Audio length: 47:23 minutes
Transcript published: January 30, 2010
Enthroned on high with the Eternal Father and Your divine Spirit,
O Jesus, You willed to be born on earth of the unwedded handmaid, your Mother.
Therefore You were circumcised as an eight-day old Child.
Glory to Your most gracious counsel;
glory to Your dispensation;
glory to Your condescension, O only Lover of mankind.
In the Gospel according to St. Luke, after the narration about the birth of Christ and the angels announcing to the shepherds and the angel going from the shepherds into Heaven and the shepherds going down to Bethlehem to see what had happened, when they find Mary and Joseph and the Child lying in a manger, they made known to all the people around them concerning the Child, and everyone who heard about it wondered about what the shepherds had told them.
It’s also written that Mary, herself, kept all these things; pondering them in her heart. This has led some people to think that the narrative material that’s found in Luke was taken from Mary herself. There is that position that people somehow hold, because twice it says it about Mary pondering all these things in her heart.
But then it says that when the shepherds returned and they glorified and praised God for all that they had heard and seen and had been told them. Then it’s written “at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.”
Now this is the only record that we have about the circumcision of Jesus, just that one sentence that on the eighth day, according to the law, they brought Him to be circumcised. Now that was the teaching of the Mosaic law. Part of the covenant of God with Abraham, way back in the beginning, was the practice of the circumcision of all the male children.
We see in Genesis, for example, that God called Abram when he was 99 years old and said to him that He was the Lord God, and He called him to walk before Him blamelessly, and Abram fell upon his face before God. And then we have a changing a name. We see again the significance of the name. The name Abram means “exalted father.” The name Abraham means “father of the multitude.”
And here we have again reference to God’s promise to Abraham that, first of all, his children would be as many as the stars in the heavens and the sands on the shore. And great nations will come from him, and kings will come from him. And that, of his seed, all the families of the earth would be blessed.
And it’s written in the book of Genesis that God establishes His covenant with Abraham. It’s written “I will establish my covenant between you and your descendants after you, throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant,” which means that there is a covenanted relationship with the children of Abraham forever.
And we Christians believe that covenanted relationship actually reaches its completion in Jesus. And that that is the final covenant, and there is no covenant after that. That’s the ultimate, last covenant. And then it is written, God says, “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Now here, the Christian interpretation would be that the land of Canaan is given. However, when Jesus Christ is crucified and raised and glorified, then there is a heavenly Jerusalem. There is a new land of the living. There is the coming kingdom to come at the end of the ages. And therefore, the geographic land ceases to have significance, because when Jesus is crucified, it’s all fulfilled.
In a sense, the Christian view is that when Jesus, the Messiah, is crucified, it’s the end of holy history. It’s the end of the ages. It’s written in the New Testament that the end of the ages have come upon us. St. Paul says this all the time. The end of the ages have come upon us. There is nothing more to be expected.
And in a sense, the world’s history is over when the Messiah dies. And then when He’s raised, He’s raised into newness of life, into the reality beyond this world. And when Christians are baptized, they enter into that reality. And that is the ultimate land of the living. That is the everlasting possession.
And then, in Genesis, God says to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.” And then He says:
This is my covenant, which you shall keep between me and you and your descendants after you. Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He that is eight days old, among you, shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring; both he that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money shall be circumcised, so shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.
Now St. Paul points out that Abraham was counted righteous before God and reckoned as righteous and received all the promises before he was circumcised. The act of circumcision, in and of itself, is a seal and sign of the covenant. It is not that which, so to speak, makes the covenant. It’s the remembrance and the very powerful external sign that there is a covenant and that God did make promises to Abraham.
And we know that in the story of Genesis, when God makes the covenant, God is promising his fidelity to Abraham forever. And they kill that heifer, and the fire of God passes through. And God makes this promise, and it’s based on faith. It’s based on trusting God.
