1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a – Ahab told Jezebel all Elijah had done. Elijah hides in a cave. He experiences a wind storm, earthquake and fire. God is not in them, but in the quiet whisper.
Isaiah 65:1-9 – Yahweh will judge, but not destroy everyone.
Psalm 42 – As the deer longs for streams of water, so my heart longs for you Lord.
and 43 – Vindicate me, O Lord, against an evil nation. Why so downcast O my soul?
Psalm 22:19-28 – Save me from the claws of the wild dog. Rescue me from the mouth of the lion.
Galatians 3:23-29 – The law was our custodian until Christ came. Now that faith is here, we are no longer under a guardian. There is no longer Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female, for we are all one in Christ our Lord.
Luke 8:26-39 – Jesus heals the Geresene demoniac.
1 Kings 19: The Sound of Silence
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.}
[5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”]
8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your
way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive,
you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.
Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. Queen Jezebel was hopping mad, and had sworn to execute Elijah in one day’s time. Elijah was running for his life. He made it one day into the wilderness. There he fell asleep, physically and emotionally exhausted. When he awakened, angels ministered to him with food. Strengthened by this food, he spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.
Wilderness experiences abound in the Bible. They are very important. It would be hard to miss the parallel with Moses’ 40 days with the Lord (Exodus 34:28). It rained and stormed 40 days and 40 nights in the Noah story. The angel ministered to Jesus during his forty days in the wilderness. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness. The message is clear. This is a holy moment, like other holy moments. More to the point, it is a holy crisis. Never waste a crisis. How will God use this crisis? What will God teach us? How might it move us from where we are?
What crises have you been through? Perhaps you are in a kind of wilderness yourself right now. Can you see the crisis as a holy moment? Where is God in the midst of the crisis, the wilderness? This is a theology of cross. God is there. God may not have created the crisis, but how might God use it?
After the wilderness, Elijah headed up the mountain, Mt. Horeb, which is Mt. Sinai. He complained to God: “I’ve cast down idols and even taken lives for you. Now they’re out to get me, what are you going to do about it?” I must confess, these genocidal texts are troubling. We shouldn’t read past them too quickly. How does Jesus reframe the relationship with the enemy? Where does Jesus land in the tension between the mystical and kingly power narratives of the Old Testament?
A storm then arose, so great that it shook the mountain. Then an earthquake, followed by fire. And then, finally, the sound of silence. It is in the silence where God asked what Elijah wanted. Elijah complained again. Then God put him back to work.
Elijah’s pathway follows one that would be very familiar to the hearers of this story: The Exodus. Just as the Israelites fled Pharaoh, wandered through the wilderness and ended up on Mt. Sinai, so Elijah fled Queen Jezebel, wandered through the wilderness, and ended up on Mount Horeb (Sinai). It is at this point that the two stories diverge. In the Exodus, God was in the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. In the Elijah story, God is in the silence.
One might see in this a sort of meta-narrative. We go through crises in life, followed by wilderness periods, after which we end up on the mountain of God. There God speaks, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, we hear, not in the thunder, but in the silence.
In what ways have you found yourself on the mountain after a wilderness period? Was there fire or smoke? Thunder or lightening? Silence? How did God speak in the wake of the storm?
Crisis leads to a time of listening
Revelation often comes after a time of crisis. As Pastor Freddie Jack, President of the 7th District of the Louisiana Missionary Baptist Association said recently, following the burning of three African American Churches in what must be described as an act of domestic terrorism, “God can use the spade of sorrow to to dig a well of joy.”
Perhaps this is because desperation drives us back to God. When our own efforts have availed us nothing, and we have nowhere else to turn, we turn to God. Most often living in the illusion of our own self-sufficiency, once in a while we are reduced to our child-like state, recognizing that most of life is beyond our control. It is then that we let go of our life-control projects and lift our eyes to the hills. Our eyes are opened to the vast complexity of the universe, and we choose to listen, rather than lecture. Desperation can do that.
The crisis may be as simple as an illness. I recently fell ill with a bug that left me fevered and flat on my back. I live most of my life doing what feels like self-sufficient, high-energy work. Then something like this comes along and you realize how dependent you are on others. At times like this I realize how much I take my health for granted. And my family, who care for me. With nothing to do, but sleep and wait out the bug, the illness forces me into a prayerful state.
For others it may be a flood that takes your house. The loss of a job. A bad diagnosis. Life can change in the blink of an eye. All our really brilliant plans suddenly seem a bit far-fetched. What was I thinking? I was living in an illusory world.
