In this morning’s excerpt from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul is explaining what God’s purposes were in providing the Israelites with the Law of Moses.
God’s purpose in regards to the Law of Moses was that through the practice of the Law of Moses that Israel would be prepared to accept the revelation of Christ.
In other words, the Law of Moses was not an end in itself, but a means, and now that Christ has revealed himself, the purpose of the Law of Moses has been fulfilled. Whereas, God once acted through the Law so that Israel could achieve its purpose, now God acts through Christ, and also, through Christ, bring Israel to its fulfillment.
The fulfillment of Israel is to be transformed by God in Christ, becoming the privileged bearer of the revelation of the Lord Jesus to the world. This transformed Israel is the Church, and it is the mission of the Church to draw all the nations into communion, that is, a relationship of friendship with the one, true God.
This communion with God is initiated, not through physical birth, but through a Sacrament, the Sacrament of Baptism. It is through Baptism that we become participants in the divine life of Christ, being transformed into an “alter Christus”, which means that we are conformed to his image. This means that, as the Church prays in one of the great and holy prayers for Mass- “the Father sees and loves in us, what he sees and loves in Christ”. This is also what St. Paul is expressing when he says that we are baptized into Christ, clothed with Christ.
Baptism draws people into the Church, and through the Church, draws people into communion with Jesus Christ. The Sacrament of Baptism accomplishes for the Church, the New Israel, what physical birth and circumcision accomplished for the Israelites prior to Christ’s revelation.
This is also why St. Paul testifies that in Baptism that there is neither “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus”.
He is not saying all are the same or that differences are unimportant, but that all who are baptized have something in common that is more important than any of the things that distinguish them from one another- and what is this something in common? Baptism.
Baptism is the most important of the Church’s Sacraments because it is the route of access to the Church’s Sacramental life. It is not just a quaint, “family time” custom whereby children are welcomed into our ethnic tribe. Baptism is not just a ritual by which babies are brought into a peculiar faith-based culture.
Instead, Baptism is a moment of transformation in Christ, whereby we become someone and something greater than that what we were prior to receiving the Sacrament.
Through Baptism, Christ chooses us, makes us his own, and gives us his identity and his mission. Through Baptism, we become, like Christ, a child of God! Thus while the Israel before Christ was constituted as being the children of Abraham, the Israel, transformed by God in Christ, is constituted as the children of God. This is what God in Christ effects through the Sacrament of Baptism.
Our culture makes much of our choices and decisions, prioritizing these and elevating these to a status that insists that even God must bend his will to accommodate what we choose and what we decide.
But in the end, the most important choice, the most important decision, the one decision that will matter most, will not be what we willed, but the decision, the choice, that God willed that we receive from him, through his Church- the identity and mission of Christ- and we received this identity and mission through the power of the Sacrament of Baptism.
The great challenge in this for us to seriously consider the question: what are we willing to do right now for the sake of the Baptism that we have received?