So the circumcision is a sign that one believes in God. In a sense, it’s a sign that one belongs to God. They bare on their body a very, very distinguishing mark that they belong to God. And it’s on the foreskin of the male. And that’s where the seed is that; that’s where the power is, so to speak. It’s in the loins. It’s in the descendants that come.
In the Old Testament, the greatest glory of the man was to have many children. In fact, in the earliest part of the Old Testament, the best thing that could happen to a man is that he would live very old, that he would die a natural death, and that he would have many children to carry on his life and his seed.
The worst thing that could happen to a man is that he would die young, that he would die by natural calamity or by disease or by disaster and the worse would be at the hands of an enemy; that he would get killed by enemies at a very young age, and perish without offspring. Without offspring was considered to be the worst thing that could happen.
But if you lived long and were gathered into the bosom of your fathers and you had many children around you and you blessed them and your days were healthy and long and happy, that was as good as it got in the old covenant.
Now the promise of God had to be remembered and God had to be trusted. So later on in the Mosaic Law, and of course it’s pointed out even in the New Testament that circumcision doesn’t come from the law. It precedes the giving of the law. It comes before Moses. Circumcision was the covenant signed with Abraham.
But then when Moses comes and the covenant is renewed, and you have a Mosaic Covenant with the reaffirmation of the promises made to Abraham. Then you have with Moses the deal between God and Moses since God saved the people, since God brought them out of Egypt, since he gave them liberation, since he brought them to the desert, since he kept them alive as a people, since he destroyed their enemies in front of them, since he would give them the land He promised.
And we already thought and heard about and remembered how Moses and the people who came out of Egypt, they did not enter into the rest. They did not enter into the land of the living, because they were not faithful to the covenant.
And the covenant with Moses is a conditional covenant. “If you keep my law.” And the Decalogue; the Ten Commandments; and generally the whole law of Moses in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; that whole law is what the people keep in order to remember the fidelity of God to them.
Even the sacrifices in the Bible are not to appease the deity. That would be a pagan understanding. That’s not a Biblical understanding; certainly not a Christian understanding. We don’t offer sacrifice to God, or in the New Covenant, we don’t offer Divine Liturgy, the bread and the wine on the altar, to appease God and to make God love us and to make God do what we want Him to do and to make sure He keeps us healthy and happy and gives us a good human life on this Earth. That’s not the idea at all.
The sacrificial offerings to God, according to Mosaic Law, by the men who are circumcised and take wives from among their own people and keep all the commandments of the law, i.e., honoring their father and mother, keeping the Sabbath day holy, not doing any murder, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness, not lying, not coveting, being kind to the sojourner and the stranger, keeping the feast of God: the Passover and the Pentecost and the Booths, and generally even caring for the earth and cosmos with jubilee years, all of these activities and the offerings of sacrifices like when a child is born, you go and you offer your sacrifice—We’ll see that Joseph and Mary will do that with Jesus—all these things are to remember God’s fidelity, to remember God’s promises, to remember God is protecting us and taking care of us, God is fighting for us against our enemies, God is giving us the gifts.
And He’s doing it gratuitously. He’s doing it freely. He’s doing it be sheer grace. The Lord is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and mercy. He does not always chide. He does not deal with us according to our iniquities. God may chasten so that we would repent, but God’s promises are firm. He does not change his mind.
As the psalm says, chanted in the Divine Liturgy of Christmas when the Gospel is brought out, we sing in church the line of the psalm, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind.” His promises are firm. It even says in the Letter to the Hebrews that, He had no one else to swear by so He swore by Himself that He would be faithful.
And that’s what all of the acts of the law are for, to remember the fidelity of God, to glorify God for His fidelity, to show gratitude to God, to show that we are sorry for our transgressions and sins; that we want to be at peace with God; we want to be righteous before God. These are the meaning of those external signs.
And that’s the meaning of the purity codes in Leviticus as well; not eating certain animals and certain shellfish, not eating milk and meat together, and all these kinds of things. Those were all hedges. Those were all acts that were given to compel the people to remember God. Even the Sabbath rule was to remember God; to rejoice in God.
