Grace to you, and Happy Easter!
In the previous three reflections, I shared some lessons from the first Christian Council in Jerusalem. You may want to get back to those reflections. In case you may not have the time, the following is a summary. Paul and Barnabas took matters to the Church in Jerusalem to resolve the controversy between them and some Jewish Christian converts. The main issue of the case was whether the gentiles needed to be circumcised to be saved. The apostles and presbyters decided that salvation is by God's grace and that circumcision wasn't necessary. This decision was in favor of Saint Paul's position.
Nevertheless, we see Paul do something that seems contradictory in his second missionary journey. You may recall that Paul went on three missionary journeys. The first was to Cyprus and Galatia (see Acts 13:1-14:28). The second was to Europe (see Acts 15:3b-18: 22), and the third was to Asia Minor and Europe (Acts 18:23-21:16).
What Paul did that seemed contradictory to his position during the Jerusalem Council of AD 50 was circumcising Timothy. Timothy was probably a teen or a young adult whose mom was a Jew and whose dad was a Greek. He must have received the gift of faith through his mother. He was well-loved and praised by the people of Lystra and Iconium. Paul took him as a spiritual son and a companion, working alongside Silas.
Paul's second missionary journey would take him to areas dominantly Jewish. Since Timothy was considered and known as a Jew (having been born by a Jewish mom), Paul was concerned some may object to having Timothy minister to them. The reason being that if he wasn't circumcised as a Jew, it may reflect negatively on him and cast a shadow of a doubt as to his respect for Jewish customs and the Law of Moses. It may call his integrity into question and, I suggest, be a bad PR to the ministry in that territory.
Paul applied an ethical principle we know as practical judgment. He also used common sense, with a touch of PR tactics. Paul knew the right thing. He did the right thing at the right time and for the right reasons. He was prudent. The decision at the Council of Jerusalem wasn't to destroy the circumcision culture of the Jews. Instead, it was to save the Gentiles from physical circumcision, which had nothing to do with their incorporation as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, in order not to create an image problem, a stumbling block in their ministry, Paul had to subscribe to Timothy's circumcision. His motivation may have been not to be a barrier to the more important work of God. Nothing is worth impeding the good news of Christ. Paul's tactic here is worth emulating by evangelizers today.
Consider that in another instance, Paul refused circumcision for another of his sons, Titus. I suggest it was because Titus was not a Jew but a gentile (see Acts 15:1ff and Galatians 2:3-50). Hence, Paul was not playing double standards. He was being prudent and applying the principle of practical judgment. I bet for some of us Christians today, especially those who act in an ethnocentric manner, they would oppose Saint Paul. They may accuse him of being a hypocrite, duplicitous, and a terrible bishop. But truth vindicates itself.
We learn from this how to apply a general principle to practical situations. First is to know what precisely the letters of the law are and what they mean. The second is to understand the spirit of the law. The third is to apply it to concrete situations. As Saint Thomas Aquinas suggests, laws that are not practicable are as good as dead.
Pray: Lord Jesus, give us the grace to know your mind in every law so we may follow not merely the letters but the Spirit. Amen.
God love you. God bless you
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Saturday Easter Week 5: Acts 16:1-10; John 15:18-21]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu Ph.D., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.