“Word for Today” – Galatians 4 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

April 20, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


T-041-0108In the state of Oregon where I grew up, there was a rite of passage into manhood that every young teenage boy looked forward to and hoped for and dreamed of – the day he would turn 15 and be able to get a state issued, small, rectangular piece of plastic with his picture on it, otherwise known a Learner’s Permit.  I’ll never forget how excited I was when I was finally able to get one.  As the DMV employee took my picture, I beamed with pride and joy.  For I would finally be able to put the keys into the ignition of our family car, stick my foot on the gas pedal, and cruise down the road effortlessly and carefreely with the windows rolled down, the radio turned up, and the wind blowing through my hair.  Or so, that’s what I thought.

My parents did not seem quite as thrilled as I was at the prospect that I was now driving.  And thus, the first time I got behind the wheel did not quite match with my envisioned expectations.  For there was no carefree attitude, no windows rolled down, no radio turned up, and no wind blowing through my hair.  In fact, there wasn’t even a road.  Instead, there was just an empty parking lot.  “Make sure you’re in neutral,” my dad instructed, “and press down on the clutch.  Now, while you’re on the clutch, shift into first, and then slowly release the clutch while you’re pressing down on the gas.”  So that’s what I did.  And the car lurched forward.  And then stalled.  So much for my long awaited rite of passage into manhood.

Just as there are certain rites of passage into adulthood in our society, there were rites of passage into adulthood even in first century society.  For example, in ancient Rome, usually at age 14, a young man would celebrate his Liberalia, a festival held annually on March 17 celebrating the passage of Roman boys into manhood.  At this festival, a young man would discard his childhood toga, which was decorated with a purple border to mark him as a youth, and exchange it for a toga virilis, or a pure white toga, that marked him as an adult and a legal citizen of Rome.  Before this time, a Roman boy, even though he may have been the eventual heir of his father’s estate, had the same status as a common slave.  He could make no decisions and he had no freedom.

It is probably this festival of Liberalia that Paul has in mind when he writes these words in our reading for today from Galatians 4:  “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.  He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.  So also, when we were children, we were in slavery to the basic principles of the world” (verses 1-3).  In these verses, Paul draws upon the tradition of the Liberalia to illustrate our spiritual state before faith in Christ.  To paraphrase:  “Before trusting in Christ, we were just like children before their Liberalia.  No rights.  No say.  No freedom.  Indeed, we were slaves to sin and the waywardness of the world.  We wore not a toga of purple, but rags stained with sin to mark us as spiritually childish” (cf. Isaiah 64:6).  But then came the Liberalia of Christ:  “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (verses 4-5).  “Christ and his cross is our Liberalia,” Paul says.  Christ moves us from spiritual childhood to spiritual adulthood.  He liberates us from our slavery to Satan and leads us to freedom in the gospel.  He exchanges our toga stained with sin for the pure white toga of his righteousness (cf. Revelation 7:9).  Christ and his cross is our rite of passage.  But not just into adulthood.  Instead, he is our very rite of passage into salvation.

So today, don your white toga of Christ and celebrate.  You’re all grown up now.

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Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Galatians 3 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – Galatians 5 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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