My wife is not a picky person and she is relatively easy to shop for, but let's be honest, this is a huge date in our marriage and the ball is in my court to either save the day or ruin everything. So I racked my brain for the perfect gift — something thoughtful, endearing, creative, or compassionate. Suddenly, I am thinking of Little League.
In Little League, the coach once asked me to do something pretty selfless. The bases were loaded, the game was tied, the pitcher was in dire need of a birth certificate check because there was no way he was our age, and I was a weak hitter. I was up, but before I could step towards the batters box, the coach instructed me to "take one for the team." For those of you who have never played Little League, this term means to lean into a high and inside pitch so that the ball hits you and you are awarded a free, but oh-so-painful, walk to first.
My perfect gift is much like the day when I "took one for the team." It hurts like one would imagine using your young and developing body as a human backstop, but the joy of being my wife's hero eclipses any pain at that point.
My perfect gift for my wife is a DVD collection of a TV series that she, and every female TV viewer of this decade, finds absolutely addicting. I, on the other hand, find the pain of watching it similar to what I felt that day I let the twelve year old version of Roger Clemens throw a baseball into my back. However, I know the good that this collection of DVDs will do for my wife's spirits and our relationship will always be bigger than the pain of "taking one for the team."
I wonder if this is what is happening in Acts 15, though at a much higher price than a collection of DVDs. Pharisees get so much bad ink, but can we blame them for the way they felt in verse 5 when asked to give up the primacy of circumcision? Circumcision, we must remember, is a major strand that makes up the tapestry of Jewish identity at this time. Pulling this strand from its weaving would be to seriously malign that sense of identity. The protagonists in Acts 15 are asking them to release the Gentiles from what the Pharisees saw as the God-ordained responsibility of circumcision ... and for what? Unity?!
There is no good modern comparison to fully explain what the first century Pharisees were being asked to give up. No 21st century Christian practices are as interwoven into our nationalistic or religious identity as much as the command to circumcise all male children on the eighth day. The closest I can come to explaining is this: it is distantly similar to someone like Paul asking modern Christians to give up something like the Eucharist ceremony, baptism, or maybe even one of the Ten Commandments. How could we give up these things that we have held dear for centuries as Christians? Thankfully, we are not asked to do this. But, aren't there many other traditions, accommodations, and personal preferences we must consider as jettison worthy because of Jesus' call for unity?
The question for Christians today is this: "What degree of pain and self-sacrifice am I willing to experience so that our Savior's dream for the unity of all believers can become a reality?" Our self-sacrifice is not just a one-time gift that temporarily benefits another party. It is based on the example of our Savior's death on a Roman cross and a willingness to give up our very lives for our brothers and sisters so that we can live together in unity.
So as we face the challenges of unity in our day, shouldn't we ask ourselves what is essential truth and what are the things we hold dear, but not essential, that we need to give up for unity? What do I need to give up to "take one for the team"?