We’re in the deep end of the pool now, aren’t we? Luther so loved the book of Galatians that he called it his own little book, “my Katie von Bora” (the name of his wife!). Galatians 3 and 4 form the literal center of the book.
It is not too much of a stretch to hear Paul’s love for the Galatians, especially in the first verses of chapter 3. Beneath the frustration and anger (“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?”), we can fairly hear his deep concern and affection. Why would Paul be so stirred to anger if not for the love beneath? It is someone for whom we care deeply who can stir us most quickly.
And so Paul boils it down. “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (He says nearly the same thing a couple of verses later: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?”)
There’s the repetitive emphasis on the dichotomy of “works of the law” and “hearing with faith” – what do these mean? At the risk of missing nuance, it is the dichotomy of proving oneself versus being loved. Saying a little more, the rigid split between trying to take or maintain charge and prove that you are worthwhile, acceptable, deserving, okay or enough, juxtaposed with being loved anyway. (What a pregnant little word, anyway: implying that the truth is known, but the needle of the Geiger counter didn’t move.)
That’s it. Paul’s question to the Galatians then stands in front of us now.
Let the Word ask us only this: How have we been so bewitched, so removed from reality, to believe that we are not loved anyway? Taking only one example, think about the energy and effort your friend (ahem) exerts to maintain his or her LinkedIn / Facebook / Instagram / Pinterest / WhateverHasSprungUpSinceIWroteThis profiles: to what end?
Do these things actually commend someone to us in a way that is satisfying? It is certainly not restful. As soon as we generate interest, we immediately have to do it again. A pitcher may make a great pitch, but if the next one hangs over the middle of the plate and gets smacked for a double, what good was the pitch before?
From the works of the law, there is no rest; the unblinking eye never sleeps or slumbers, and it is a drunken bewitchment to believe that we will find something approaching satisfaction, rest, contentment or freedom.
But to be known and loved: that is the story of being loved anyway. The entire narrative shifts as we “hear with faith,” as we receive from another the actual word of acceptance, understanding and love. The entire tone changes. As we hear with faith, the word “I love you” assumes an in-the-flesh, concrete, trustworthy reality.
How do we know this? Most of us know the pain of being known and not loved: the pain of rejection. Likewise, we know the unsatisfying experience of being not-known and loved: it is hollow, as we live with a not-too-deep fear of being discovered as a fraud or hypocrite.
But if you’ve ever known what it is like to be known truly and yet loved – to be loved anyway – that is a Word that holds.