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JUNE 23, 2013: TWELFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Zechariah 12:10-11; 13-1
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24

Today's Galatians passage is by far one of the most important pericopes in all our Christian Scriptures. Paul reminds his community, "For those who have clothed themselves in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeperson, there is not male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

To understand what the Apostle is trying to convey, we must appreciate two things which he took for granted. First, whenever in his letters he speaks about the "Christ," he's referring to the risen Jesus, not the historical Jesus. Second, he presumes we know the difference between resurrection and resuscitation.

We have nothing written by anyone who personally knew the Jewish Jesus who lived and ministered in Palestine between 6 BCE and 30 CE. Our sacred Christian authors experienced only the risen Jesus: the Christ present and working in the communities for whom they wrote. (At one point, Paul, our earliest Christian writer, actually mentions he never knew "Jesus in the flesh.")

But the risen Jesus wasn't the historical Jesus who had simply come back to life after his passion and death. Paul traditionally describes the risen Jesus as a completely "new creation." In other words, "You ain't ever seen anything like this person." When Jesus brought Jarius' daughter, the widow of Nain's son, and his friend Lazarus back to life, he technically didn't raise them from the dead; he resuscitated them. For all practical purposes, they were still the same people they were before they died. Coming back from the dead didn't alter their social status, ethnic position or gender.

On the other hand, Paul reminds his Galatian community that when the Jewish, free, male Jesus came to life on Easter Sunday morning, he/she was just as much a slave as free, as much a Gentile as a Jew, as much a woman as a man. In this context, the Apostle is encouraging his readers to become like the risen Jesus, the person they daily experience. The best way to do this is to get rid of the distinctions which stand out and mark non-Christian communities. If we're other Christs, we're all one; we're all equal.

As Luke assures his gospel church, we "save" our lives by constantly giving those lives in service to others. Dying and rising in our own lives is essential if we're determined to imitate Jesus' dying and rising. The only difference is that we, unlike the historical Jesus, don't have to wait three days "to be raised." It happens the instant we give ourselves to those around us.

Scholars have no idea to whom Zephaniah is referring when he speaks about "him whom they have pierced." But since the prophet also seems to believe this anonymous person's death became a "fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness," it's easy to see how some early followers of Jesus could apply these verses to Jesus. Dying is simply an essential part of achieving a fulfilled life.

Yet, according to the faith of our Christian sacred authors, those who strive to become other Christs don't die by giving up desserts for Lent or meat on Fridays. We die by constantly breaking down the barriers which separate one person from another. If we contend that we're just to imitate the historical Jesus, then Christianity must be limited to free, Jewish men (under the age of 30.) But if we're actually to "put on" the risen Christ, then our faith and imitation is limited only by the distinctions we mistakenly try to place on a new creation, distinctions which the historical Jesus destroyed by his death ... and resurrection.