Now this circumcision sign was exactly the same thing. The circumcision sign was to remember the fidelity and glory of God. And that consisted all through the entire Old Testament. And it consisted just up to Jesus, whom as we know was Himself circumcised.
Now before we get to Jesus, we have to remember that already in the Old Testament; already in the law of Moses, it was a very clear teaching that God was not appeased or satisfied because of the keeping of these external activities of the law. This is not what made God happy with people. What made God happy with people, is when the people loved Him.
The main commandment was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, mind, heart, and strength. You shall love your neighbor as being your own very self.” You should show mercy. If the Lord is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and mercy, and faithfulness, that’s how we ought to be. If God, Himself, is holy, then you must be holy. That’s in the Levitical code. “I, your God, am holy. You must be holy.”
And so, as St. Paul will say, “Already in the law itself, it’s not the external things that matter. What matters is the heart.” In the Proverbs, God says, “Give me your heart.” But already in the law of Moses, for example Deuteronomy 11, you have these words:
Thus says the Lord, if you will obey my commandments, which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your heart, and with all your soul, He will give the rain for your land and its seasons, the early and the late rain, that you may gather your grain and your wine and your oil. Take heed, lest your heart be deceived and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them. Then, the anger of God will be kindled against you. You shall, therefore, lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and you shall have them as frontlets between your eyes, and teach them to your children.
So we have this teaching of God in Deuteronomy about the love of God, and when He gives the Decalogue, He also says:
And now Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and the statutes of the law, which I command you this day, for your good. Behold, to the Lord your God, belong heaven and the heavens of heavens and the earth with all that is in it. Yet, the Lord set His heart in love upon your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and chose their descendants after them; you, above all the peoples. As at this day, circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
So the law doesn’t only say, circumcise the foreskin of the male flesh. But you, circumcising the foreskin of your flesh, have to show by that act that you are circumcising therefore the foreskin of your heart and are not being stubborn and following your own mind and your own way. Then, it says:
For the Lord, your God, is a God of gods and the Lord of lords, great, mighty, terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow. He loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourners, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve Him and cleave to Him, and by His name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things, which your eyes have seen.
So what’s the word? The word is “circumcise the foreskin of your heart,” not just your flesh, but your heart. You find the same thing in Jeremiah. The prophets all say it. You don’t honor God with your lips. You honor Him with your heart. You don’t just keep the external forms of the ritual practices, but you keep the spirit of the law. Already the prophets are saying all these things.
Jeremiah, for example, says, “The temple, the temple, the temple. You talk about the temple.” Isaiah says in the very first chapter, “I hate your solemn assemblies. Your incense stinks. I won’t accept your burnt offerings. I won’t listen to your prayers.” The Lord says, even to Jeremiah, “Don’t even pray for this people because it’s of no use; they are no good.” They’re not following the commandments of God.
And relative to circumcision, this is what we find in Jeremiah. “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord. Remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Lest my wrath go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it because of the evil of your doings.” So, it’s about the heart.
And this is exactly what the Apostle Paul is telling us. In the Letter to the Romans, that’s the main point that he makes. Because what is the great difficulty for St. Paul? The great difficulty is that there were Jews who accepted that Jesus was the Messiah; who even believed that He was raised from the dead. It’s not clear that they really believed He was the divine Son of God or not. But in any case, they were called in Church tradition, the Circumcision Party.
And what they really felt was that those who belong to the same flesh as Jesus, namely the Jews, that they would sit in special places with God in His Kingdom. Even James and John and their mother asked that of Jesus, “Can we sit on these thrones?” The brothers of Jesus. They thought that they would be in special places with Jesus, just because of biology and their flesh and blood.
