Friday of Week 30 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Romans 9:1-5

In today’s reading, Paul now moves on to a theme which causes him great pain, namely, the rejection of Jesus as Messiah by the vast majority of his fellow-Jews.

We hear people making a wholesale condemnation of the Jewish people for their rejection of Christianity but, here as in most situations, generalisations are highly inaccurate. Jesus himself and his mother were Jews. All of Jesus’ early disciples were Jews, as were all of the first converts. Even after Gentiles began to be baptised, there were still Jews becoming Christians. However, the majority were not ready to accept Jesus as the expected Messiah and, in addition, they acted in some places very strongly against the Christians, whom they saw as renegade or heretical Jews.

Speaking of his own people Paul says that:

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.

And he emphasises that these are not just empty words when he says:

I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps some felt he was not sincere because elsewhere he has been extremely critical of the attitude and behaviour of some Jews – both Christians and non-Christians.

But he feels so strongly for the spiritual future of his people that he is ready to be cut off entirely from Christ if this would benefit the brothers and sisters who are his own flesh and blood. Literally, he is willing to be “anathema”, to be someone accursed and put under a ban of exclusion. And we know how intense Paul’s feelings were for Christ when he says:

…it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me…
(Gal 2:20)

In his letter to the Philippians his love for Christ is so great that he does not know whether he wants to live or die. In death, he would be with his beloved Christ forever; in life, he could continue his work of helping others to know the Christ he knows and loves. (See Phil 1:18).

The “brothers and sisters” who are his “own flesh and blood” are his fellow-Jews, the actual descendants of Jacob (who was also called ‘Israel’). The name ‘Israel’ was then used of the entire nation, then of the Northern Kingdom after the nation was divided, the Southern Kingdom being called Judah. During the period preceding and later in New Testament times, Palestinian Jews used the title to indicate that they were the chosen people of God. Its use here is especially relevant because Paul is about to show that, despite Israel’s unbelief and disobedience, God’s promises to her are still valid:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship [of God], and the promises…

Emanating from this ancestral link, Paul lists all the privileges that came with it: their adoption as God’s children, the glory of God at times clearly evident among his people, the covenants with Abraham, with Jacob-Israel, with Moses, the worship of the one true God, the Law which expresses God’s will, the messianic promises and, finally, their physical relationship with Christ, a son of David. They have a very special place in God’s plan and it is no wonder that Paul grieves over their rejection of Jesus.

…to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

From the Jews came the great patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons, after whom the tribes of Israel are named. But, above all, it is from them that Christ is physically descended in his humanity. Jesus was a Jew born of a Jewish mother. All his family were Jews and he spent his whole life, with only one or two very brief exceptions, immersed in Jewish society. He went to the Temple and attended the synagogue. At the same time, Paul reminds us that Christ above all shares God’s divine nature in one of the clearest statements of the divinity of Jesus found in the entire New Testament.

Speaking of Christ’s origins and his relationship with the Father arising from the last sentence in the reading, the Jerusalem Bible comments:

“Both the context and the internal development of the sentence imply that this doxology is addressed to Christ. Paul rarely gives Jesus the title ‘God’, though cf. Tit 2:13, or addresses a doxology to him, cf. Heb 13:21, but this is because he usually keeps this title for the Father and considers the divine persons not so much with an abstract appreciation of their nature as with a concrete appreciation of their functions in the process of salvation. Moreover, he has always in mind the historical Christ in his concrete reality as God made man. For this reason he presents Christ as subordinated to the Father, not only in the work of creation, but also in that of eschatological renewal. Nevertheless, the title ‘Lord’, Kyrios, received by Christ at his resurrection, is the title given by the Septuagint [the Greek translation of the Old Testament] to Yahweh in the Old Testament. For Paul, Jesus is essentially ‘the Son of God’, his ‘own Son’, ‘the son of his love’, who belongs to the sphere of the divine by right, the sphere from which he came, being sent by God. The title ‘Son of God’ became his in a new way with the resurrection, but it was not then he received it since he pre-existed not only as prefigured in the Old Testament, but ontologically. He is the Wisdom, and the Image, by which and in which all things were created, and have been re-created, because into his own person is gathered the fullness of the godhead and of the universe. In him God has devised the whole plan of salvation, and he, no less than the Father, is its accomplishment. The Father raises to life and judges, so does the Son raise to life and judge. In short, he is one of the three Persons enumerated in the Trinitarian formulae.” (edited, text references omitted)

This Jewish tradition of which Paul speaks is a tradition which we Christians acknowledge and recognise by our constant reading of the Old Testament. In fact, we cannot fully understand Christ and the New Testament without making the Old Testament part of our tradition.

Jesus, as Matthew points out again and again, was not a turning away from Judaism but its fulfilment. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
(Matt 5:17)

While we regret that many Jews still distance themselves from our faith – often, it must be emphasised, in good conscience – we must never contribute in any way to the hatred or discrimination that has been directed towards them over the centuries, not least by many who called themselves Christians, leading ultimately to the horrors of the Holocaust.

There can be no doubt that many Jews are very close to God. They are our brothers and sisters and both communities should do all they can to come closer together and share their common heritage.

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