Grace to you and Happy Easter!
Two and three days ago, 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, here is a summary: Paul and Barnabas took matters to the Church in Jerusalem to resolve the controversy between them and some Jewish converts as to whether the gentiles need to be circumcised to be saved or not. It was decided that salvation is by God’s grace and circumcision wasn’t necessary. This decision was in favor of St. Paul’s position.
Nevertheless, we see Paul do something that seems contradictory in his second missionary journey. By the way, 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; and 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 (being born by a Jewish mom), Paul was concerned Jews may object to having Timothy minister to them since he, by not being circumcised, would be considered a heathen or a Jew without integrity or regard for Jewish customs and the Laws of Moses.
Paul applied an ethical principle we know as practical judgment. He knew the right thing, did the right thing, at the right time and for the right reason. He was prudent. The decision at the Council of Jerusalem wasn’t to destroy the circumcision culture of the Jews. Rather, it was to save the Gentiles from physical circumcision, which has 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 the ministry of Timothy, Paul had to subscribe to his circumcision. His motivation may have been not to be a barrier to the more important work of God.
Consider that in another instance, Paul refused circumcision for another of his sons, Titus, 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, applying the principal of practical judgment.
We learn from this how to apply a general principal to practical situations. First is to know exactly what the letter of the Law is and what it means. Second is to understand the spirit of that law. Third is to apply it to concrete situations.
Pray: Lord Jesus, give us the grace to know your mind in every law so we may follow not simply 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]
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.