A case of preferential option – Saturday, 30th week in ordinary time – Romans 11:1-2a, 11-12, 25-29

A case of preferential option – Saturday, 30th week in ordinary time – Romans 11:1-2a, 11-12, 25-29

A cursory reading of Romans might lead one to think that chapters 9-11 are a tangent or insertion unrelated to the rest of the letter. A more careful reading, however, leads to a different conclusion. Chapter 11 is both an indictment of ‘some part of Israel’ (verse 25) as well as hope for their redemption.

Although the gospel of salvation is “to the Jew first,” it becomes apparent that a majority in Paul’s day rejected their Messiah and has not believed. While a substantial remnant embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ, some of Paul’s audience, like the Israelites, might wonder how firm is the foundation upon which they now stand because of their rejection of the Messiah.

Paul’s explanation of the gospel through the first half of the letter culminated in chapter 8 with the assurance of God’s irrevocable promises to his people: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (verse 28). Also at the beginning of the letter, Paul states that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (1:16) Now the question is, does Paul include Israel among those who are “called”? Does Israel receive this assurance? Or, is God in the business of revoking promises because Israel was unfaithful?

This fear of being rejected by God was fuelled by the Gentiles who found reason to boast, thinking that they have replaced Israel in God’s plan (verse 13-23). Addressing the Gentiles (verse 13) he tells his Gentile audience not to boast over Jews who have been cut off from the metaphorical olive tree because of unbelief, because they too may find themselves in the same position (verses 13-24). No one has a ground for boasting, because all stand before God on the basis of grace.

For these reasons, Paul makes a case that God’s promises to Israel remain intact. In verses 29-32, Paul reaffirms the point with which he starts: God has not rejected his people because God’s promises are irrevocable. Despite their present state, Israel is not permanently cast away. The text of today read in the larger context of chapter 11 almost seems to be a game of tease and as St Paul says, his attempt is to make the Israelites jealous(verse13) so that they may be drawn back and be saved. While Paul makes a case for Israel’s introspection of why they have ‘stumbled’ he curiously tells the Gentiles that he is ‘using them’ to make the Jews jealous so that the Israelites may turn and be saved; he lays bare his preferential option for the Jews even though he is the ‘apostle to the Gentiles’. (verse13).

Paul has shown that God is still working through a remnant of Israel today, but wants to make it clear that the sinning majority of Israel is not lost forever.

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