The second readings for the Sundays of Week Nine through Week Fourteen of Ordinary Time, Year C, are taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
The Location of Galatia. Galatia is a large area in central Asia Minor or Turkey. It is surrounded by Bithynia to the northwest, Pontus to the northeast, Cappadocia to the east, Cilicia to the southeast, Pamphylia to the south, and the Province of Asia to the west. It was a Roman province in the First Century AD. Some of its principal cities were Ancyra, Antioch of Pisidia, Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium.
Galatians. Galatians is a collective term for the diverse peoples of the cities and regions of the Province of Galatia. It was a predominantly Gentile area with a variety of pagan cults to the Greek gods, and there was a small minority of Jews and a synagogue in some of the cities.
Paul’s Time in Galatia. Paul visited Galatia on all three of his missionary journeys. Paul visited Galatia with Barnabas on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14-14:25), sometime between 42 and 45 AD. He went to Galatia again, this time with Silas, as part of his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6), during portions of 46 and 47 AD. Paul returned to Galatia a final time with Timothy on his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23) in 52 AD.
Paul’s Missionary Activity in Galatia. Paul initially would go to the local synagogue where he preached the gospel with great fervor, attracted large crowds, and made a number of converts. This quickly led to bitter opposition from local Jewish leaders who were jealous of his dynamism and popularity, and were enraged that he was taking their members. Paul, no longer welcome in the synagogue, would then extend his outreach to Gentiles where he also made new believers, but he was opposed by family members who did not convert. Paul would found a new Christian church in the locality and then travel to another city. At a later date Paul would circle back to the cities where he had established a community to revitalize and encourage the members.
The Situation in Galatia. Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians while in Ephesus in spring of 53 AD (see Paul: A Critical Life, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, 180-182). The letter was in response to the Judaizers, Christian converts from Judaism, who would sweep into an area after Paul had departed, and vehemently criticize and undermine him and his preaching. While Paul preached salvation through Jesus and his redemptive death on the Cross, the Judaizers insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity must follow the Mosaic Law and that salvation comes not through Jesus and his grace but through legal observance. Moreover, they claimed that Paul was not an authentic apostle because he had not been taught by Jesus as were the twelve apostles who accompanied him for three years, that there were discrepancies between the preaching of Paul and the other apostles, and that Paul had wrongly relaxed the requirements of the Law for Gentiles to make the Christian faith easier and more attractive.
The Letter to the Galatians. The letter has three parts. Paul begins with a defense of himself as a true apostle who preaches the gospel with full authority. Next, he uses multiple arguments to explain the difference between faith in Jesus and the works of the Law, and how justification comes through faith. He concludes with an appeal to new converts to recommit themselves to an active Christian life in accord with the ways of the Spirit.