St. Theophylact of Ohrid (d. 1108AD) in his commentary on Galatians asks a rhetorical question about St. Paul’s line in 3:1. St. Paul tells the Galatians that the crucified Christ was placed right before their eyes.
Theophylact uses this line to explore what Paul the Apostle to the Nations could possibly mean. Jesus was crucified years before the Galatians heard about Him, and was crucified in a land far away from where the Galatians lived, so in how would it be possible for the Galatians to see Christ crucified? St. Theophylact starts by quoting St. Paul:
“’Before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you.‘
‘But Christ was crucified in Jerusalem,’ one might object. ‘How then can Paul say, ‘before whose eyes and among you?’ He can do so because, with the eyes of faith, the Galatians see the Cross more vividly than those who were present at Golgotha and witnessed the event. Many of the bystanders who saw the crucifixion in the flesh derived no benefit from it, but the Galatians can perceive the Cross more clearly by faith, though not with the eyes of the flesh. Therefore, Christ was set forth, that is, He was depicted in the proclamation of the Gospel. ‘When you believed in my preaching, you saw Him visibly present.’ ” (St. Theophylact, The Explanation of the Epistle of St Paul to the Galatians, pg. 47)
We encounter in this explanation of St. Paul’s Epistle an interesting fact that we will see in the Gospels as well. Being present at the time of Christ, being in Christ’s presence is no absolute guarantee that one will benefit from the experience. Most of those who witnessed the crucifixion, “derived no benefit from it” in the words of St. Theophylact. They had no advantage over us. But when we hear the entire Gospel and understand that Jesus is being portrayed as the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, Lord, the Suffering Servant of God, the incarnate God, then we can come to understand the significance of the crucifixion. We can hear and understand the story with eyes of faith. So hearing the entire Gospel proclaimed gives us an advantage over those who may have just had a momentary encounter with Christ 2000 years ago. We are being given the whole picture including the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Christ. When we hear the entire Gospel proclaimed within a community of faith and can see that others actually believe and live according to the teachings of Christ, the story, the Gospel takes on a power which it couldn’t have for those who actually were present at one of the events listed in the Gospel.
Thus we see “more vividly” the life of Christ than some who were actually present for it, because we have the advantage of knowing the entire story and all the things that God did through and in Jesus Christ including raising Him from the dead. We hear a Gospel lesson but understand it only in the light of all of the Gospel stories, of the entire New Testament or the Bible itself. Every passage we read today we read within the context of the entirety of Scripture and within the community of those who have accepted this Tradition, believed it and attempt to live according to its precepts.