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Saturday, December 31, 2005

From the Old to the New

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The civil New Year coincides with the Feasts of St. Basil the Great and the Circumcision of our Lord. There is a certain appropriateness here in respect of the Circumcision although coincidence of the dates is, of course, entirely accidental.

The Gospel of St. Luke (2:21) records that Christ was circumcised according to the Law of Moses on the 8th day. According to this rite, like all male Jewish children, Our Lord was joined to the Covenant relationship between God and His chosen people. In being made a part of this Covenant he received the traditions of Israel concerning God and the Tenakh, (Law, Prophecy and Wisdom) as his own. It was from within this Covenant and Tradition that our Lord subsequently worked to teach and to heal.

At first Jesus worked within the confines of Israel yet there was something new and authoritative about his teaching and healing that attracted the Gentiles as well. The Messianic fulfilment of Law, Prophecy and Wisdom in his Person and Work turned out to be much more than a restatement of Israel's faith but a deepening, enriching and extending of that faith and Kingdom life to all who would receive it, both Jew and Gentile alike. In this, our Lord was attacked by religious conservatives in Israel for not being faithful to Law, Prophecy and Wisdom. His teachings on the Sabbath, for example, provoked outrage ... as did his claim to forgive sins, a prerogative of God alone. Nonetheless in Him all the Messianic prophecies came true and more.

This was enough to convert Jews and the Gentiles were inexorably drawn to the universal appeal of his message of God's unconditional Love and impartial Justice. Even when he died an ignominious death on the Cross, a destiny not traditionally ascribed to the Messiah, many pragmatic Jewish rabbis such as Gamaliel counselled a "wait and see" approach. When he rose from the dead, scurrilous rumours were put about that the disciples had stolen his body. You can almost taste the salacious conspiratorial appeal of the Da Vinci Code back in those days as well! Nevertheless, this paschal triumph itself forged something entirely new in Israel, a mission to the Gentiles. And so the Church was born, the new Israel of God.

In all of this we see two undercurrents of keeping and breaking ... of keeping faithful to an Old Tradition and Covenant, hence circumcision, and the breaking of the mould that the new work of God might emerge thereby creating a New Covenant and Tradition, represented of course in the practice of baptism, as St. Paul calls it, a "circumcision made without hands." (Colossians 2:11f).

This revolutionary shift from the Old to New is not achieved without some conflict but neither does it represent some radical breaking with all of the old ways. Much of the subsequent Apostolic Tradition is taken up with what is to be retained as mandatory, what is to be permissible but not required and what is to be abandoned for something else. Our Lord did not settle all these Old to New issues in his own earthly work and ministry of course. That's why the Holy Spirit came, "to guide you into all truth." {John 16:13).

The Church worked through all these knotty problems in Council, the first being in Jerusalem of course to resolve the contentious matter of how the Mosaic law applied to Gentile believers. Since then, the Church has continued to meet and pray and discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit on disputed issues. There is nothing static or set in stone about Holy Tradition. As a New Covenant revelatory principle it is alive and dynamic under the sovereignty of God who often insists on "new wineskins for new wine."

That much ought to be a twofold warning for us. First, not to neglect the Tradition that we have received, but then not to traduce it by closing our minds and hearts to the new work that God is seeking to do in our own time and place. The balance between those two principles, faithful conservatism and creative advance is one not achieved without difficulty. If we are listening to God though and prepared to act together on his Word we shall not go amiss. Truly the Old is always the seedcorn of the New. Happy New Year!

1 comment:

duchessSoF said...

So much is written about chopping that piece of skin off the little baby boys in the Bible.

Zipporah saved her hubby's life chopping off the skin herself!

At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met {Moses} and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched {Moses'} feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision.) - Exodus 4:24-26 NIV

I do not know if I will opt for this procedure for any baby boy I would have, even though I am an American.

We are all "circumsized" in our Spirits by Christ! That is the important thing.

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