But St. Paul says, “It’s not flesh and blood that enters the Kingdom.” And St. Paul is insisting that that is always the case. That’s not some kind of new teaching that Jesus brought in. But what St. Paul does say is that following Abraham and following even the prophet Habakkuk, where it’s clearly written that the righteous live by faith. So St. Paul’s whole point is, “By faith we are saved through grace.”
And anyone who believes in Jesus as the Messianic King and Lord, who fulfilled all righteousness in His own flesh, beginning by being circumcised, that once they believe in Him, then they receive the Holy Spirit. Then, they are living already as dead in this world. And if you’re dead, the prescriptions of the law don’t apply to you, the apostle writes.
And if you’re raised from the dead, together with Jesus, and you receive the Holy Spirit as the foretaste of the coming Kingdom, you no longer belong in this world. Then, all those external prescriptions of the law, they are replaced by the memory of Jesus.
And so the Christians remember who they are, not by being circumcised, but by being baptized. And by being baptized and by being sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit on every part of their body and their flesh. They remember the final, ultimate mercy of God, the ultimate Passover, the ultimate Covenant, the ultimate destruction of the enemies by eating the broken body and the spilled shed blood at the Holy Eucharist service.
At the Eucharistic meal, the Mystical Supper, Jesus commands them, you do this in remembrance of me. So even for the Christians, there are external signs of remembrance, of memory, of knowing the fidelity of God. But these signs do not include circumcision. And circumcision in that sense is not necessary.
There is something else that is happening here now that Jesus came. And this something else happens because Jesus fulfills all righteousness according to the Mosaic Law. He does it all. He’s circumcised on the eighth day and receives the name Jesus. Then, He’s presented to the Temple on the 40th day, and His parents make the proper sacrifices.
Then, He keeps all the proscriptions of the law. And He even says, “I have come, not to break the law, but to fulfill it.” He says, “not one jot or tittle of the law will pass away, until all things are fulfilled.” But all things are fulfilled when He’s crucified. That’s when all things are fulfilled. When Jesus hangs on the Cross, in St. John’s Gospel his last word even is one word in Greek, tetelestai. It’s accomplished. It’s fulfilled. It’s perfected.
And we could say that that means, first of all, that the Mosaic Law is fulfilled and perfected. It’s all done now. There’s nothing more that people can do than to believe in Jesus that He has done it; that He has perfected everything.
Now, the most amazing thing is that Jesus perfects it by suffering; by dying. He perfects it by being stricken down at the fulness of His human humanity, 33 years old; unmarried; no children, no offspring, no descendants biologically speaking; having nothing, totally poor, rejected abandoned, mocked, spit upon, cursed. Cursed is everyone who hangs upon the tree.
But in that act of perfect love for God His Father, with all His mind, soul, heart, and strength; perfect love for His enemies, all enemies, beginning with those who nailed Him to the cross, when He says, “Father forgive them,” Jesus perfects everything.
And as the Apostle Paul will say, “Love is the fulfillment of the law.” That’s what the law is all about. That’s what circumcision and all these ritual prescriptions and Sabbaths and everything was about that we would love with the same love that God in Christ has loved us. And Jesus has done that.
And that’s why Jesus gives the commandments to His disciples, saying to them, “Unless you’re righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of God.” And that’s why He says, “The new commandment I give you is that you love one another as I have loved you.”
So Jesus fulfills all things in His own flesh. He fulfills it in his own flesh on the cross; in His own body. And that flesh and body fulfillment begins when He’s eight days old, because He’s taken as a baby; stripped naked. Gregory the Theologian will say:
Naked in the Bethlehem cave. Naked on the table before the knife of the priest who will cut His foreskin. Naked in the Jordan River when He’s baptized, taking on the sin of the world as the Lamb of God. Naked when He hangs upon the tree of the cross. Naked when He’s wrapped in the grave clothes and put into the tomb.
And then the Holy Fathers will say, “He becomes naked to clothe us with Himself.” And all those who are baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ. They have put on Christ. And in general, this will be the teaching and the interpretation of the Last Judgment parable. When Jesus says, “I was hungry,” He really was. And by hungering, He became the Bread of Life. And if you eat His body, you never are hungry again.
