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Circumcision and Holy Name of Jesus

Feast Homilies

THE CIRCUMCISION AND HOLY NAME OF JESUS
January 1 (Luke 2:21)

INTRODUCTION

The circumcision was the Old Testament expression of Abrahamic covenant with God. This bloody and painful procedure made a lasting mark, reminding the Israelites of their permanent faithfulness to God. It was like a wedding ring (or Indian thali) in our times. However, Moses and other prophets reminded the Israelites that the physical circumcision becomes meaningful only when one circumcises the heart by committing oneself to God. Jesus, who received circumcision on the eighth day according to the Jewish practice, perfected it with his New Covenant. Through the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation, and the Holy Eucharist), we receive spiritual circumcision and thus make a covenantal relationship with God. Thus, we became part of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church. We made our covenant relationship with God in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. The name of Jesus stands for the person and the power of Jesus. So, we gather to pray in his name and end our prayers in his name.

BIBLE TEXT

(Luke 2:21) On the eighth day when the baby had to be circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

INTERPRETATION

On the eighth day
Eighth day has a special relevance in the Holy Bible. The Genesis frames the creation narrative within a week, including the Sabbath day. Since the eighth day is a new week’s beginning, the Bible considers it as a day of fresh start. The Israelites considered seven days as days of purification and the next day the day of sanctification.

For Israelites a male child, along with his mother was unclean for seven days. Then the circumcision took place on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:2,3) as a sign of an everlasting covenant with God. “You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin and that will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:11).

Animals were unacceptable for sacrifices until the eighth day after their birth. “A calf, lamb, or kid shall stay with its mother seven days after birth. From the eighth day onwards it will be acceptable as an offering by fire to the LORD.” (Levi. 22:27). The reason for uncleanness of animals was not because they were born in sin like descendants of Adam and Eve, but because people offered them in the Temple on behalf of the first-born children.

People unclean through leprosy or any defilement had to observe seven days of purification. On the eighth day, the priests accepted them as clean (Leviticus 14:8-10; Leviticus 15:13,14; Numbers 6:9,10). Thus, seven days were periods of purification and the eighth day was for sanctification.

The purification of the altar, vessels in the holy place, and the priests took seven days. They were pure only on the eighth day (Ezekiel 43:26, 27).

Eighth day in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the uncleanliness refers to the original sin. Jesus sacrificed himself in the place of animal offerings of the past. So, we offer ourselves and make a covenant with God through the sacraments of initiation. Church recommends receiving them on the eighth day or a day within few weeks after the birth of the child. Canon 867 §1 states: “Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.”

In the New Testament “eighth” day and “first day of the week” are the same. Jesus rose from the dead on the “first day of the week.” (Matthew 28:1). Jesus appeared to his disciples several times “on the first day of the week” in between his resurrection and ascension. Pentecost was also on the first day of the week. The early Christians kept the first day as a holy day and called it the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10) instead of the Sabbath that the Jews observed (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

Circumcision

The blood covenant was a binding contract and was common among the people in the middle east in the ancient times. The scar of circumcision was an identifying outward proof of the covenant. God established circumcision as a symbol of the covenant between God and the Israelites, starting with Abraham. In his covenant with Abraham, God’s demand from Abraham and his descendants was their faithfulness to God obeying his commandments. From God’s part, there were three promises:

1. Land - Israel shall own Canaan, the promised land.
2. Seed – A great nation will emerge from the descendants of Abraham.
3. Blessing – Salvation offered to all the world through the seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:18). That seed is Jesus.

God asked Abraham that circumcision has to take place for every male when he is eight days as a sign of this lifelong covenant between God and Abraham (Gen 17:11-12). Thus, circumcision became the sign of incorporating into the people of Israel and making a covenant with God. Just as a wedding ring reminds of the marriage covenant with a person’s spouse, male circumcision of Israel was a reminder of their permanent commitment and covenantal union with God. Israelites had no female circumcision. The women got incorporated into the body of Israel and the covenant relation with God through their wedding to a circumcised Israelite.

