Bible Study, Finding, New Testament, Seeking, Uncategorized

“See what large letters I make”: The Humanness of Paul

There’s Paul, the alleged homophobe, yes, and his writing is often weaponized against gay people, I get it, but Paul also describes himself as an expectant mother and queerness is everywhere if you just look for it. (Galatians 4:19)

Towards the end of Galatians, after yelling about circumcision, and faith over works, and fornication, and then some more about circumcision (Paul yells a LOT in Galatians), there’s this heartbreaking human moment from Paul.

Paul interrupts his letter/harangue to say, “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand.” (Galatians 6:11) And it’s an admission of vulnerability that out of the blue completely humanizes Paul, at least for me, a gay man who has to work a little extra hard at loving Paul. (It can also be argued that Paul is referring to emphasis, rather than literal larger letters. But that doesn’t work out for me. Paul relied on a variety of amanuenses to write his letters, and rarely wrote them himself; and you’d think that if he were pointing out an emphasis it would have been earlier. The consensus is that Paul’s eyesight was affected in some way — some argue by the experience on the road to Damascus — and that he had trouble seeing.)

The first time Zach & I went to Amsterdam, we went to the Van Gogh museum. And there was a painting that was almost too perfectly Van Gogh; like, too sunflowers? Too something. But then I saw this red border painted around the edges of the canvas. And the painting went from being sort of a too-perfect approximation/facsimile of a Van Gogh to being, all of a sudden, very human. I can’t explain it better. This thick line of red spoke to the artist’s presence more than the entire painting did.

And that’s what Paul’s weak eyes do for me. Snap this lofty, semi-fictional, grumpy, foreskin-obsessed weirdo into a human shape with human frailties. “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand.” And what makes it even more poignant, in my mind, is that Paul feels the body as a betrayal all throughout his letters. The body is a curse and a temple and such a source of erotic confusion for him. To have his eyes failing, too, it’s all almost too much.

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