He said, “I thirst,” but He gives the Holy Spirit, which swells up like living water in a person. So that if you come to Jesus and drink from Him, you’ll never thirst again. But He gives Himself and gives the Spirit as the living water by being Himself thirsty.
And He clothes us by being naked, and through His nakedness, we are clothed. He heals our wounds by being Himself wounded. He bring us home to the house of the Father in the kingdom that will have no end, the many mansions and the mansion with many rooms, by being Himself homeless.
He makes us rich by becoming totally poor. He frees us by becoming arrested, put in prison, beaten, killed with criminals. So when He becomes in the place of the criminal, we are set free. And how does He give us life? He gives us life by dying, and it’s all fulfilled.
Now all of that is already shown, and certainly this is how the Orthodox Church sings in its Liturgy, at Jesus’ birth; that He’s already cast out when He’s born. Not only when He’s crucified is He kicked out of the city of Jerusalem, but when He comes to Bethlehem, He has no place to be born. He has to be born out in a cave somewhere.
And it’s a cave that prefigures the sepulcher in which He will be buried. He’s wrapped in swaddling clothes to show that He’ll be wrapped in grave clothes when He dies. He is completely attacked and hounded from the minute He is born. Herod tries to kill Him, and Pontius Pilate and the other Herod finally succeed.
And they have to flee to save His life into Egypt. And then God has to bring Him out of Egypt and put Him into Galilee of the Gentiles to preserve His life. And ultimately His life is not preserved. He voluntarily gives Himself over unto death.
So all of this is shown in His infancy, and it’s shown at the circumcision. Because that circumcision is the act of extreme humiliation before God. What could be more humbling for a male than to have the foreskin cut off? And to have that happen with the shedding of blood? Wielding the knife. It’s kenosis. It’s self-emptying.
So the circumcision of Jesus prefigures His self-emptying on the cross, when He’s pierced with a sword and bleeds blood and water, Baptism and Eucharist, for the sake of our salvation. So the circumcision of Jesus if a prefiguration of His Crucifixion. It begins right when He’s a baby, and it shows where He’s going.
Just like His entrance on the 40th day into the Temple, it will be said, “This child will be a stumbling block, the rising and fall of many. A sword will pierce Mary’s own heart,” it will say on the 40th day, when she is purified according to the law.
And then of course, we know that all of this is fulfilled in the Crucifixion. He goes through this through His whole life. And He begins His ministry by showing it, by being baptized, by going down into those waters in nakedness to show that He takes upon Himself the sin of the world. “The Lamb of God who is slain.”
Now because Jesus did all these things, the Christian teaching, that ancient Christianity that we believe as Orthodox, namely St. Paul and St. John and the 27 books of the New Testament, they say that righteousness, like already for Abraham, like the prophet Habakkuk already said with all the other prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, who says, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”
All of this is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, and that’s what the New Testament writers show us. That’s what we find already written in the Gospels, coming out of Jesus’ own mouth after He’s raised from the dead. The Gospels are written to show that this is Jesus’ own teaching.
And then the Apostle Paul, he makes it very clear. And he fought with the Circumcision Party, because he says, “You people who claim that to belong the Christian Church, you have to be circumcised,” and that you have to keep all the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law. The Apostle Paul said, “Nonsense.”
Jesus did it all. We have a new freedom in Jesus. We live by the Holy Spirit. We don’t belong to this age. We have new commandments. We have new covenant signs. There’s a new covenant sign, not circumcision anymore, but Baptism, sealing with the Spirit; Holy Eucharist.
No more Sabbath Day, but the day after Sabbath, mia ton sabbaton, the first day, the eighth day. Everything is fulfilled and renewed in Christ. And the Gentiles can come in. And what’s the condition for the Gentiles to come in? The Circumcision Party said they have to be circumcised. They have to keep the Mosaic Law. The Apostle Paul says, no they do not. The salvation of even Abraham was by faith, not by the external covenant sign.
