To the uninitiated, the MAV is “Mike’s Authorized/Amplified Version” – my own somewhat playful translation of assorted New Testament texts, right now Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The New Testament (particularly in the original Greek) has been my dance partner for the past 30 years. Or perhaps better, it’s provided the lyrical score of the through sing musical that is the Jesus experience for me.
I want to say I think Paul gets a bad rap at times, but then, I can hear the better angel of his nature saying, “No, they’re probably right on that one.” As is true of each of us, I have no doubt Paul had the wondrous capacity to be a jerk. Which is another way of saying he was human, he was a man. (He can’t be all bad. Anthony Hopkins played him once.) But I love his stand for freedom that is Galatians. Freedom from imposed religious molds. Freedom from our insatiable human desire to compel conformity to our agendas; to make our acceptance as human beings before God dependent on anything other than the inner reality of quiet trust, of promise, of hope, of God. We can, have and do encrust Jesus with so many layers of our own religious secretions. Galatians is Paul’s loud rejection of all such layering, this week, in one of his journeys to Jerusalem…(Galatians 2:1-10)
And then, through 14 year’s time, again I journeyed up to Jerusalem, accompanied by Barnabas, that son of comfort, and let’s not forget Titus. This journey had a divine itinerary – his timing, not mine. Upon arrival I laid before them the Gospel, the gist and grist of my heart and message that I preach among the Gentile outsiders. But I’m not stupid. I did this first in private with those esteemed ever so highly by some, lest all my efforts, past and present, would have been for nothing.
And yet, Titus, standing right there with me the whole time in all of his Greekness, was not compelled to erase that Greekness by submitting to the religious rite of circumcision and become Jewish. No, he walked out of there with his “Greekness” fully intact – and no one in that room wanted it any other way. The only ones itching for such a status change – and surgery – was a pack of sneaky, scheming poser-brothers who slipped in under the door to spy out that precious freedom which is ours in Christ and to make us slaves to their religious agenda. We would have none of it – not for a moment! We did not entertain their motion or sit still for their agenda – so that the truth that is embodied in the only Good News that is good news might continue right on, unimpeded, with such Gentile “outsiders” as you.
And as for those esteemed so very highly by some as the ultimate spiritual authorities – whatever they were makes no difference to me, God is never impressed by fancy resumes! – I had no takeways from that “esteemed” group that changed anything. Far from it! On the contrary, they fully bought into the evidence right before their faces that I have been entrusted with genuine Good News to uncircumcised outsiders even as Peter has been to the circumcised insiders. It was undeniable! They couldn’t help but connect the dots and see that the same God who was at work in Peter as Jesus’ rep among circumcised insiders was also at work in me among Gentile outsiders. Jacob. Kefa. John. The big three esteemed so highly by some as pillars upon whom everything depends…gave to me and to Barnabas the right hand of full, recognized partnership – when they saw the undeniable proof of God’s grace demonstratively given, actively at work in and through me. Without reservation they agreed that we are on the same page, same mission, with the same message – only we among the “outsiders” and they among the “insiders.” They had but one proviso: “The Poor. Don’t forget the poor among us!” And I was already all over that.