Prepared by Fr. Abraham Mutholath
Circumcision was the Old Testament expression of Abrahamic covenant with God. This bloody and painful procedure made a lasting mark reminding the Israelites that they were permanently committed to God. This was like a wedding ring or (Indian) thali in our times. However, Moses and other prophets reminded Israelites that the physical circumcision becomes meaningful only when one was circumcised in heart by committing oneself to God. Jesus who was physically circumcised on the eighth day according to the Jewish practice, perfected it in his New Covenant. Through the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation, and Holy Eucharist) we are spiritually circumcised with God and became part of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church. Our covenant relationship with God was made in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. The name of Jesus stands for the person and power of Jesus. That is why, we gather to pray in his name and end our prayers in his name.
Bible Text (Luke 2:21)
When eight days were completed for his circumcision,he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
When eight days were completed
Eighth day has a special relevance in the Holy Bible. The creation narrative is framed within a week including the sabbath day. Eighth day, being the beginning of a new week was considered as a day of new beginning. Seven days were also considered as days of purification and the next day the day of sanctification.
A male child, along with his mother was considered unclean for seven days. Then he was circumcised on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:2,3). “Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. That will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Levi. 17:11).
Animals were considered unacceptable for sacrifices until the eighth day after their birth. “The Lord said to Moses: When an ox or a lamb or a goat is born, it shall remain with its mother for seven days; only from the eighth day onward will it be acceptable, to be offered as an oblation to the Lord.” (Levi. 22:26-27). The reason for uncleanness of animals was not because they were born in sin like descendants of Adam and Eve, but because they were offered in the temple in the place of the first-born children.
People who were unclean through leprosy or any defilement had to observe seven days of purification. On the eighth day, they were accepted as clean (Leviticus 14:8-10; Leviticus 15:13,14; Numbers 6:9,10). Thus, seven days were days of purification and the eighth day was for sanctification.
The purification of the altar, vessels to be used in the holy place, and the priests, tookseven days. Their purity was established only on the eighth day(Ezekiel 43:26, 27).
Eighth day in the New Testament
In the New Testament, the uncleanliness refers to original sin. Jesus sacrificed himself in the place of animal offerings of the past. So, we offer ourselves and make covenant with God through sacraments of initiation. That is recommended on the eighth day or a day within few weeks after the birth of the child. Can. 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.” (Mathew 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 holy day and called it the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10) in the place of the sabbath observed by the Jews (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).
Blood covenant was a binding contract and was common among the peoplein the middle east in the ancient times. The scar of circumcision was an identifying outward evidence of the covenant. God established circumcision asa symbol of the covenant betweenGod and 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 every male when he is eight days old should be circumcised as a sign of this covenant between God and Abraham (Gen 17:11-12). Thus, circumcision became the sign of incorporating into the people of Israel and becoming a covenant person with God. Just as a wedding ring reminds of marriage covenant with a person’s spouse, male circumcision of Israel was a reminder of their permanent commitment and covenantal union with God. Female circumcision was not allowed for the Israelites. The women were incorporated into the body of Israel and the covenant relation with God through their wedding to a circumcised Israelite.
However, Moses reminded Israelites that a physical circumcision should lead to the circumcision of heart. Love of God with whole heart and whole being was insisted as part of covenant relationship through circumcision (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 and feet and the spear of his 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.
Physical circumcision is not a requirement in the new covenant established by Jesus because his salvation is not just for Abraham’s descendants, but is open for all believers in Jesus. Every Christian is called 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 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 nice 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 as equivalent to that person signifyinghis 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 had different significance in the Bible:
1) To forget God’s name was equal to deviating from Him (Jeremiah 23:37).
2) To name something indicated one’s ownership of that person or thing (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 their character(Ecclesiastes 7:1; Matthew 6:9).
7) Christ revealed the Father’s name, meaning that He has made God known to humanity (John 17:26).
8) To believe on the name of Christ is to believe in the person of Christ (John 1:12; 2:23).
9) To be gathered in Jesus’ name is to be gathered in His mind, will, and purpose (Matthew 18:20).
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 by saying, “We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Lord” because Jesus taught us to pray in his name. “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13).
According to the instruction of Jesus (Matthew 28:19), every person is baptized in the Trinitarian formula by saying “In the name of the …” Apostles did the healing or miracles in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:10; 16:18). Thus, prayer and baptism were done in the name of Jesus in the early church and it continues.
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.” (Mathew 1:21).Thus, the name Jesus expressed his special mission in this world.
It was Joseph who named Jesus according to the revelation he received from the Angel of the Lord in his dream (Mathew 1:21). Thus, Joseph accepted Jesus to his family and acknowledged him as his legal son.
1. Circumcision and naming of Jesus initiated by Joseph and Mary following the Jewish tradition and God’s commandment 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 Sacraments of Initiation at ayoung age when we did not know anything of its 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 original sin. The parents shall not delay the baptism of their children for undue reasons.
3. We shall not defile our name because according to the book of Revelation 3:5, “The victor will thus be dressed in white, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name in the presence of my Father and of his angels.” Our names stand for what we are and our names will be entered in the Book of Life only if we are faithful in our covenant with God that we have started with Sacraments of Initiation.