Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Paul prays that he may never boast except to boast in the cross of Christ Jesus, the cross through which, he writes, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The zealous former persecutor of the Church is placing his pride, his worldly dignity squarely on the cross to die along with Christ, and by doing so, he is forever renouncing the temporary glories and passing rewards that this world offers. In context, Paul is comparing his apostolic preaching ministry to those false teachers among the Galatians who are insisting that circumcision is necessary for salvation. He writes, “. . .they only want you to be circumcised so that they may boast of your flesh.” These false teachers are using the scars of circumcision—both physical and spiritual—to brag about their privileged relationship with Christ and to draw in more followers. In rebuttal, Paul figuratively drops his tunic to show his own scars, a multitude of scars earned through years of suffering for the Gospel. What do these scars mean? Ultimately, nothing, w/o Christ and him crucified. “For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.” And it is to the new creature that God reveals His wisdom.
In another letter to a troubled church, Paul writes that he is “being poured out like a libation,” emptied of all that he is and all that is his. To the Galatians he writes that he has been crucified to the world and the world to him. All that he knew, desired, needed, and sought after died on the cross with Christ. And all the wisdom, knowledge, social standing, and privilege that the world laid at his feet also died on the cross with Christ. All he has left is the cross; Christ crucified; and his living body, the Church. And it is in the living body of Christ, the Church, that Paul finds peace and wisdom. Despite all of her scars, warts, abrasions, and disabilities, the Church is where Paul thrives in God's wisdom and peace as a creature newly made. If we will find this same wisdom and peace, we too must become child-like, newly made creatures.
Jesus sets the wise and learned of the world against the child-like and anoints the child-like with the true wisdom found only in God. If you think of yourself as the culmination of experiences, all the time you've spent on this earth, all that you've done, said, thought, and you pile it all up, you have who you are—not all that you are—but a good start on seeing a biggest picture of yourself as you are. All the warts and scars are there. All the failures and triumphs. All the times you've been helped and the times that you were the one helping. It all backs up into this moment, right now, as you sit here, and it gives who you are definition. Think about Paul again and all that he was bringing with him to Damascus. Roman citizenship, classical education, Jewish religious training, privileged social standing as a Pharisee, years and years of accumulated wisdom. And he meets Christ on the way and it is all gone. All crucified with Christ on the cross and now he can boast of none of it b/c none of it matters to who is as a follower of Christ. On that road that day he is made new, child-like and now he enjoys the peace and wisdom of God. We cannot wait for a Damascus Road lightening bolt to set us right. We don't have to. With our baptism we are already made new. What we might need is crucifixion; that is, a loud surrender to Christ that renders us poor in spirit and dead to the world. God's wisdom and peace doesn't come with age; it comes when we pour out of our lives all that which makes us foolish and restless. It comes when we arrive newly made in Christ._______________
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