Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Long-Awaited Rom 11 Post

First let me apologise for going silent. There have been some crises in my life that left me feeling decidedly unwilling to do much writing. Enough of the crises have subsided that I feel I can finish this post.

In order to understand the eleventh chapter of Romans, it's necessary to understand much of the preceding discussion of Romans. Paul discusses the Law and its inability to save, because, by human nature, we pervert the law such that rather than save it teaches us sin and thereby condemns us. He stresses the Law is not unholy by this, but rather our Fallen nature is to blame for what appears to be the Law's shortcoming. So only the atoning sacrifice of Christ can and does save.

Romans Chapter 11 is a logical following-on from this discussion, and that helps us to understand its tripartite structure. The first part of Romans 11 is a direct answer to the logical question the preceding discussion provokes: namely, if the Law doesn't save but only Faith in Christ, has God then abandoned the Jews? Paul's unequivocal that this is not the case. He says that God has not abandoned anyone he has chosen. Then he gives an example from God's dealing with Elijah in 1 Kings 19. I am actually reminded also of Jeremiah 24, which to me serves as the unwritten segue into the second part of Chapter 11. In Jeremiah 24, God says that it is actually the people punished with Exile whom He will show His favour to and bring back. That seems to play into verses like verse 12 and verse 15, which speak of God returning the Exiled Jews of today. Indeed, Paul exclaims that this act will be more like the resurrection itself than the salvation of the Gentiles.

And that's the heart of the second part ... The salvation of the Gentiles. But it is interesting to note that we are but grafted onto the Jewish tree here. It is Jewish roots and a Jewish foundation upon which our Faith rests. He points this out to remind Gentiles that we have nothing to boast of over our Jewish brothers and sisters, for if God has dealt with His own people in such and such a way, how much more will He deal harshly with us who have been grafted on? And then this segues into a reminder that just as it is joyous for us to be gifted with this act of grafting, how much greater and more natural a gift will it be when God grafts the original branches back onto the tree again.

The third part then transitions from a statement that God will reclaim all of the Jews once He has claimed all of the Gentiles to an explication of the a paradox, what Paul calls a "mystery." That on the one hand, by rejection they seem to be enemies, but by virtue of God's "irreovocable call" they are still beloved "for the sake of the Patriarchs" (It is not lost that God always described Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Something Jesus noted points to the fact that God is a God of the living. Paul's mentioning of the patriarchs is almost certainly an allusion to this).

But the paradox is beyond even Paul's abilities to understand, so just when you'd expect him to land the coup de grace, he actually appends an epilogue to the 11th Chapter that is a hymn to the Sublime, Ineffable Mind of God. In other words, Paul doesn't know how this will all work out, but He is overcome with expressing His joy and trust in this Sublime Will.

So, Chapter 11 should stand as a warning to us, that in reality we have nothing to boast about, and God's plan for the Jews, far from one of rejection, is one instead of future grafting back onto the tree, a tree that has not withered or died. Indeed, it is still very Jewish. But like Paul I don't have any answers as to how or when, only trust. And that should be enough.

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