Christian Traditions and a Young Jewish Boy

by | Dec 14, 2021 | 0 comments

As our awareness of different cultures and traditions grows, it’s good to remember that woven right within our Christian traditions are older, more diverse practices. Jesus, for example, is Jewish. Some of the traditions and practices that Jesus experienced as a Jewish boy and man were adopted by Christians so long ago that we often don’t see their origins as anything but Christian.

I write about this in my book, The Jew Named Jesus. One such instance took place on the eighth day of Christmas.

You mean, eight maids a-milking?

On the eighth day of Christmas – after Jesus is born in a humble feeding trough, after the angels sing “Glory to God in the Highest” and announce news of great joy to all the people, after the shepherds, amazed, run to Bethlehem, but before the Magi come bearing gifts – Jesus is formally welcomed into the Jewish people.

The eighth day of Christmas, as it were, is when Jesus is circumcised and named. The ancient rite of circumcision, first practiced by Abraham as a sign of the covenant with God, is routinely performed in hospitals now. But not then.

And then as now, circumcision is the first and most basic mitzvah (commandment or law) to be fulfilled by a Jewish baby boy.

“This is my covenant which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is 8 days old…” Genesis 17:10-12a

Jesus isn’t the first Jewish boy whose circumcision is noted in the New Testament. Don’t forget cousin John’s, also on the eighth day. His naming and miraculous birth is mentioned as well.

“Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No, he is to be called John.’” Luke 1: 57-60

Circumcision is a permanent sign, etched in the flesh, of partnership with God. Even more than lineage and ancestry, circumcision anchors these boys, and their families, firmly in the Jewish community.

At his circumcision Jesus is also named with “the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21) By the way, it should be noted that girls are named too, but not circumcised.

shekels, traditions

About a month after Jesus’ circumcision, Joseph and Mary come to Jerusalem. There they present Jesus to the Lord in the ancient practice of redemption of the firstborn son (pidyon ha ben). Since Jesus is Mary’s firstborn, and, as the author of Colossians later asserts, “the firstborn of all creation” (1:15), he is presented then bought back or redeemed after he reaches 31 days old. This is another ancient Torah practice.

Joseph and Mary would have paid a small sum (five silver shekels in biblical times; today, usually five silver dollars) and performed a brief ritual in the Temple to fulfill the mitzvah. (Numbers 18:15-16)

While the family is at the Temple for the redemption ceremony, two righteous and devout Jews, Simeon, and the prophetess, Anna, recognize Jesus as a sign of God’s salvation. They praised God, for this “light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” who would himself redeem Jerusalem. (Luke 2:32, 2:38)

From his earliest days, Jesus is raised in a strong and beautiful Jewish home by devout parents. From circumcision to naming to redemption to offering sacrifices, Mary and Joseph do “everything required by the law of the Lord.”

Not from a sense of empty duty or obligation, I suspect, but a profound connection to God, the Torah, and the love of their child, Jesus.After these mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) are fulfilled, Jesus and his parents “returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” At home in Nazareth the mitzvot, blessings, prophesies, and praises take root: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39-40).

That little Jewish child became the leader we follow and emulate. Join me for the Platinum Rule Leadership for Changing Times and learn how, like Jesus, you too can lead with self-awareness, forgiveness, compassion, and understanding.

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