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Letter to the Romans: The future conversion of the Jews to full communion with God, Part 2(11:25-36)
Posted on March 24th 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
St Paul now brings to a conclusion his excursus on the fate of the Jews within the mystery of God’s plan for salvation. The place of Israel will only be fully revealed at the end of time but, as the chosen people, they have a rightful part in God’s plan. The issue was deeply felt by St Paul who cherished their chosen status while at the same time being disappointed that most Jews seemed unable to make the connection between their expectation of the Messiah and the coming of Jesus Christ.
The rejection by Israel of Jesus made an opening for the pagans to hear the Word of God, and be saved through faith. Historically, the mission of the Church quickly moves from Jerusalem outwards under the threat of severe persecution.
The blindness of the Jewish people at large therefore made them ‘enemies of God’ with respect to the mission of the Church alone but, as the chosen people, still remained loved by God. (v29). The first chapters of the Letter had explained how the disobedience of humanity was a universal phenomenon, although expressed in different ways. In the case of the pagans, it was a lack of insight and willpower, and in the Jews’ case, through an exclusive reliance on the works of the Law. Once justification, redemption and salvation were all seen as originating from God, the differences between Jews and Gentiles become relative and not absolute.
The explanation of their relative differences allows St Paul to explain their dynamic relationship through history. A phase begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who, as the new Adam, offers a universal salvation to Jew and Gentile alike. The current age, i.e. in St Paul’s time, is the time for the conversion of the pagans, who will be joined at the end of time by those faithful Jews who are to be saved. The general and pervasive disobedience of humanity is met through Christ with the universal mercy of God.
The final few verses, 33-36, of the Chapter include a very early hymn composed by St Paul which emphasises how human wisdom is confounded by God. God creates, redeems (through the death and Resurrection of Jesus), and saves (the gift of eternal life). A vista onto God’s purposes may be gleaned through a divinely inspired reflection on faith and this can show that the Jews, the chosen people who largely rejected Jesus Christ, do have a place in His saving plan.
The Eucharist makes the fruit of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus continually available
Posted on March 24th 2013 in Weekly messages
Twenty years after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, in the early AD 50s, St Paul wrote to the Corinthian community in reply to questions they had raised after his first visit that established the Church in its earliest days. He quotes one of the earliest extant forms of the Creed; that Christ both died and rose according to the Scriptures and that these events were explained as dying for our sins and rising on the Third day.
This very early form of the Creed demonstrates that the events surrounding the Passion, Death and Resurrection were foundational to Christian faith and that they were pre-figured in what Christians call the Old Testament (described in the New Testament as ‘the Scriptures’). This sense of fulfilment gives a double meaning to the actions of the participants in the Passion. All acted freely, but were also in some sense pre-determined to act in that particular way. The connection between the Scriptures and the Passion is not a set of precise intellectual clues, but rather of the analogous use of figures. Some are well known historical figures, Abraham, Moses, and David; others are more ahistorical such as the ‘Suffering Servant’ of Isaiah, Abel and Noah.
The figure of Abel helps throw light on the emphasis placed on blood in the Passion, the purchase of the ‘field of blood’ by the Sanhedrin from the money returned by Judas, the exclamation of Pilate, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’, and the crowd’s response, ‘His blood be upon us and on our children’. The murder of Abel by Cain out of jealousy was the first act that took place after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and this has set the scene for the pattern of violence that has continued throughout human history. The jealousy moving to murder leads God to ask Cain, ‘is not sin at the door like a crouching beast hungering for you’ (Gen 4:7). There is a repeat of this sentiment of jealousy when Pilate’s says to himself; ‘that it was out of jealousy that they handed him over’. (Mt 27:18) Though Pilate knows of their jealousy, he is unwilling to stand up for Jesus and thus becomes complicit in the shedding of innocent blood. St Peter, representing the Apostles, unwittingly echoes the words of Cain as well, when he denies three that times that he did not know Jesus. Cain had been asked by God where was his brother? He had replied. ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Then St Peter fulfils the prediction of Jesus that all would run away and that he, Peter, would deny Him three times. The account of the Passion is an account of the contagion of violence stemming from jealousy and aided and abetted by weakness and denial.
The analogy of Cain and Abel expresses the human condition, but the Passion is, at its heart, an account of the steadfastness of Jesus Christ as the conscious Suffering Servant who offers His life for the many. This conscious offering will break the cycle of violence that wraps up the account of the Passion and, although the history of the world since the Resurrection has known violence, individual and collective, this never has to be the last word on human relationships.
The death of Jesus Christ is neither just an example for us, nor is it the means to transform an unwilling humanity. The account of the Passion and death of Jesus begins with the invitation to participate in the events from the inside, through the Eucharist. The bread and wine of the Passover meal become the Body and Blood of the one about to be crucified. The command, ‘Do this in memory of me’, is an instruction to continue through the Eucharist to make the fruits of the death and Resurrection continually accessible through life, being the spiritual food needed to break the cycle of violence and jealousy that conspired to the shedding of truly innocent blood.
Letter to the Romans: The future restoration of the Jews to full communion with God.Part 1(11:11-24)
Posted on March 3rd 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
St Paul now turns to the fate of the Jews who have failed to accept Jesus Christ, and asks rhetorically whether their stumbling over the Cross is permanent and without any means of return. The answer St Paul gives is a resounding no, and ascribes to God the inclusion of the Gentiles as the reason for the rejection by the Jews. They still remain within the orbit of His unfolding providence. This might seem a non-problem to the modern mind as the exposure to others religions is now almost universal. However, to the early Christian communities the virtually wholesale rejection by the Jews of Jesus Christ and the acceptance of faith by the Gentiles gave the impression that God had abandoned caring for His chosen people.
This section of the letter explains how St Paul’s mission to the Gentiles for which he was immensely proud. He would encourage them to benefit from the immeasurable generosity of God. The visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit working within the Christian communities should instil in them a sort of jealousy that would make them think again with regard to Jesus Christ.
The rejection of Christ led to the reconciliation of the world through the death of Christ, and from whose fruits the Jews will benefit at the end of time from the resurrection of the dead. St Paul describes this outcome with an extended analogy of the olive tree, making a distinction between the roots and the branches. The roots are the essential conduits of grace. The roots that produce the ‘rich sap’ (11:17) refer to the Patriarchs who accepted the promises of God.
The sap is not owned by any branch, whether cultivated or wild, whether natural or grafted. The Gentiles are excluded from boasting about their new status since God could quite easily cut them off as He did with the branches that formed Israel.
God can also give life to the so-called dormant natural branches of the vine, and this is where the hope of Israel lies, in the restoration of the full vine, cultivated and wild branches alike. The inclusion of the Gentiles should give hope to the Jews as to the re-incorporation of Israel into God.
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