And he says, if the Gentiles come in, and this is what was decided at the Council in Acts 15, and participate in the Holy Eucharist and be baptized and sealed and get the Holy Spirit and be full members of the Church, the only thing they have to really promise to do is not worship idols, not eat the food offered to idols, not eat the blood of animals, which is their life, and not indulge in fornication and ritual impurity.
In fact, the New Testament is way beyond the Levitical codes when it comes to purity. Some people think that the purification code was eliminated by Jesus. For example, gay theologians will say, “Oh there can be gay marriage and gay sex now, because the forbidding of a man lying with a man was simply a purity code. It was like not eating pork.”
We Christians, would say, “Nonsense.” The righteousness in Christ has to exceed those of the purification laws. There has to be total purity. And in fact, some Christians went so far as to think that since that was the case even married people had to live a totally virginal, brother and sister type life.
And then the Apostles in the New Testament said, no. Marriage remains until the end of the ages, when it’s the marriage between one man and one woman with no divorce whatsoever. And the New Testament only allows a second marriage by extreme oikonomia between a man and a woman. Read St. Paul about that issue.
So there’s a total purity, and this is what the Apostle Paul was saying. In his letter to the Romans, he says, “Circumcision indeed is of value, if you obey the law. But if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.” So just being circumcised doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to keep the moral law of God and the commandments of God; the love of neighbor and the mercy.
So he says, “So if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those that are physically uncircumcised, but keep the law of God,” and he means the law as interpreted and shown in Jesus, which is the real understanding of the law of Moses, “those who keep the law will condemn you who have written code and who have circumcision, but who in fact break the law of God.” And then St. Paul says this amazing sentence:
For he is not a real Jew, who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly. Real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men, but from God.
So being a matter of the heart, it’s also a matter, according to St. Paul, of faith. So this is what the Apostle continues to write in the Letter to the Romans, “Is the blessing of God and the forgiveness of sins pronounced only upon the circumcised, or also upon the uncircumcised?” He asks this question. Then he says:
We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received circumcision as a sign of the righteousness he had by faith, while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe, without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them. And likewise the father of the circumcised as well, who are not merely circumcised externally, but who also follow the example of the faith with which our father, Abraham, had before he was circumcised.
So the Apostle Paul is saying something very clear. He’s saying circumcision and these signs are wonderful, and the law is holy, just, and good, and all those purification commandments were absolutely important, but they were important as signs that the heart was with God and that they were trusting and believing in God.
So he says that if a person would only glory in being externally circumcised or not eating pork or not engage in Temple prostitution or other things of that nature, they’re glorying in the flesh. And then St. Paul says, himself, in the Letter to the Philippians, “If you want to glory in flesh, I can glory more than any of you. Look out for the evildoers. Look out for those who mutilate the flesh, for we,” the believers in Christ Jesus as the Messiah and Lord, “are the true circumcision who worship God in spirit,” or that might be translated “who worship by the spirit of God and who glory in Christ Jesus,” and we can add, who fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law for us, beginning with circumcision.
So we glory in Christ Jesus and so we put no confidence in the flesh, in our own flesh. Then he says, “Though I myself have every reason for confidence in the flesh. I do. If anyone thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.” And then he lists what he can boast about.
He said, “Circumcised on the eighth day,” so Paul, himself, was circumcised on the eighth day. “Of the people of Israel; of the tribe of Benjamin; a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the Church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless,” but then the Apostle continues:
But whatever gain I have, I count it as a loss. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the unsurpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ, my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and I count them as refuse, as dung, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own based on law and based on circumcision of the flesh, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.
So St. Paul will say that he bears on his body the marks of Jesus, the stigmata of Jesus, but that mark is not the circumcision of his foreskin. It was all the wounds he suffered for being a Christian, suffering together with Christ and being co-crucified with Him in this world in fidelity to God.
