Saturday of week 30 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Rom 11:1-2, 11-12, 25-29

Today we continue Paul’s reflections on the sad situation of many of his own people rejecting Christ as Lord and Messiah. (We have omitted reading all of chap. 10.)

Paul has just been speaking about how his people rejected God’s message to them in Christ and that they really have no excuse for doing so. “Is it possible that they have not heard? Indeed they have.” But now he goes on to ask if it is possible that God has actually abandoned his people in favour of Gentiles. It is out of the question. And the proof is that Paul himself, a pure-blood Jew, descended from Abraham and of the tribe of Benjamin, has heard and responded to the saving word of God in Jesus Christ as indeed had many other Jews. Furthermore, Israel, though unbelieving of Christ as Messiah, remains a chosen people. The ‘remnant’, its temporary representative, is the pledge of future restoration. “God never abandoned his own people to whom, ages ago, he had given recognition.”

Paul goes on to ask: “Was this stumbling – namely, their rejection of the Gospel – to lead to their final downfall?” This he strongly denies. What has happened is that their failure to accept the Gospel has, by default, brought salvation to the Gentiles.

The present unbelief of the Jews is only a preliminary step which God has permitted with a view to the conversion of the pagans and ultimately of the Jews themselves: for their own good God will make them “envious” of the pagans. Earlier Paul had quoted Moses (Deut 32:21) as saying, “I rouse you to jealousy with a non-people, I shall exasperate you with a stupid nation” (Rom 10:19).

The fall of the Jews has proved a great gain to the rest of the world and the Jews’ loss a great gain to the Gentiles. But how much greater will the gain be when the Jews, too, have restored to them all that they are at present losing.

At the same time, Paul warns the Gentile Christians not to be complacent, or to pat themselves on the back for making the right choice. God’s merciful plan to include the Gentiles in his great salvation plan should humble them, not fill them with arrogance. The Gentiles must never forget that it was from the Jewish people and its covenants with God that Jesus and salvation came to them in the first place. Perhaps some Jews have resisted hearing the Gospel message but that will only be until the Gentiles have been fully converted.

Paul refers to the Christian message as a ‘mystery’. Among some of the religions in Greece, the word ‘mystery’ referred to some truth which was only revealed to initiated members. Paul, however, uses it in the sense of something formerly not known but now revealed for everyone to know and understand. Examples would be the Incarnation, the meaning of the death of Jesus, God’s plan to unite all things in Christ and especially to bring both Jews and Gentiles into one community in Christ as Head. Here the ‘mystery’ being revealed is God’s plan by which both Jew and Gentile, after a period of disobedience by both, will in his mercy be included in his Kingdom.

“And this is how all Israel will be saved.” The Old Testament prophesied that as a result of the Messiah’s coming Israel would be cleansed of all her sins. (Some of the strongest criticism of Jews is to be found in the Old Testament.) Paul teaches that this prophecy, partially fulfilled already in the conversion of the Gentiles, implies the conversion of the Jewish people also.

In support of his statement he quotes from the Old Testament. Isaiah (59:20-21) says that a redeemer will come from Zion (Jerusalem), who will remove the godlessness of Jacob (Israel). In the original, the ‘redeemer’ seems to refer to God but Jewish tradition understood it as referring to the Messiah and this is how Paul seems to read it also.

And this ‘redeemer’ will be their mutual covenant with God, a covenant which will take away their sin. Just as salvation for Gentiles involves forgiveness of sin, so the Jews, when they are saved, are forgiven by the mercy of God – his forgiveness based on their repentance and faith in Christ as Messiah and Lord.

“As regards the Gospel they are enemies, but for your sake; but as regards those who are God’s choice, they are still well loved for the sake of their ancestors.” Right now the Jews are enemies because they have rejected the clear call of God in Jesus but it is only temporary. And as Paul has already said, their rejection of the Gospel has resulted in the Gentiles accepting it. But that rejection has to be balanced by God’s unchanging and unchangeable love for the Jews, guaranteed by the covenants he made with their ancestors, with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons, and Moses.

The reason is clear. “There is no change of mind on God’s part about the gifts he has made or of his choice.” God originally chose Israel as his people from whom the Saviour would emerge. “Salvation is from the Jews” (words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman, John 4:22) He will never renounce that choice. Even though Israel is presently in a state of unbelief [in Jesus as Messiah], God’s purpose will be fulfilled in her. And, Paul firmly concludes: “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” God’s love is unchanging; his call his unchanging.

In all his grief and disappointment, it is this conviction that gives Paul hope for his people.

And that applies as much to us Christians as to the Jews. No matter what we do, no matter how far we distance ourselves from God, his love and his call are still there inviting us back.

And we are to remember that he is still calling the Jewish people, that he is still their God and they his people. We, too, are now his people but ultimately that depends on the degree to which we accept Jesus as Lord and live our lives accordingly.

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