The first reading of today’s liturgy, from Galatians, lingers on the difficult and controversial question of the early Church: Christians to keep or not to keep the Mosaic Law.
A good number of converts from Judaism were promoting this practice. Paul countered it, explaining that either Christ alone saves or he does not. The only law to be practiced is “faith working through love.”
Why the tendency to want the Mosaic observance? Perhaps full conversion to Christ was too overwhelming for sincere Jews who had given their religious lives—like Paul—to keeping the Law. It is hard to break old and trustworthy habits. Perhaps, too, under the pressure of persecution, Jewish converts to Christianity were tempted to think that they made a mistake. How could Christ mean such misfortune for them?
The insistence on the Law on the part of these new, nervous converts tempted them to “hedge their bets on Christ,” providing a kind of religious insurance “on the side”—the Mosaic Law—to assure the salvation they were hoping for. While this might have been understandable in the circumstances, it was a “separation from Christ,” according to Paul, and a falling from grace.
Are we really any different from those struggling Christians at the beginning? We profess Christ but all of us have been tempted at times to “hedge our bets” on him. We are looking for the fullness of life and fear we shall not have it. So, we may keep a little “on the side” to assure ourselves. For some of us, it might be investment or prestige or legacy. For others, it might be longevity or accomplishment or even some dabbling in other religious faiths. But we are confronted with the same article of faith as those early disciples: either Christ alone saves or he does not. Otherwise, what is the meaning of “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all things will be given you beside”?
Each time we are at the Eucharistic Table, we proclaim God’s salvation in Christ through his death and resurrection. In communion with Christ, we dedicate ourselves to following this path sacrificially together. Eucharist is always a purification of the tendency to “hedge our bets” and avoid falling from New Testament grace.