But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Saint Paul had a special genius for discovering the spiritual core of a controversial issue and discarding all the irrelevant ideas, opinions and useless information around it.
In today’s passage from his Letter to the Philippians he dismisses the controversy about circumcision with a pithy remark, “We are the circumcision.” To be a Christian one must believe and be baptized; that is our circumcision. If, to put it crudely, circumcision represents the loss of a piece of flesh, baptism is the stripping away of one’s entire body and a rebirth in the Spirit.
His statement drives a wedge between the emerging Christian church and the ancient Jewish people. There may be rapprochement but there will never be reconciliation. Those who cast their lot with Christians may be assured, “We are the circumcision.” As to those who would remain in the synagogue, they are not in this fellowship and Paul has nothing further to say to them.
Paul momentarily reminds his Philippian disciples that his Jewish credentials are impeccable. He was born of an ancient Jewish tribe, circumcised and schooled in the Pharisaic tradition. He might be saying, "If you think that is wealth, I have thrown it all away. It is nothing but loss in the light of the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ."
Almost twelve centuries later Saint Francis would ponder his wealth and status in the society of Assisi, and then throw it all away as so much rubbish. He could cite this passage literally: But whatever gains – family, wealth, comfort, honor, recognition, security, learning, health -- I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Francis, as G. K. Chesterton pointed out, wanted to make explicit what the gospels implied. If circumcision means nothing, neither does wealth, learning or status. One’s knowledge of Jesus Christ is the only pearl of great price; it is the only treasure buried in the field. He demonstrated the freedom and happiness of one who relies totally on Christ; he showed how all that other stuff distracts and distresses the devout soul.
The homeless saints Paul and Francis invite us into their hearts to celebrate with them: “Rejoice with us; we have found the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus the Lord.”