It’s at moments like this that our world gets put in proper perspective. Our place in the universe is seen closer to what it actually is. Humility restored. Priorities get reset. God is there.
One final thought about this text, thanks to former New England Synod Bishop Margaret Payne, who writes some thoughtful preaching ideas in Sundays and Seasons: Preaching Year C. We live in an overly busy culture. We work hard. We are surrounded by a cacophony of sounds: TV, radio, DVD, CD, Spotify, social media. We seem reluctant to pause, to find Sabbath for our souls. We complain that God doesn’t speak, but in truth, we aren’t listening.
Margaret Payne suggests a play on words. Paint a picture of people rushing along a busy street, “following their own devices.” I like it. With heads bowed down to our phones and hand-held devices, do we look up? Self-absorbed, do we listen? Can we be still, as the psalmist suggests (Psalm 46)? Can we lookup, to the hills (Psalm 121)? What might it be like to spend some time every day listening for the “sound of silence?”
This could be a good time to teach about prayer practices. Don’t just tell people to take time for silent prayer. Teach them some intriguing ways to get there: lectio divina, meditatio and mantric prayer. Those who use contemporary music, could subliminally plant the “sound of silence” idea in people’s heads, but playing Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence quietly through the speakers before worship begins. Consider my devotional book on prayer, “Learning to Pray Again.”
If you follow this direction, be sure to build some times of silence into the liturgy. Perhaps no communion music. Or you could have silence after the sermon instead of a hymn. Give people an opportunity to listen to the sound of silence right there in worship.
We are in Galatians for the next several weeks:
- June 19, 2019 Galatians 3:23-29 (June 19 is Juneteenth)
- June 26, 2019 Galatians 5:1, 13-25
- July 3, 2019 Galatians 6:[1-6] 7-16 (July 4 is Independence Day)
I would like to point out to you a great resource that I think every pastor should have: The Jewish Annotated New Testament, edited by Jewish scholars Amy-Jill Levine (whom many of you know from Vanderbilt) and Marc Zvi Brettler. So many misunderstandings of the New Testament are based on an erroneous understanding of the cultural milieu and even more so, a misunderstanding of Jesus’ Second Temple Jewish heritage. Amy-Jill Levine has given us a tremendous gift. I’ll be hard pressed to write a sermon without consulting it after using it recently. Today’s post will have a number of references to this work.
In Galatians 1 and 2, Paul said, “through the law I died to the law in order that I might live to God.” Greek speaking Jews used nomos (law) to translate “Torah.” So when Paul said, “through the law I died to the law in order that I might live to God,” what he meant was, “through the Torah I died to the Torah in order that I might live to God.” Paul had to die to Torah in order to become right with God, or justified. The Torah taught Paul to die to the Torah.
Many of us have had this experience with the Bible. The gospel led us to see the Bible as more than a book of laws. The Bible itself calls us to put our faith in God, not a book. The book reveals the God who is revealed in Christ, who, in turn, sent the Spirit.
For Paul, “justified” means “reckoned as righteous.” The Septuagint renders tzedeqah as dikaiosune (justified), especially in Genesis 15:6. So when Paul refers to no one being justified by the “works of the law” what he means is, “no one is made righteous by the works of Torah,” a phrase that appears at Qumran.
Dogged adherence to Leviticus was actually keeping Paul from God. Could it be that we get so tied up with being righteous, that we miss the transforming relationship God seeks with us? This is a very relevant book of the Bible given the way people are tossing around parts of the Torah these days, as if it is still binding on Christians.
Paul closes this portion of his argument by saying no one will be justified, that is made righteous, by keeping Torah. For Paul, faith in Christ frees us from Torah observance.
We now pick up the argument in chapter 3.
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded
under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the
law was our disciplinarian until Christ came,
so that we might be justified by faith.
A disciplinarian (pedagogue) was a “house slave that was charged with keeping the master’s son out of trouble and escorting him outside the house,” according to the Jewish Annotated New Testament. This emphasizes the temporary and remedial role of the law.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer
subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Faith replaces the law (our disciplinarian). The law was the only way to draw close to God. Now, through faith (trust) in Christ, we all become part of God’s family, children of God.
Paul mentions the law a couple of times in this short passage. The word “law” appears a lot, about 25 times in this brief, six-chapter letter called Galatians.
A brief, one-paragraph summary of Paul’s feeling about the law, based on his letter to the church in Galatia, might go something like this:
No one can be justified by the works of the law. Paul has died to the law in order that he might live for God. The Spirit does not come through the law, but through faith. Those who rely on the law are under a curse: Having to fulfill the whole law. Christ redeemed us from the law’s curse. Abraham’s covenant was based on faith, that is, Abraham believed God’s promises and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. The law came through Moses 430 years later, so it cannot nullify the Abrahamic covenant ratified earlier by God. We become part of the family of God by faith, not by law. The law is not opposed to the promises of God; it was just our babysitter until Christ came. Now we know longer need a babysitter. Even Gentiles can become part of this family, but only through faith, not by law. Through faith Gentiles are adopted into the household of God, becoming heirs. If you allow yourself to be circumcised, you are “cut off” from Christ, and now must keep the entire law, which is impossible. Even the circumcised don’t keep the entire law. The entire law can be summed up in a single thought: love your neighbor as yourself. If you’re led by the Spirit, you don’t really need the law anymore. The law of Christ is to bear one another’s burdens.
One cannot read Romans or Galatians and not come away with a clear sense that Paul views the law in a negative light. Luther makes it clear in his treatise On Christian Liberty, which we will discuss next week, that the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures are not binding upon Christians, however we are instead bound to love our neighbor. The law simply shows us that we cannot possibly do it perfectly, and therefore are in desperate need of grace.
It is astounding to me that people still point to some archaic Old Testament laws and say, “See! You are breaking the law!” They use the Levitical Codes as a club over others’ heads. Paul says that Christ frees us from the curse of the law. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus mean followers of Christ are no longer under the law, as far as Paul is concerned.
Some view these texts as anti-Jewish, but we must remember that Paul is a Jew, trained as a Pharisee, in fact. I don’t believe he sees himself as proposing a new religion, but reforming his Jewish faith. The idea that faith in God is the way to righteousness, as opposed to fanatical adherence to the law is the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Shemah, which Paul no doubt recited daily, calls us to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind and strength. Abraham is reckoned as righteous for believing God’s promises. Paul is drawing people to a mystical, messianic Judaism.
27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Rabbis said three blessings each day: Blessed are you O Lord our God, who has not created me a Gentile, a slave or a woman. These blessings still appear in the Orthodox Jewish Prayerbook. Reformed Jews have done away with them. Paul is most certainly alluding to these prayers in this passage. Christ revealed that these distinctions were irrelevant in God’s eyes. This is a revolutionary statement, and one that even Paul himself occasionally walked back.
Verse 29 says we become children of Abraham through baptism, by being united into Christ. Since Christ is a child of Abraham, from the house of David, those who are united with him become children of Abraham by adoption (a theme he will pick up later). Baptism grafts us onto Abraham’s family tree. Paul’s logic is not as complicated here as people make it. Paul is not saying Christians are no longer Jews. Quite the opposite, he is saying all Christians are Jews (children of Abraham) by faith and because of their baptism into Christ.
Gentiles, slaves and women all had a significant problem becoming children of Abraham.
Since women could not be circumcised (in the manner of Torah), the only way a Gentile woman could become a child of Abraham was through marriage or adoption. If not, you were out of luck. Now that we are justified by faith, Paul says, the distinction between men and women disappears, as far as righteousness is concerned. Altered male genitalia doth not righteousness make. Likewise, the distinction between slaves and free citizens disappears. The difference between Gentile and Jew becomes irrelevant. These distinctions may still exist in society, but as far as getting right with God is concerned, they are irrelevant.
This is where I part company a bit with Amy-Jill Levine. She points to Paul’s other statements about the role of women (to remain silent) and slaves (to obey masters) to show Paul isn’t really imagining any real liberation existentially. She may be correct, but I have questions.
Levine doesn’t seem to distinguish between authentic Paul and deutero-Pauline literature. Is she assuming the pastoral and catholic epistles are authentically Pauline? Paul’s letter to Philemon, which all scholars agree is authentically Pauline, is a perfect example of what Paul means. He certainly takes slavery for granted in the Roman Empire, but he suggests Christians have a different orientation. Philemon is to receive Onesimus as a brother. Baptism has redefined their very real, earthly relationship. Paul is a product of his culture and upbringing. He can believe in a new relationship between men and women while still being immersed in local customs, and perhaps not seeing every implication of his own revolutionary pronouncement.
