Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
(Genesis 17:1.9-10.15-22; Matthew 8:1-4)
As a newly ordained priest, the biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown told his pastor on January 1 that he intended to preach on the circumcision. “Ah, you’re not going to do that, are you?” the pastor replied as if even the circumcision of Jesus was a sordid subject. “I most certainly am,” Fr. Brown asserted. What he said that day would no doubt be helpful in interpreting today’s first reading.
Circumcision is a custom older than Abraham. Pagan societies circumcised young men as a sign of sexual potency and the coming of age. But when Abraham and his descendants circumcise their infants, a very different meaning is conveyed. The principal characters are the father and mother of the circumcised, not the boy himself. They demonstrate how carrying out a rite mandated by God does not flaunt sexual prowess but restricts it. The act indicates their intention of raising the child in every way that the Lord commands. Indeed, circumcision implies that the parents do not own their son but that he is a gift from God entrusted to their care.
It may not seem fair that this sacred rite is reserved for males. However, we need to take note that the Bible is not concerned about equality in the same way as western humanity. The sad fact is that men need this reminder of duty and chastity much more than woman since nature allows them to distance themselves from the actual birthing of children. Perhaps it is significant that Baptism, which functions socially in ways similar to circumcision, is obligatory for female as well as male Christians. We recognize the tendency to sin in everyone and the way out of sin’s morass is not primarily by reminding a person of his or her duty. Rather it comes through the work of the Spirit given through the water and the profession of faith.