BY FR. BRIAN ZUMBRUM, OSFS
6th Sunday of Easter | May 26, 2019
See today’s readings here. This homily focuses on the second reading. The archive of all of Fr. Brian’s homilies can be found here: Salesian Sermons
Several years ago, I found myself teaching a Scripture class to a bunch of 7th graders.
Now, we were trying to cover a lot of ground in one year, from the Creation myths of Genesis to the Book of Revelation. So when we arrived at the Council of Jerusalem, as described in the first reading we just heard, I had all intentions of covering this material in about five minutes.
But then came the fateful question:
“Fr. Brian, what is circumcision?”
Somehow, I figured “Go ask your parents” wasn’t going to work, so I attempted to explain the medical procedure to a room full of teenage boys.
Well, now I had simply opened Pandora’s Box.
“Fr. Brian, how do you know if you’re circumcised?”
“Fr. Brian, does it hurt?”
“Fr. Brian, can I go to the bathroom? I need to check something.”
I was rapidly losing control of this discussion and class.
But then a student asked, “Why? Why would they care what you did to your you-know-what?”
Now I must be honest, I don’t remember what I told him.
But of all the questions I heard that fateful class, it was the one that struck me. That one that I have continued to ponder through the years.
And as I listened to this story once again, I found myself returning to it.
Why did the fault lines form over, of all things, circumcision?
Maybe because the earliest Christians understood just how important our bodies are.
As vessels of God’s very life, the way we treat them have profound implications.
I wonder some days, if we forget this today.
If we too easily buy into this sharp contrast between body and soul. As if the mundane matters of the body have little to do with our lives of faith.
It’s funny. My students were so horrified at the thought of someone circumcising them. But they didn’t really think about all of the ways we damage our bodies each day. The food we eat, the weed we smoke, the sleep we don’t get. The obsession we have with our looks, our muscle tone, our weight.
The earliest disciples were frankly much more attuned to this intimate connection between what we believe and how we manifest those choices in our life. How our bodies reveal who we truly are and whose we are.
In marking their bodies in this way, those Christians who had first been Jews, viewed circumcision as an essential way of setting themselves apart. Setting themselves in God’s service. It was their sign to the world that their lives were modeled in the image of their Creator.
But through an often messy process, the leaders of the early church eventually came to see that Paul had a point. That maybe this framework that had served them well was no longer adequate to explain a new reality ushered in by the Spirit.
That maybe what was essential to setting themselves apart now was not a circumcision of the body, but a circumcision of the heart.
Instead of offering the sacrifice of a piece of flesh, they would offer their very lives.
They would offer their wealth. Placing everything at the feet of the disciples so it could be distributed among all who were in need.
They would offer their social status. Choosing to break bread with the outcast, the stranger, the foreigner, the poor.
They would offer their pain. The minor inconveniences and the horrendous cycles of torture and martyrdom that defined the early Church.
They would offer each ordinary moment, believing that the presence of the Spirit among them made that moment sacred. Made the person they shared it with sacred.
And they now invite us to do the same.
My friends, here we are, 2000 years after the Council of Jerusalem. But the challenge of St. Paul remains as relevant as ever. The challenge to heed the Spirit at work continually doing something new.
Are we able to see what truly sets us apart as Christian believers today?
Are we open to truly offering all that we are?
Are we willing to be marked by our God as her own, body and soul?
May God be Praised.