However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.
Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.
Where were we and what were we ‘at the time of our call’?
This is a challenging passage in many ways. Firstly do we have a time and date for our call to follow Christ, or does the experience of many of us resonate more with a gradual growing into or up through faith? This letter was to predominantly first generation Christians, whereas many of us have been raised in families and communities of faith. Then circumcision is no longer a live issue within most churches (having been resolved by the Early Church as not necessary for Gentiles, rather replaced by Baptism as the outward sign of joining the people of God). So remaining circumcised or uncircumcised seems a given.
Finally slavery is discussed. We live in the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, the ongoing distorted distribution of wealth, people, resources, status. We inhabit a place of privilege and prejudice, as beneficiaries or victims. Does God really ask us to remain there and not challenge and change the structures and culture through respectful listening, humble apology and restorative action?
Any yet there is treasure in the idea that God calls us where we are. We do not have to wait until we grow up, have a recognised role in society, or a formal church position, before we can start walking the way. Wherever we find ourselves God is with us and in the opportunities to serve and witness.
Today many children and young people, along with women and men, are affected by FGM and modern day slavery, or suffer in abusive relationships. We must ensure that the church is a place of sanctuary and liberation – that we never give the message implicitly or explicitly that anyone is rightly the slave of another – for we were ‘bought at a price’ of love beyond measure.
Jesus, you were circumcised that we might be made whole: help us be a loving community of healing for body, mind and spirit. Jesus, you became a slave that we might be free: help us work for the liberation of all your children. Jesus, you embraced human life in a particular place at a particular time: help us respond to our particular present opportunities to serve and witness to your ongoing life and love. Amen.
Dr Sam Richards, serving as Head of Children’s and Youth Work, member of mayBe Community, Oxford.