There are some things people say we shouldn’t talk about at the dinner table. Religion and politics are commonly found on that list. For many people, I think circumcision might be on that list as well. It is not a conversation piece that normally accompanies, “Please pass the bread”. Interestingly enough, in today’s passage from Acts, Timothy is circumcised so that religion can be dinner table conversation.
Here is what we find in Acts, “Paul reached also Derbe and Lystra where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. The brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him, and Paul wanted him to come along with him. On account of the Jews of that region, Paul had him circumcised, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.” This is a powerful little chunk of information that Luke gives us. Its power might be lost on us because we think of circumcision as a ritual akin to Baptism or a safe surgery at which no one bats an eye. This is problematic because Baptism doesn’t cause pain and require recovery time. Also, our nonchalance toward circumcision goes away as the recipient gets older and the medical practices get more and more primitive. So let’s reformat what happened in Acts today. Timothy has just heard that the Council of Jerusalem said he doesn’t have to be circumcised to be a Christian. Then Paul shows up and asks him to join him because he would make an excellent evangelist. However, Paul tells him that he should be circumcised. So, adult Timothy, with the medical practices of 1st Century Rome, receives circumcision. Yikes!
This compels us to ask “Why?” The quick answer is, “for the sake of the Gospel.” However, the Gospel doesn’t require circumcision. It isn’t necessary. Wouldn’t Paul avoid confusion about the role of circumcision in the Gospel if he had forbidden it to Timothy instead of requesting it of him? I think the truer reason, which happens to be tougher to imitate, is that Timothy did it for the sake of those who might hear the Gospel.
Timothy had no reason to take on circumcision except to be more acceptable to his listeners. The fact that he took on circumcision so that his voice would be heard should challenge the whole Church as we strive to imitate him. I think we are tempted to burden and inconvenience the evangelized. Yet, Timothy would seem to say “No, no. Quite the opposite. Evangelists take on whatever burden they can so that the heart of the evangelized can be free to respond and to prevent the impositions of evangelists from being confused with the demands of the Gospel.” What are some inconveniences and sufferings that we can take on ourselves in order to share the Good News with them?
Lord, give us hearts like Timothy and Paul. Hearts that desire so strongly for others to know you, that we are willing to undergo hardship to help others be open to you.