Once Paul has done away with the law, the wall creating class and gender distinctions begins to erode. As Paul considered the implications of this, it also occurred to him that abolishing the law meant that there was not even a distinction between slaves and citizens of the empire. Jesus had revealed a profound truth: equality. Love is the ultimate leveler. Jesus was forging a new humanity. One race: the human race.
It’s hard for us to imagine how radical those words must have been in the middle of the first century, to Gallic people who had been incorporated into the Roman Empire. What would it mean if the distinction between citizen and slave disappeared? What would the world look like? How would this change the economy? These were questions likely pondered by Pharaoh and Abraham Lincoln as well. This message was subversive, treasonous and threatening to Roman hegemony. It of course made the Empire… less. Less important than the kingdom of God. Problem: Empires don’t tolerate being in second place.
What about our own empire today? We belong to the most powerful empire in the world. It demands complete allegiance. Is our allegiance to the kingdom of God greater than our allegiance to the empire? What evidence can you point to that substantiates this? Do we view Americans from the U.S. as better than everyone else, or do we see the humanity in those of different cultures? Do we view others as less than ourselves, or do we believe that all people are of equal value to God?
This past week we celebrated Junteenth, Emancipation Day In Texas, June 19, 1865. For those not from Texas, Juneteenth is the day that federal troops arrived in Galveston to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation (which was issued two and a half years earlier on September 22, 1862). Standing on the balcony of the Ashton Villa in Galveston, General Gordon Granger read this pronouncement:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
The freedom Paul is talking about in Galatians is most certainly freedom from the Jewish ritual laws, portions of Levitical codes and so forth, but it has implications for relationships in the here and now. Remember, in Galatians 3:28 Paul mentions slavery specifically:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer
slave or free, there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Paul sees freedom in Christ, as more than a theoretical concept. This is more than pie in the sky when you die. 1,800 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, a very flawed Paul saw a vision of equality. A world where slaves were not dominated by slave owners. Women were not dominated by men. A world of racial equality. Does he really mean it? One only needs to read Paul’s letter to Philemon to see that Paul means business. The cross of Jesus means nothing less than this: the slave is now your brother.
Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease
– From the Christmas carol O Holy Night
The First Paul
In The First Paul, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan spend some time talking about this Sunday’s epistle from Galatians 3. But they begin their book on Paul with some things that most readers of Scripture and theology know. Paul’s statement of faith, Jesus is Lord, would have been high treason in the Roman world. Paul never read the gospels, as they had not yet been penned, and would not be until after his death. Paul did not think of himself as having converted to a new religion. He died thinking of himself as a Jew, albeit a Christian Jew. Many of Paul’s statements seem to support slavery, the subjugation of women, and oppression of homosexuals.
But Borg and Crossan also point out some things that I had not considered. They call Paul a Jewish Christ mystic. Mystics speak of ecstatic experiences of God, often involving light. They base their faith on these experiences of God, often thinking of them as enlightenment. Paul had a firsthand experience of Jesus, whom he saw, and who spoke to him. Luke does not record Paul as having seen Jesus when he recounts Paul’s Damascus Road experience (no less than three times), but Paul himself, in his letters, speaks of having “seen” Jesus. Paul’s apostolic identity rests on it. Luke might not consider Paul an apostle (for Luke there are only 12 apostles, and when Judas dies, he is replaced, not by Paul), but Paul is very clear on the matter: “Am I not an apostle?” Paul also speaks of being taken up into the seventh heaven, and mentions other mystical experiences. Paul does not have a philosophy of religion, as much as a life-changing encounter with Jesus.
Borg and Crossan ask us to consider three Pauls in the New Testament.
First is the Radical Paul of the seven undisputed epistles (yes, now there are only seven): Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians, Philemon. These are the letters all scholars agree were actually composed by Paul himself.
Then consider the Reactionary Paul of the pastoral epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. These are the letters most scholars agree were not written by Paul. Their language and themes clearly come from a later era.
Finally, in the middle, there is the Conservative Paul of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians. The authorship of these letters are disputed by scholars.
Radical Paul is pure Paul. Conservative Paul is somewhat revised, perhaps in his lifetime. There is some debate about whether Paul wrote these or not, though the majority view is not. If he did write them, he clearly backed off from his original positions. More likely, they were a corrective from a more conservative pseudonymous writer. Finally, the Reactionary Paul presents viewpoints that in almost every contradict some of Paul’s most basic original positions. The language is that of the second century. No serious scholar believes these epistles to have been written by Paul.
