Short Meditations in John 7: 22. Uncomfortable Logic
Jn 7:22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath.
For those who will take time to carefully read the Bible, there is an unnerving logic that can change the hearts of men and women, turning them to God in awe and wonder, and seeking and receiving His salvation. Yet so few carefully read. In Jesus’ day education was not what it is today but when it came to the teaching of the scrolls of what we now call the Old Testament, the rabbis in the synagogues sought to convey what was there. So when Jesus talks to the crowd about Moses and about circumcision they are in familiar territory. Jesus is going to take the logic of the Law and challenge these people with it, but it comes in two parts, first in this current verse and then in the verse that follows.
He will ultimately, in the following verse, challenge their current attitude towards his healing on the Sabbath, but for the moment he simply lays the foundation of logic in respect of circumcision and sabbath use. They looked to Moses for the law, and circumcision was a regular part of Jewish culture for male children, but in fact circumcision came in with Abraham (see Gen 17). So there it is, a practice undergirded by two of their main heroes of Jewish history, Abraham and Moses. On the other hand they had the clear law that came via Moses about not working on the sabbath. However, they had taken that law and then ‘interpreted’ it by defining what was work and thus most things were covered that required effort.
So the Sabbath Law said don’t do anything requiring effort on a sabbath, but the rules of circumcision decreed that a son should be circumcised on the eighth day (Lev 12:3), so if the two coincided, they just got on with it and circumcised the child. Expediency said it was all right. Now Jesus is going to take that and show how the principle of doing what is right on the sabbath overcame other sabbath restrictions.
Up to this point, I suspect that the crowd were thinking, “Well, yes, but where is this going?.” It is going to justify Jesus behaviour because God (and the Son of God) is never unrighteous. Whatever He does is right. We see Jesus’ wisdom being expressed to counter the tricky aspects of the law and of culture often when he is challenged. See, for example, his answer about paying taxes (Mt 22:15-22) or earlier on the same day his answers about authority (Mt 21:23-27), and also the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8). Jesus’ method of asking counter-questions so often revealed the hypocrisy behind his attackers. It wasn’t that answering directly would expose wrong, it was just that it would provoke prematurely.