I find Paul’s anger in Galatians oddly inspiring.
Partly because it shows that Paul was a real person, too, just like me and just like you, capable of anger and capable of frustration. “O stupid Galatians!” he shouts. They’re insisting on laws in a narrow sense, making the newly converted adhere to arbitrary standards, and it makes Paul furious, and rightly so. “Are you so stupid?” he says again—the word “stupid” two times in one passage, in the sacred scriptures.
No, it’s the Spirit that matters, it’s faith that matters, it’s Jesus Christ, not any particular set of ritual practices and not any particular set of strictures or laws. This is Paul’s battle as it’s our battle, too.
Or maybe I find this inspiring because sometimes my own life seems frustrating and full of conflict and I keep thinking there’s something wrong and of course, there is. But it’s not as if becoming a Christian meant I’d be free of conflict forevermore, that everything would forever go right for me. It certainly doesn’t for Paul: he was shipwrecked and beaten and run out of town, and in the end, tradition says, he was beheaded, so in a way when we’re in the middle of own daily struggles we’re not on the wrong path and in any event we’re in good company. We’re in Paul’s company. We’re in the company of Jesus, who chose Paul and who chooses us.
There never was a Golden Age in the Church and there never will be because the body of the Church is composed of our bodies, our stubborn human bodies and our stubborn human minds, and we better just get used to that and get down to the day-to-day work, entering more deeply into the life of Christ and our life for Christ, which involves joy, too, of course, and elation, and grace upon grace, but which also unfolds in the real world, in our anger and in what makes us angry, in our blockheadedness and the blockheadedness of others, and all praise to Christ for not refusing to deal with us even so, for bothering to come and to stay with us, to stay with us always, to forgive us and to call us and to be there even even in our failings.
And because of this, we have to try to be there, too. To be here.
Because Jesus never abandons us, we can’t abandon those who make us mad. Because Jesus never ceases to offer us his love and his mercy, we must pray for the grace to offer our own love and our own mercy to the people around us, in our own stubborn community, in our own intricate and human time and our own intricate and human place.