Most of this is familiar territory for students of theology, though Borg and Crossan present the information in a clearer way than I’ve heard it in years. What made lights come on was comparing Paul’s statements about women and slaves in these very clearly defined camps.
Take slavery, for example. The Radical Paul’s position on slavery in the undisputed epistles is clear. He tells Philemon that it’s his duty to release Onesimus, and regard him now as a brother. “I could command you,” Paul says to the slaveholder, “to do your duty, but instead I’ll appeal to you, even though you owe me your very life…”
It may be an appeal, but it doesn’t stop Paul from concluding, “Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, know that you will do even more than I say.” What on earth would lead Paul to consider something like this given the structures of Roman economy and society that everyone took for granted? And of course our text that says for those baptized “into Christ” there is no longer slave or free. How could he possibly imagine something like this?
The Conservative Paul changes his tune, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord…” (Col. 3) “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart…” (Eph. 6) Both passages end with injunctions to masters not to treat their slaves too harshly. I’m fully aware that first century Roman slavery was significantly different than Euro-American enslavement of Africans. Nevertheless, this position is a considerable regression from the Radical Paul. The Conservative Paul considers the Radical Paul a bit too liberal with regard to the norms of Roman society. This Paul is more palatable to the elite classes.
But the Reactionary Paul of Titus 2:9 eliminates even the reciprocity of the Conservative Paul:
Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.
There is no mutuality whatsoever. Crossan and Borg point out that there is only one single verse, and it begins, “Tell slaves…” No word to slave masters.
All this reminds me of a very Lutheran principle: All Scripture is not on an equal par. Luther was a scholar. He did not consider James and Romans to have equal weight. We do not treat law and gospel the same.
Passages about women fall very clearly into these three classes as well. The Radical Paul insists on mutuality (see 1 Corinthians 7). Husband and wife injunctions are balanced. Even the decision to abstain from sexual relations for a time must be “by agreement.” The Roman paterfamilias did not need to seek the consent of his wife for much of anything. Radical Paul is suggests a more egalitarian relationship. The Radical Paul in Romans 16 mentions several female leaders (and various slave names), and even a female apostle, confirming that Paul felt there were more than 12 apostles, all male. For 1,000 years every commentator agreed that Junia was a female name, but in the late Medieval period considerable effort was made to turn Junia into a male name for obvious reasons. They couldn’t bear Paul promoting women clergy.
In the Conservative Paul of Colossians and Ephesians, instructions to children and parents become instructions to children and their fathers. (Also instructions to slaves and owners becomes instructions to slaves and masters.) Women, children and slaves were considered inferiors. “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church…” However, there is some mutuality, in that there are some instructions for husbands, one of which says husbands should be prepared to give up their lives for their wives, as Christ gave up his life.
In the pastoral letters, the Reactionary Paul has left Timothy and Titus in charge of Ephesus and Crete, respectively. I wouldn’t want to have been there. The text is forbidding:
Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. – 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Ouch. Crossan and Borg call this Reactionary Paul, because it is clearly a reaction to what must have been going on. No one would forbid women to teach if it wasn’t already happening. There are no decrees forbidding female senators. It wasn’t even on the radar.
Borg and Crossan ask, what about the Jesus event makes it impossible for Philemon to own Onesimus? What is this justice that Paul feels is an obvious consequence of the gospel? To get at it, Borg and Crossan take apart Galatians 3:27-29:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
They suggest we really shouldn’t quote verse 28 without 27 and 29. It becomes and nice sentiment, but we lose the thrust and source of the conclusion. They also point out that Paul repeats this passage in 1 Corinthians 12:13 without the third example. Notice the construction is the same:
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body
-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Life “in Christ” or “in the Spirit” means no matter how you came into the community, as a male Jew or a female Gentile, you are equal to one another in the community. Hierarchical distinctions are human, and therefore have no place in the community.
But is this just in the community? Are Christian Jews to act “as if” they are equal, even though they are so clearly not in Roman society? When they return to the real world, should things go on as always?
Philemon, the authors point out, is the test case. Clearly for Paul, this is no theoretical equality. Paul “encourages” Philemon to welcome Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a brother. He uses words like “duty” and “obedience.” It seems the Radical Paul has more in mind than play acting in church. What he proposes has implications for the real world.
“On earth as it is in heaven.”
I leave you with the words of the song For Everyone Born:
For everyone born, a place at the table