When you hear the word “circumcised” what comes to your mind? If you are a man, you may think, “Ouch!” If you are a woman you may think, “here is another example of the male exclusivity of the Bible. I’m a woman, therefore I cannot be circumcised, and therefore I must not count.” These reactions are natural, for the term circumcision is a very physical reality that can only happen to males. It was an external symbol of God’s covenant to Abraham.
When Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, the reactions mentioned above were the predominant view of circumcision among the Jews of His day. To be circumcised meant that you were part of an elite class of humanity that were the “chosen ones.” It was believed that God loved the circumcised, but He hated the non-circumcised. Only men could be circumcised, so women must be nothing. Women were only good for doing men’s dirty work and bringing a male heir into the world to carry on the “blessing” of the covenant and the family name into the next generation. The problem is that the people had externalized the Law and made it all about the physical realities of cutting off a foreskin, killing an animal, washing your hands before a meal, and not walking too far on the Sabbath day. Jesus’ message turned that upside down.
The question has been asked, “why did Jesus condemn the teachers of the Law for following the Law when it was God that gave them the Law? It seemed as if God is punishing them for doing the very thing that He told them to do.” This is one of the biggest criticisms that non-Christians have about Christianity, and one confusion that many Christians have about the Bible. At first glance this seems like a legitimate concern about the nature of God and the continuity of the Bible. As we have been reading through the Old Testament Law, it is easy to see how the people could get caught up in the minutia of the Law, because there is a great deal of minutia!
That is why today’s passage is so important. Although God did establish a multitude of external rules and regulations upon His people, this passage gives us a glimpse of the eternal, spiritual truth behind the external Law of Moses. God doesn’t care about the state of your foreskin (or lack thereof). He cares about the state of your heart. (Guess what ladies, you’ve got one of those.) To have a circumcised heart is to have a heart that has had the distractions of the physicality of life — pride, greed, indulgence, shame, and blame — cut away in a spirit of consecration and devotion to the eternal kingdom of God. A circumcised heart is one that has taken its focus off of the circumstances of life and has placed it on the creator and sustainer of life.
If our circumcision were limited to that of a male organ then, yes, it is an exclusive, male-Jew only club where nobody else can get in. Praise God, that in the center of Moses’ Law itself, God reveals to us the intent of the Law. God loves the whole world and longs for the “alien” to enter into His covenant of love and freedom, to have their hearts circumcised — male and female, rich and poor, old and young, black white or green. All are welcome to come and lay their whole heart before the knife of truth, be cut free from the bondage of the flesh, and enter into the life-giving presence of God.