So St. Paul is saying this over and over again in all of his letters. For example in his Letter to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” He meant to external prescriptions of the law. “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you,” the Gentiles.
I testify again, to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be made righteous, justified by the law. You have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit by faith, we wait for hope. For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision or un- circumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.
And then he says that anyone who thinks that it’s by circumcision, then the scandal of the cross is removed. Then, there is no cross. There is no salvation through the cross. So St. Paul is saying this all the time. In that same letter to the Galatians, he says this:
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to Gentiles to be circumcised, and only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
So he says that those who are crucified are dead. They don’t belong to this world anymore. And then he says this sentence, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Then he says, “Peace and mercy upon all those who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.” And for St. Paul, the “Israel of God” is not a matter of flesh and blood, nor a matter of circumcision and external law. It’s a matter of faith in Jesus Christ.
And therefore, the Apostle Paul will claim that it is the Christians who are the real Israelites because they’ve been grafted to Christ. And it’s very interesting that in the New Testament, you have the New Testament; you have the new Testament; you have the new Covenant; you have the new anthropos, the new man, the new humanity; you have the new Heaven and the new Earth; you have the new song to sing.
All things are made new, but there is no new Israel. There’s only one Israel of God. And that Israel, belonging to Abraham—it’s a matter of faith, not a matter of flesh and blood. So here, we can hear again St. Paul, when he says in the Letter to the Colossians, “For in Jesus, the whole fullness of divinity dwells in Jesus bodily,” somatikos. “And you have come to fullness of life in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” And then he writes:
In Him also you were circumcised, with a circumcision made without hands by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ. And you were buried with Him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead. So you who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses; having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands. He has set all this aside, nailing it to the cross.
So then the Apostle Paul will say that the real circumcision is the new creation. It’s the keeping of the commandments of God. It’s becoming righteous through faith. That’s the circumcision of the heart, and that is what we have in Christ.
Now Jesus Himself was circumcised. And we can say that the circumcision of Jesus, just like His birth, just like His Baptism, just like His preaching and teaching, just like His suffering, just like His rejection, just like His Crucifixion, just like His death, just like His Resurrection, just like His glorification is, to use the words of the Nicene Creed, always and in every instance “for us men and for our salvation.”
It’s all, as they would say in Latin, pro nobis. It’s all for us. Jesus didn’t do any of these things for Himself. He wasn’t born into this world for Himself. He wasn’t circumcised on the eighth day for Himself. He was not baptized in the Jordan for Himself. He did not keep all the provisions of the law for Himself. Well, certainly humanly of course, in a way He did. But He did all this to glorify God so that we would be saved by faith and by grace in Him, and that we would become a new creation.
And this is what we have in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why He came in the flesh. This is why He was born on Earth. This is why He came among us, that we would keep the commandments of God. So in the Letter to the Corinthians, to end our meditation, we see what St. Paul wrote, both to his own people and to the Gentiles. He said:
Let everyone of you lead the life, which the Lord has assigned to him and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was any of you, at the time of his calling, already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.
It’s by faith and righteousness by faith. It’s entering into the new creation that Jesus brings. So on the eighth day after His birth, according to St. Luke’s Gospel, Mary’s child is brought under the knife of circumcision. He sheds His first blood at that moment. And He’s given the name Jesus, which means Savior, victor, conqueror, the one who triumphs, the one who heals, the one who raises to everlasting life.
And He shows that He will do that in His death. He shows that He will do that in the bloodshed on the cross. But before He grows up and sheds His blood on the cross, as an eight day old baby, He sheds the blood of His foreskin, at the hands of the priest; fulfilling the law of Israel in His own flesh. And at that moment, He’s given the name Jesus, Joshua, Yeshua, the Savior, the victor, the ultimate Savior, the ultimate victor, the Savior of all reality, the re-creator of all creation, the victor over all the enemies of God. And all of this is for us and for our salvation.