But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? You that boast in the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.
When I was teaching a class of 4 year olds, job-sharing with my friend, we both wore glasses. One day, whilst reading with a small girl, she sighed and said: ‘I wish I could get glasses like you both because then I would be able to read words as well, not just talk about the pictures’. Sometimes in life we are like that: we expect to grow and develop without any effort.
The first time I made coffee at church I heard the comment: ‘Oh dear, she is using the mugs!’ In churches we like to make ‘rules’ about how things are done, from the Communion cloths (starched/ square?) and chalice (full or empty?) to the placing of chairs (in rows, evenly spaced!). We like our routines and structures because they make us feel safe; this can become an issue when our ways of doing things exclude others or limit change. How easy is it to become so familiar with our ways and habits that we fail to see we are excluding others?
In this reading, Paul is telling those in positions of responsibility that faith is not about just following rules. This text has real echoes of Jesus’ teaching as cited in St Matthew 7:5 about removing the log out of our own eye so we can see the speck in our neighbour’s! To grow in faith takes time, thought, study and involves being prepared to be challenged, open minded and willing to reflect on our words, actions and accepted attitudes.
God calls us to go out and share the Gospel and to do so from the heart. If we do those things faithfully, we cannot fail to be changed by what occurs. God knows we will be blessed because of it; so will the Church and so will the world.
Dear God, help us when we get so hooked up on doing things right, following the rules, being the certain type of person. May we heed reminders of the need to intentionally include and find ways to look to the heart of relationships, not just at the practicalities. May we find time to reflect and accept your promptings to change. This we pray from the heart. Amen.
The Rev’d Jenny Mills, Minister at Newport Pagnell URC and West End United Church, Wolverton.