Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Galatians 4:12-19

When we delve into the letter to the Galatians, it can be troubling if we read carefully. The people of a region in what is today western Turkey had problems with the apostle, and he with them. The letter is filled with appeals to loyalty to Christ and to the virtues espoused in the first days they received the Gospel.

I wonder if the only reason this passage below was included was because it references a medical condition as the reason Saint Paul came to this community at all. That might make me think of this passage as a possibility for the anointing of a cleric or lay person in ministry.

First, a remembrance, though one rooted in Paul’s physical challenge:

I implore you, (sisters and) brothers, be as I am,
because I have also become as you are.
You did me no wrong;
you know that it was because of a physical illness
that I originally preached the gospel to you,
and you did not show disdain or contempt
because of the trial caused you by my physical condition,
but rather you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.

After this, we get to the questions. Paul appeals to an older, more virtuous time:

Where now is that blessedness of yours?
Indeed, I can testify to you that,
if it had been possible,
you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.
So now have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?

Paul accuses others of seducing Galatian Christians from faithfulness. He urges his followers to ignore their temptations:

They show interest in you,
but not in a good way;
they want to isolate you,
so that you may show interest in them.
Now it is good to be shown interest
for good reason at all times,
and not only when I am with you.
My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!

Today’s Christian mansplainers might have a difficult time with the imagery here. Paul testifies that he very much suffers to spread the Gospel, and pray for people he still loves and for whom he still advocates in prayer. He certainly feels offended by “stupid” behavior in this community. But his concern is for their spiritual welfare. To a minister watching from a distance, the journey from pagan to seeker to believer to disciple is hard. A leader wrings hands often enough.

Aside from the “physical condition” of 4:14, is there any merit to this reading? Sometimes believers are imperfect. Illness or injury may be the direct result of sin. Or not. But the convalescence period gives a person the opportunity to reflect on their own situation. Do we see ourselves as dwelling in the blessedness of God? If our loved ones are telling us to take better care of ourselves, do we see them as enemies of our pleasure? If our diet or lack of exercise must change, is this bad news? Or is it a path forward and to better health?

I doubt a sick person would willingly choose this reading for a visit from a pastoral minister. But maybe it serves as an intervention of sorts. Certainly, some maladies are beyond our control. But those that can be corrected with a change in our lives–this is the message that might well need preaching. Do we have ears for it?

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Pastoral Care of the Sick, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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