St. Paul's Letters
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.
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.
Letter to the Romans: The rejection by Israel is God’s plan (10:14-11:10)
Posted on February 10th 2013 in St. Paul's Letters
St Paul now demonstrates that the failure of Israel to accept Jesus was not due to any external reason but to a failure of will. He rules out the excuse that there was no-one to preach the Gospel to the Jews. The Gospel can only be disseminated through hearing the word, and this requires missionaries and preachers. He quotes from Isaiah to demonstrate that this future scenario was already anticipated (Is 52:7 quoted in 10:15), and so the work of Christian missionaries has been given divine sanction. The Psalmist predicts that the universal dissemination of the Word anticipated the inclusion of the Gentiles.
St Paul recognises the intimate connection between listening, believing, and obeying, and opens the possibility that the Jews had failed to listen properly and understand the message preached to them. God though extended His care over them despite their disobedience, and this divine forbearance is repeated throughout the Scriptures. The jealous love of God with respect to His chosen people is a key theme in the Old Testament. This jealous love towards Israel does not preclude the Gentiles from discovering God, and he quotes Isaiah to testify to this fact. Throughout this section (chaps 9-11) St Paul wishes to emphasise that the expansion of righteousness to non-Israelites does not imply the abandoning of God’s promises to the Chosen People. Their rejection of the true identity of Jesus Christ will serve the unfolding of God’s plan, and its favourable resolution not completed till the final days.
Throughout chapter 10, God’s faithfulness to the Jews has been proved through Scripture. Now St Paul demonstrates that a faithful remnant has accepted Christ as a precursor to a universal acceptance at the end of time. The prophet Elijah complained to God that he was the only faithful person left after the national apostasy of that time but God indicates that there are unbeknown to Elijah 7,000 faithful members of Israel. (1 Kings 19:18 quoted in 11:4). The remnant still exists but one now based on faith and not works of the Law. They have broken through the strait-jacket of the Law as validating human righteousness and accepted that righteousness is based on faith alone, something only God can achieve. The blindness of the vast majority is both wilful on man’s part but whose insensitivity serves God’s wider plan for salvation.
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