Homily for the
in Ordinary Time
June 9, 1983
Gal 1: 11-19
Luke 7: 11-17
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.
“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin … but it came thru a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1: 11-12).
The main issue in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is law vs. grace: Judaizers demanding that Gentile converts take on the entire Law of Moses as part of their acceptance of the Gospel, and Paul’s insistence that Christ in himself reconciles humanity with God.
Paul didn’t come to that conviction easily. As you know, he’d been a ferocious foe of the Gospel: “I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it,” and “I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions” (1:13-14).
But “when God … called me thru his grace [and] was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (1:15), everything changed. Meeting Jesus Christ personally changed Paul’s understanding of being in a relationship with God and of salvation. Meeting Jesus Christ personally changed Paul himself.
The Gospel supersedes all human considerations, even such venerable traditions as those built on the Torah: “the gospel is not of human origin”—not that the Torah is, either; that was what Paul had to wrestle with, the balance between 2 forms of revelation, 2 ways of being in relationship with God. God himself, by revealing his Son to Paul, showed Paul how grace overcomes our failures to observe the Law; how grace is more powerful than the condemnation our failures merit; how grace comes from God but so many practices that had grown up around the Torah were of human origin (as Jesus himself bemoaned in his controversies with the scribes and Pharisees).
For instance, in today’s gospel Jesus has no concern for the stipulations of the Law about uncleanness. By touching the coffin—older translations use the word bier, indicating probably that the body was only enshrouded and was being carried on a litter or stretcher—Jesus incurred uncleanness. “The bearers halted,” Luke says (7:14); they must have been quite shocked! Jesus was violating custom, obviously, but also the Law, in a ritual sense. As in so many other instances, that didn’t matter to him: what mattered was to proclaim the kingdom of God and to make the kingdom present in people’s lives. He does just that by restoring the dead young man to life, restoring joy and hope to his mother—and to the awestruck crowd, who “glorified God” (7:16).
Restoring life is the core of the Gospel that Paul preached, that Gospel of divine and not human origin. Resurrection is beyond human comprehension, as Paul experienced when he tried to preach it in Athens: “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ‘We should like to hear you on this some other time’” (Acts 17:32)—in other words, this is a little too far out for us to hear any more of.
Now note what Paul does to confirm his understanding of this outlandish Gospel—not only the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins leading to eternal life, but, further, that all this is grace, not dependent on our moral perfection but on God’s love. After a period of meditation and prayer in Arabia, and then some preliminary preaching in Damascus (1:17), he “went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas and remained with him for 15 days” (1:18). Paul tested his theory of the Gospel, as it were, against the opinion of Peter, against apostolic authority given by Jesus. Then he was sure of the authenticity of his own revelation, his own encounter with Jesus, and of his understanding of what that revelation of the Gospel meant.
So, brothers and sisters, Paul shows us how to receive and take up the Word of God. We haven’t received any direct revelations from Jesus; at least I haven’t. But we have God’s authentic Word, already certified by apostolic authority, i.e., the Bible. Like Paul, we need to reflect on it, meditate on it, pray with it, and let it guide our lives. And like Paul, we need to measure our understanding of that Word—its interpretation, its meaning for our lives—by what apostolic authority teaches. What is true Gospel teaching? That teaching cannot be measured against any human origins, against any general sorts of human wisdom, against popular opinion, against elections, against the entertainment industry, against the ideas of today’s men of Athens (the academic and media elite). Rather, what does Peter say when we confer with him—which today, of course, means, What does Peter’s successor teach? That’s where we find the teaching of Jesus, “the great prophet” who was—and still is—“God visiting his people” (Luke 7:16). That’s where we find what God has revealed to us so that we might have eternal life.