When I was younger, I loved experimenting with going upside-down. Wrapping my legs around the chains of a swing, I fearlessly leaned all the way back and let my hair sweep the ground. When my sister stood behind me, my brain would adjust, and her mouth was suddenly her eyes. I found this entertaining, yes. Plus when I was “wrong-side-up,” everything appeared delightfully fresh and new.
When reading the Gospels, I get the feeling that Jesus himself likes the creative, inverted way of doing things. From dining with the untouchables and sinners, dying and rising, and then first appearing to women, Jesus takes “wrong” and makes it right. As we see from the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus even upends one of the oldest laws, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and renewed it: “Love one another as I have loved you.” We love our neighbor as Jesus would love our neighbor—a step up from just the way we love ourselves.
Let’s apply creative, flipped thinking to the first reading and try to better understand all this talk about circumcision.
Post-Jesus, a faction in the earliest Christian community is spreading around information (#fakenews) about the requirement for Gentiles to circumcise if they want to be followers of Jesus. At this Jerusalem Council, the Pharisees also pipe up, cite Mosaic law, and support what this faction is trying to do.
After much debate, Peter announces that the Gentiles have to follow other rules about diet and marriage, but do not need to be circumcised in order to follow Jesus. Why? Because God sees faith in the heart, and that is what is needed to be a follower of Jesus. The passage doesn’t tell us how exactly they landed here, but I wonder if they used an upside-down imagination to consider what Jesus really needed from them. They determined that what was ostensibly right before was now wrong for the present.
As an adult, I do not-so-much like flipping upside-down. In yoga, I am invited to do so all the time, but my fear of falling keeps me from fully achieving a handstand or headstand.
Usually, fear keeps us holding on to old, seemingly logical, tried-and-true ways. Sometimes we need those ways, yes; but what are we missing when we don’t push ourselves to imagine with a new perspective? Together with Jesus and an upside-down imagination, we may encounter that which is delightful, fresh, and new.
With this in mind, let’s pray about ourselves and our communities:
- What rules or practices are you holding on to? Are they necessities? Which no longer apply?
- Who gets to decide?
- Is Jesus asking you to challenge any leaders, decisions, or rules?
Beth Mueller Stewart, M.Div, is a Saint Louis native, high school educator, and certified yoga instructor. In the fall of 2019, she will begin teaching theology at Arrupe Jesuit High School in Denver.