Read Galatians 6, 14-18
For Jews, male circumcision is the essential physical sign of belonging to the Chosen People, a sign permanently inscribed in one's flesh, more radical even than a tattoo. In the story where God establishes his Covenant with Abraham, God himself sets this law for all of the latter's descendants. Religious historians discuss the meaning of circumcision in the ancient Middle East: was it a sign of belonging, a blood sacrifice, a rite of passage? Whatever its meaning, the law of circumcision for Jewish men knew no exception: a male convert to Judaism was to be circumcised.
This was the crux of a serious problem for the early Galatian converts to faith in Jesus Christ. Coming from traditional Greek religions, they knew nothing of the laws of Israel. Saint Paul, who proclaimed the Gospel to them, made them understand that they would not have to bother with these laws since salvation comes from faith in Jesus, Savior of the world. But other disciples of Jesus, who had been raised in Judaism, did not see it that way. For them, Jesus was an observant Jew who had not come to abolish the Law. So in order to follow Jesus, they felt that new converts also had to submit to the Jewish Law. Conclusion: these new Christians had to be circumcised.
For Paul, this issue represented a fundamental conflict between two ways of understanding our relationship with God. Does this relationship depend first on what I do for God, or does it depends primarily on what God is doing for me? For Paul, the answer was clear: God came to us in his son Jesus, God looked upon us in his great love - manifested on the cross - and freed us from the powers of evil by giving us his Spirit. Everything comes from God. All is grace.
According to Paul, belief in circumcision - or any other condition that one would have to meet - as necessary for salvation is a consequence of the pride that wants us to believe that we can save ourselves. Such a belief denies the totally free gift of God's love for us. It implies that the death of Jesus is not the central event in this story of love. It aligns us with the spirit of the "world" rather than with the Spirit of Jesus.
This is why Paul says so forcefully: "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ... For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!"
In this "new creation", the Law is summed up in uncon-ditional love: God's love for us, our love for others. It is because of love that Paul had been stoned and flogged: those were the only "marks" he carried on his body that had any meaning for him.
This same love brought Paul to conclude this abrupt and harsh letter with final words of tenderness for the Galatians: "Brothers," he calls them despite the controversy between them, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. " To such a prayer for unity beyond conflict, we can only respond sincerely with Paul: " Amen!