Moses reminded Israelites that a physical circumcision should lead them to the circumcision of heart. “The LORD, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants that you may love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.” (Deut. 30:6). “Circumcise therefore the foreskins of your hearts, and be stiff-necked no longer.” (Deut. 10: 16). Besides the covenantal scar of circumcision on the eighth day, Jesus also made the bloody scars on his hand, feet, and heart. Thus, he had even the physical circumcision of the heart. Along with that, Jesus was obedient to his Father and fulfilled His will in his earthly ministry.

The new covenant Jesus established does not require circumcision because his salvation is not just for Abraham’s descendants, but is open for all believers in Jesus. God calls every Christian to circumcise his or her heart by being faithful to God according to the teachings of Jesus.

Significance of Name in the Bible

We use the name to identify one person from another. So, name stands as a label to identify a person. In the modern times people might name a child that sounds pleasant or has some sentimental value. However, this was not the case in the Biblical times.

Name had much significance in the Bible. The Hebrews considered a person’s name equivalent to that person signifying his worth, character, reputation, authority, will, or ownership. In the Bible, the name of a person stands for that individual (Rev. 3:4) and the name of the Lord stands for God or Jesus himself. (Proverbs 16:10, Psalm 18:49; 86:12; Malachi 3:16; Matthew 10:22; 19:29; John 3:18).

Name that stands for a person has different meanings in the Bible:
1) To forget God’s name was equal to deviating from Him (Jeremiah 23:37)
2) To name a person shows one’s ownership of that person (Genesis 1:5, 8, 10; 2:19-20; II Samuel 12:28; Amos 9:12)
3) To speak or write in one’s name shows authority (Exodus 5:23; I Kings 21:8)
4) To act in someone’s name was to represent that person (Deuteronomy 25:6)
5) To blemish someone’s name is to destroy that person (Deuteronomy 9:14; II Kings 14:27; Isaiah 14:22; Revelation 3:5)
6) Name signified a person’s reputation (Mark 6:14; Revelation 3:1), and his or her character (Ecclesiastes 7:1; Matthew 6:9).
7) Christ revealed the Father’s name, meaning that He has made God known to the humanity (John 17:26).
8) To believe in the name of Christ is to believe in the person of Christ (John 1:12; 2:23).
9) To gather in Jesus’ name is to gather in His mind, will, and purpose (Matthew 18:20).

The name of Jesus is most used in prayers and baptism. We start prayers in the name of the Most Holy Trinity by saying, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We usually conclude a Christian prayer saying, “We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Lord” because Jesus taught us to pray in his name. “And everything you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13).

According to Jesus’ instruction, (Matthew 28:19) every person should receive baptism in the Trinitarian formula by saying “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Apostles performed miracles in Jesus’ name (Acts 4:10; 16:18). Thus, Christians prayed and baptized in Jesus’ name from the early church onwards.

The name Jesus

The name Jesus in English is equivalent to Joshua. It means “Savior.” God, through Angel Gabriel, asked Joseph and Mary to name the child Jesus because “he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). Thus, the name Jesus expressed his special mission in this world. Joseph named Jesus according to the revelation he received from the Angel of the Lord in his dream (Matthew 1:21). Thus, Joseph accepted Jesus to his family and acknowledged him as his legal son.

MESSAGE

1. Circumcision and naming of Jesus that Joseph and Mary did according to the Jewish tradition show how the Holy Family was obedient to the established religion of the time. We also need to follow the directives of the Holy Catholic Church, headed by Jesus Christ, in our religious practices.

2. Our reception of the Sacraments of Initiation at an early age when we knew nothing of their relevance or meaning was not a mistake. Jesus himself had his initiation into the Jewish community on his eighth day. A child of Catholic parents has the right for the Sacraments of Initiation within a few weeks of birth to be free from the original sin. The parents shall not delay baptism of their children for undue reasons.

3. We shall not defile our name because according to the book of Revelation 3:5, “The winner will be dressed in white, and I will never erase his name from the book of life; instead, I will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” Our names stand for what we are. God will enter our names in the Book of Life only if we are faithful in our covenant with God that we have started with the Sacraments of Initiation.

4. Defiling another persons’ name is a serious sin we should avoid.