Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

More in the flesh of some than of others

A very short and possibly overly personal reflection on the topic of the Uniform Series text (Genesis 17:1-14) for Sunday, September 10, which was also the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time:

It was difficult. It was difficult to do the exegesis on this text, it was difficult to think about it, it was difficult to prepare for our class on it; it just seemed to raise a kind of reluctance or avoidance. So maybe that is something to pay attention to. Why is that?

There are probably rules for what we can and cannot say, should and should not say, both about the text, and about the practice of circumcision; it must be the case that from some perspectives it is a profound and valorized practice, precisely because of its position in the Torah and its role in signifying the boundary of the covenant community. And from some other perspectives, it is a clear instance of the narrative construction of group boundaries, and is a kind of open invitation to various forms of cultural and symbolic criticism. So I assume there are rules; I just don’t know what they are, not having done enough of the relevant research.

I just know that I felt, personally, more “outside” this text than usual. Usually I feel, somehow, a part of the world, some world, that the text is “about.” That there is a world the text creates, and that somehow the text invites me in to that world, or I feel that I am already within it. Not the world of that time and place, exactly, but a kind of common readerly world that includes that one, and also ours, and something that is somehow in between those two, and maybe also wider than them, the wide-cast net of the text.

But not this time, not with this one. So I don’t know whether that is because of something the text itself does – in drawing that line, making the sign of belonging belong to someone else, making it be the property of other people – or whether it is because I balk at being included in whatever way I might be able to be included, which would necessarily be in some inarticulated way that does not appear on the surface of the text, that is implicit or under cover or deeply interior … perhaps. So, resistance. “I just don’t want to … don’t feel like … can’t bring myself to …”

That isn’t really how this relationship works, of course, in the end, except that in a way it is exactly how it works. God is not an arbitrary tyrant, even if the best explanation we have sometimes is “because I say so.” God works with our possibles and impossibles – at least, that is how it has always felt to me – and in the peculiar territory that is the borderland between “can’t” and “won’t.”

Where all that ends up, I don’t know. Yet, maybe I ought to say, don’t know yet. I just know that I am grateful for baptism, and for Galatians 3:28.

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