I handed Paul the mug I recently received from some friends.
He read it. “’Lord keep your arms around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.’ Are you suggesting I need to shut up?” Paul said. “Is it about my approach to Peter?”
I’d been thinking while I was working on our French press. I realized that the core question wasn’t really about tension between Peter and Paul.
“I’m still curious about that,” I said. “But I have a different question. I was thinking about the way you were concerned about Titus. And thinking about why you confronted Peter. In both cases, it was about people pointing to rules in the Jewish law. So why are legalists so often the ones who get to decide what it means to be spiritually healthy? For people who believe in God, to have your spirit rightly connect to God?”
“You know that last sentence is a hard one for me,” Paul said. “Because you seem to suggest that if we believe in God there is one truth, and if we don’t there is another. I saw God when I saw Jesus. At the beginning of this letter I was very clear that I received a calling directly from God to explain how to have a connection with God, through Jesus.”
“I knew that you would say that,” I said. “But we both know that you find ways to start conversations where readers are rather than where they will end up.”
“And I know that when you were writing this letter, and throughout your life, you were at an intersection of ways of looking at the relationship between humans and divinity. The particular divide here is about what counts to be a follower of Jesus, in contrast to what it means to follow God in the Jewish tradition. In other letters, you are making that contrast between what other religions say and what Jesus said to you.”
Paul nodded. “It was an incredibly spiritual time. State religions, local religions, tribal religions. Not that everyone actually lived out what they said they believed. But you could get in trouble for saying the right thing.”
“Which takes me back to my question,” I said. “Why do legalists get to decide what the right thing is?”
“That’s easy,” Paul said. “Because they think the rules make everything right.”