Growing in faith

AM Psalm 146, 147; PM Psalm 111, 112, 113

2 Samuel 24:1-2,10-25

Gal. 3:23-4:7

John 8:12-20

Our reading in Galatians is a familiar one–“There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male or female”–but the whole “slave vs. minor” conversation is not one that easily registers on our radar screens. Perhaps it’s helpful to start from the top, with that whole “law as disciplinarian” thing.

The Greek word for “disciplinarian” in this passage is paidagogos–we recognize this in our word “pedagogue”–teacher. The word literally means “boy-leader”–a slave whose primary job was to physically accompany a boy in a wealthy household every time the child stepped outside the house. The paidagogos would have most likely have been entrusted to guard the boy with his life, if necessary. If the boy misbehaved, the paidagogos would also most likely have gotten the brunt of it. When the child reached the age of majority, he was no longer under the constraint (nor the protection) of the paidagogos. Understanding this word in the this context changes our usually negative connotations of discipline a bit, doesn’t it?

That said, when I think back about my childhood misadventures, a paidagogos sure would have been handy. I think back to the one time I tried to blame something on the babysitter. I had thought a pristine white wall made a sensible medium for my budding art skills. It was only after I had covered the wall with my crayon renditions did it ever occur to me that it might not have been a good idea. So I wrote my babysitter’s name on it. When my mom saw this creation, she asked me “WHO DID THIS?” (My mom did that quite a lot, and being as how I was an only child, I found this a rather odd question.)

Without hesitation, I replied, “Connie did it. See?”

Only trouble was, I had spelled her name “C-O-N-Y.”

We humans are always a work in progress. Laws, even when we are putting forth our best effort, are always going to be unfair in spots. One size doesn’t fit all. There are always exceptions to the rules, and when we start working through them, reams and reams of case law point that out, and sometimes they even get repealed. It’s part of why there’s an inherent danger in taking too literally the laws laid down in the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Bible.

Paul points out, though, that Jesus was the ultimate repeal–that those constraining point-by-points no longer apply. However, it also means that we no longer get an “out” through the law. It means that some things might well be “legal” but we have to ask ourselves if they are moral. Following Christ may also mean that we are called to challenge the legality of things that oppress the marginalized, whether it’s the homeless, the hungry, or the abused. This summer, the actions of those participating in Moral Mondays at the North Carolina capitol building jump to the forefront in my mind. Perhaps we aren’t all in a position to invite arrest, but we are often in a position to risk being unpopular in the name of welcoming the stranger, visiting the imprisoned, or feeding the hungry.

The purpose of the paidagogos carried a hope that this servant would influence the child in his charge with a sense of right and wrong so that the boy would grow up to be a responsible moral adult. Our hope is that what we learn as growing, evolving Christians helps us grow into a fuller, more expansive morality–one that, at times, may transcend the legalities of life.

Who was a paidagogos in your life, and how did he or she help you grow in your life of faith?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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