Every last one of us wants to be special in someone’s eyes. The same is true of groups of people as well. We often find our worth in that which distinguishes us from others. If that quest for being special does not exclude people or belittle others, there is nothing wrong with thinking this way. Thus it was that the Jewish people found their special character in their relationship with their God. In various passages of the Scriptures, the children of Israel are described as a people peculiarly God’s own.
This special relationship was ritualized in circumcision. This mark in the flesh was their I.D.
Jesus, the final revelation of God, appeared as a member of the Jewish community. Christianity grew out of Judaism. The first thirty or forty years of the Christian community’s existence found them closely aligned with the Jewish community. On the Sabbath, they worshipped in the synagogues with their fellow Jews. On the first day of the week, they gathered to celebrate the Lord’ Supper, the Eucharist. Those first years offered the Christians the protection of the Jewish community which had entered into an agreement with the Romans.
All of that began to fray for two reasons. First of all, the Christian community began attracting Gentiles. Secondly, when the protection of the Roman Empire was withdrawn from the Jews, many of them blamed that development on the Christian members of the community.
However, before that happened, many within the community believed that to be Christian, one had to first be Jewish. This is the reason for the disagreement about circumcision and the various dietary restrictions of the Jews.
Both St. Peter and St. Paul welcomed Gentiles into the community. However, it was St. Paul who argued that circumcision was not necessary simply because it was not necessary to be Jewish in order to be saved. Remember that throughout the Gospels, Jesus would tell people who had been healed or cured that their faith had saved them. While that utterance may not turn our heads, it certainly would have caused a stir among the Jews who believe that they were saved by their adherence to the Law. However, St. Paul’s insistence that we are saved by faith rather than by the Law made it unnecessary to Jewish in order to be Christian.
Over the next couple of days, we will hear more about this difficulty in the community and the “synod” that resolved the issue. The lesson that we take away from this quarrel is quite simple. All men and women who believe are saved. It is what we believe that unites us, not our acceptance of the Law.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator