Monday of week 31 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Rom 11:29-36

Paul continues to reflect on the strange ways by which the rejection of Jesus by the Jews has brought God’s mercy to the once disobedient Gentiles.

Once again he emphasises that, by turning to the Gentiles, God has not changed his mind about the giving of his gifts or the choices he has made in the past.   His love for the Jews has not changed one bit.  The problem is in the way they are responding to him by their rejection of Jesus Christ as his Son.

In the past the Gentiles, too, were disobedient to God but now, through the rejection of the Jews, God’s mercy and compassion has been shown to them.  In the same way, says Paul, those Jews who are disobedient now will receive mercy through the same mercy which has been shown to the Gentiles.

In fact, “God has imprisoned all human beings in their disobedience only to show mercy to them all”.   Disobedience is not peculiar to any particular group, be they Jews or Gentiles.  There has been a period of disobedience for each in order that God may show mercy to them all.  God’s door is open to every single person; it is for each one to make the decision to enter.  That choice is up to each person to open themselves to God’s loving compassion.

Paul now ends the chapter and this section of the Letter with a profound doxology on God’s inscrutable wisdom.  “How rich and deep are the wisdom and the knowledge of God!  We cannot reach to the root of his decisions or his ways.”

This doxology is a natural outpouring of Paul’s praise to God, whose wisdom and knowledge brought about his great plan for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles.  As Paul has indicated throughout these chapters, both Jew and Gentile, despite the religious stubbornness of each, have received the gift of faith.  Thus the divine plan or ‘mystery’ of salvation has become open and comprehensible to the whole human race.

He quotes from the great Psalm 139 on the all-knowing and ever-present God:

Who has ever known the mind of the Lord?

Who has ever been his adviser?

Who has given anything to him,

so that his presents come only as a debt returned?

– Ps 139:6,17

How and whom God calls is an impenetrable mystery and why some respond and others do not is equally beyond our understanding.  There is nothing we can ever give to God which has not first been given to us by him.

We can only echo the concluding words of Paul: “Everything there is comes from him and is caused by him and exists for him.  To him be glory for ever! Amen.”  Blessed are those who come to understand this and make it the basis of all their living.

So often we try to reduce God down to our human level.  And, when we do, we find ourselves getting into difficult situations, especially when we try to explain how and why things happen.  We must never forget God’s two great attributes: his transcendence and his immanence.

Through his transcendence, God surpasses all we can possibly conceive about him.  As St Thomas Aquinas tells us: as soon as we make an affirmation about God, it has to be denied.  For, whatever truth may be in it, it is totally short of the full truth.  For instance, we say “God is love”.  Yes, up to a point but at the same time God’s love is something totally other than love in the limited way we can ever experience it on this earth.

Similarly in his immanence.  God is totally present to everything he has made. Closer to me than breathing, as St Augustine put it.  God is both so close and yet so far.  So, in our trying to understand the situation of the Gentiles and the Jews we can only accept with humility the call we have received to follow Jesus.  Similarly, with many other situations in life which we find difficult to understand.

While it is important that we always try to go as far as we can in our understanding, we also have to recognise that in probing God’s ways we will always be severely limited.

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