Circumcision? I mean, really now—circumcision?? There are a lot of weird things in the bible, but I’ve always thought that is one of the weirdest. I’m going to be frank here. What was going through God’s mind when He decided to institute that surgical procedure as the way to mark people (ahem, men) as his “chosen” ones? If it had to be a permanent mark, then why not a tattoo? Or, why couldn’t he have created a type of extraneous skin flap on the big toe that could be removed from infant males in a Jewish ceremony? That would definitely have caused less embarrassment milleniums later when preached about in a church service in which one’s mouthy, curious five-year-old raises loud questions concerning explicit hows and whys of said procedure.
But for new Christians in the first century, circumcision didn’t seem to be a particularly delicate subject. It was actually a hotly debated subject. When Jewish people became Christians and began letting go of Old Covenant practices, they wrestled with whether or not this external sign was still necessary. The topic heated up even more as Paul started bringing Gentiles, or pagans, into the fold. They weren’t marked, and I’m sure weren’t eagerly lining up for any later-in-life day surgery, either.
So, to be, or not to be? That was the question. Paul eventually provided the answer to this in several key epistle passages:
“For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.” Romans 2:28-29 (NLT)
“It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.” Galatians 6:15-16 (NLT)
It’s important to note that the New Covenant enlarged the spiritual definition of “Jew” to include anyone who opens their heart to God and recognizes the divinity of his son, Jesus. That’s it. The children of God would no longer be identified by external signs. There would be no more need for rites, rituals, rules, regulations.
No more prescribed offerings and bloody sacrifices. No more demonizing objects or politics. No more fights over preferences or denominations. No more pride in appearances or in hip Sunday praise bands.
A person’s identity as a follower of God would simply be marked by one’s passionate, internal heart desire to know Him. In the book of Galatians, Paul furthers his point even more graphically:
“I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves. For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:11-14 (NLT)
The introduction of the New Covenant was tricky. Jesus brought it first to the Jewish people as a replacement for the worn-out Old Covenant. Even though Jesus made it clear that the new was a replacement, not an addendum, the Jews kept trying to incorporate it into the old mold anyway.
Jesus warned that trying to fit his New Covenant into the Law House was as useless as trying to put new, unfermented wine into an old container (which wouldn’t expand so would explode when the new wine started fermenting), or using a piece of unshrunk cloth to patch a hole in an old shirt, (which, when washed, would do its inevitable shrinking and thus rip away from the already-shrunk cloth), or putting new groceries into already-used plastic bags (which might save the mom two cents per bag by bringing back her old ones to the store, but would burst open in the parking lot and expel items in all directions, and require said mom to chase down cans of chili from under moving vehicles and retrieve large soda bottles from under tire of pickup truck in which massive snarling dog was stationed protectively at tailgate.)
The Pharisees had always assumed that their law duties were, in effect, keeping the House ready for the Messiah’s occupation when he arrived. But, unfortunately, they had hoarded so many useless rules and undealt-with sin piles, that Jesus said at one point, “…yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message.” John 8:37 (NLT)
They were full to the max with other stuff. Old, worn-out stuff. Stuff that they would protect with deadly force.
They were sporting NO VACANCY signs on their hearts and guarding their doors with guns.
My Pharisaism hung the same sign on my heart. Wally, as a Pharisee, insisted that the real Messiah chose to live inside a traditional system. He made me forget that Jesus said the Holy Spirit, under the new system, would choose to take up residence inside people.
I had definitely known that and felt that energy operating inside me at one time. But as the insidious disease slowly took over, I began losing that power. Wally did his best to make sure that I basically forgot my first love. He slowly turned my attention back to the physical side of my faith—namely, duties, rules, appearances, good behavior and good politics—and away from the mystical, poetic, unfathomable, unsearchable, merciful, joyful, and alive Spirit of God.
The Love part of Jesus that stayed behind when his physical body left the earth.
The Life part of God that can only be contained within living, stretchy, biological tissue…
…which makes up the hearts and brains of real people…
…even silly ones like me.