24The law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.
The son of a prominent family was escorted to school by a “disciplinarian.” The stereotype that should come to mind is your own private nun with a ruler. I apologize to all those wonderful women religious I have known over the years – but it gives us a vivid picture of that time when all instructors carried a rod or paddle of some kind.
The covenant law of Israel is much more than Paul describes here; it is first of all a gift. To a motley collection of tribal peoples fleeing bondage and suddenly finding themselves in possession of lands and cities some law, some code to guide them, is a protection against chaos. And the law given to Israel was a remarkable body of teaching intended to keep the tribes of Israel from falling into the ways of the nations round about them. There was no distinction in Israel’s law based on wealth or power, no separate code for high status and low status persons. Indeed God declared himself the protector of the low status persons – the widow, the orphan, the stranger. The law is not and was not a collection of strange and arbitrary rules; it was a revelation, a glimpse into the character of God and his vision for human life: care for the poor, protection for the weak, justice for all, remission of debts, manumission of slaves, care of the earth, care of your neighbor. If we read it with careful eyes we will see there the face of God.
But in our hands law gets turned from vision into a schoolmaster’s ruler by which we measure ourselves righteous and our neighbor not, and by which we beat upon those who deviate from the norm. It becomes a “disciplinarian.”
Even at its best laws can never transform the human heart. Rules limit misbehavior; they do not create generosity of spirit and true compassion. And the law has a way of acting as if it were God, as if obedience were the source of salvation. In that role it terrorizes the tender conscience and becomes a powerful weapon of guilt and manipulation. If law does not serve the God of mercy, then it becomes our jailor not our liberator.
But our liberator has come. And we who are washed in Christ are clothed in Christ: no longer minors under a slave’s supervision but free sons and daughters; no longer defined by our past but our future, not by the accidents of birth but by the gift of our birth from above.
27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Instead of a nun with a ruler we have the living Christ, the spirit of God, the joy of the eternal dance, and hearts of stone become hearts of flesh. We have become sons and daughters of light, bearers of the word of Grace and agents of heaven’s mercy.