any obligation, whether religious or otherwise, that doesn't grow from your relationship with Christ crucified and risen.
From the website feelgrafix.com, a source of free computer wallpaper pictures. Search for "stunning harvest"; this image is in the top row of the first page of results.
This page updated May 26, 2019