Mindless Meddlesome Officious Busybodies for the Lord
The First Reading reports that some Judean people came to the Christians at Antioch to tell them they could not be saved unless they were circumcised. The Judaeans were worried that the traditional practices were being altered by the church at Antioch, and they were exercising themselves in behalf of the tradition.
But who are these people? Who empowered them to speak for the Lord? How do they know what the Lord requires for salvation? And what business is it of theirs what the Christians in Antioch are doing? They themselves live and worship in Judea.
To be officious is to push your services on people who neither want nor need them. To be a busybody is to pry into the affairs of other people and try to meddle in them. These people are officious busybodies for the Lord, aren’t they?
And they do seem to be mindless in their meddling, don’t they? Here is their idea of God. God is the kind of Deity who will not let anybody into heaven who does not have a certain amount of flesh cut off his penis. Spell their thought out this way, and it looks blasphemous, doesn’t it? What kind of goodness or love would there be in such a God? What kind of God cares that much about foreskins? And, of course, I am being careful not to say anything about the issue of women, who don’t have foreskins to lose.
In fact, these officious busybody defenders of the Mosaic tradition are not being true to the Mosaic tradition either. That tradition mandated circumcision for males as a ritual of initiation into the Jewish people. It said nothing about criteria of salvation.
The apostles rebuke those Judaeans by telling them what the decision of the Holy Spirit is: circumcision is not required for salvation. And this response is perfect. The decision about what is required for salvation is the Lord’s. The mindless meddlers were actually opposed to the mind of the Lord.
So, people who push their way forward to rebuke the Christian practices of others need to be careful how they speak for God and what kind of God they are witnessing to by what they say. Who wants to be a mindless meddlesome officious busybody for the Lord?
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University