Circumcision of the heart
Here's a short Bible quiz. 14 years after his conversion, Paul went to Jerusalem to make sure he was still ‘on message’. As he left, James, Peter and John shook his hand and agreed that he should go to the Gentiles. What was the one thing that this trio specifically asked Paul to do?
The answer is in Galatians 2, and it is surprising that Paul reported it here. Surprising because it seems irrelevant to his argument. Surprising because it is about everyday living while the epistle was written to deal with the important religious question of whether or not non-Jewish believers should be circumcised. The one thing that the Jerusalem leadership asked was “that we remember the poor”. Send me an email if you got it right. What an interesting emphasis at the end of a heady theological debate.
Is it the case, then, that the religious practice that matters most for the Christian is remembering the poor? Would it go too far to suggest that this is a sign of ‘circumcision’ since Paul writes to the Christians in Rome: real circumcision is a matter of the heart-it is spiritual and not literal (2.29).
What prompted all this?! - a first ever trip to the USA this summer: I have to admit I expected more of a land of plenty than was the impression in the California we visited. Using public transport to get around, eating in Rough Guide-recommended cheap eateries and staying with a friend as well as in hotels gives something of a take on the whole of society, and we saw more evidence of poverty than we expected. This in a land where, we understand, up to 50% of the population are regular churchgoers (see, for example, www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm). I wondered why.
Then there's MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY, the grass-roots movement much in view at the time of the G8 Summit. Still alive and kicking, but how much notice is now being taken by ‘those in authority over us’? September's UN Summit struggled to find time to “remember the poor” it would seem (www.makepovertyhistory.org/yearsofar/index.shtml).
What might this say to me as an individual? First, knowing that a growing number of churches see it as an imperative to have a ‘ministry to the poor’, should I be asking what that might mean in our neck of the woods? Secondly, what personal commitment do I have to “remember the poor”? Not just a campaigning commitment (though that's important, and we do support WDM - www.wdm.org.uk), but an everyday pocket commitment. For example, sugar at 99p or Fairtrade sugar at £1.31 in Tesco: which do I choose?
Finally, if you want a powerful and well-argued apologia for helping Africa, listen to Sir Bob Geldof speaking to the professional association to which I belong (http://clients.mediaondemand.net/naace). You will also learn a little of a brilliant example of making a difference through a voluntary initiative that has raised much money for a particular school in South Africa.
Through personal, local and global action, I can “remember the poor.”
Yours in Christ