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Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
As we have worked through Romans, we find ourselves at the end of Paul’s anguished reflection on the question, “is God faithful, since Israel has not believed in the Messiah?” Verses 25 and on of chapter 11 bring Paul’s reflection to its logical conclusion, which is, simply, rejoice, for God is faithful!
“I want you to understand this mystery (a thing clearly revealed), brothers and sisters, so that you may not claim to be wiser than you are.” Paul is speaking of the apparent Gentile pride and hubris within the church community of Rome. They were seeing themselves as superior than the Jews, for receiving the gospel when so many Jews did not, and possibly for the continued growth in knowledge they gained through that. As Paul runs to a conclusion here, however, he is at pains to make sure they are not conceited about their supposed “wisdom”. A mystery, something that has to be revealed, takes the power of knowledge out of their hands. In fact, the whole gospel, the knowledge of God and of his love and grace, of Jesus Christ and his person and work, is all a “mystery” in this sense: not something to be solved by us, but a truth revealed by God.
Just like all aspects of the gospel, and of grace, and faith, we cannot claim superiority or have pride for receiving the Gospel. You didn’t receive Christ because you were so much smarter. You didn’t receive Christ because you already possessed true holiness. It wasn’t because of your abilities that God came knocking at your door, pleading with you to be a part of his kingdom. You received what God gave, and there was no power in you that made you receive it, in fact, it is the lack of power, the lack of ability, that is the very condition for receiving the grace of God by faith.
And so, Paul says, he wants them to understand a mystery: “a hardening has come upon part of Israel until the full number of the gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved…28 As regards the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their ancestors, 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” A hardening does not mean God does not love them. They are still his elect, and we share in salvation through the promise made to them. But what does this all mean?
One commentator helpfully outlined the answer to this question, what does it mean that all israel will be saved, by answering three simple questions: how, who, and when? The how is simple: by abandoning unbelief and embracing the gospel. There is no other way to come to God then through Jesus Christ, and way, the truth, and the life. As it was in his time, they were the violent and rebellious tenants, the ones who killed the king’s messengers and rejected his message. “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” And so he had, and Israel would not be embraced again until they too had faith.
The who has often been interpreted as a spiritual Israel, simply all those Jews and Gentiles who are “true Israel,” those who have faith. But this is not supported by the passage. Paul’s anguish, his burden here in these verses, is for Israel, the ethnic people whom God had made promises to. This is not a revealed mystery about all Christians, but about those specific people whom God had chosen to work through for the salvation of the whole world.
The when draws upon two texts from Isaiah, 27:9 and 59:20-21, and speaks of the deliverer coming for God’s people. Christ’s second coming is the most natural conclusion. All of this is not, however, simply an abstract theological truth; it is a prompt to doxology, to praise. All of this proves the faithfulness of God. All of this demonstrates that no matter who we are, what we do, how we fail, what we do or do not achieve, we ought to rejoice! For God is faithful.
Kids, last year we took our kids to San Diego, to the zoo and legoland. We did that because my wife promised them that after she finished nursing school, we would take them on this big vacation to celebrate. That promise was because we all had to sacrifice while she accomplished that; we all gave up time with her, because of how much work it was, and it wasn’t easy. So, because my kids had to experience that, because they had to miss out on time with their mom during that time, she made a promise to them to celebrate making it through that hard time. God’s gospel is in some ways like that; we have to make it through the hardness of life, missing time with our Father in heaven, missing the thing that makes us whole, but we have been promised that all of that will be made right, that on the other side, God is waiting for us, and we will never want or need again.
“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”35 “Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” Paul is moved to this doxology, this song of praise, by all he has just finished bringing to its logical conclusion in chapters 9-11. It seems spontaneous, even in writing, a bursting out of praise to God who is always faithful, always gracious, always and ever existing as love. We doubt, thinking God is unwise, has failed, is wrong to let the world be the way it is. We think because evil persists, because injustice wreaks havoc in our world, that God is either weak or a fool. What Paul does is, at the end of his discourse in 9-11, butt up against the boundaries of human knowledge and recognize that God’s knowledge is an unplumbable depth, unsearchable, inscrutable (meaning impossible to understand), and that this is a cause for rejoicing. By all appearances, we may think God unfaithful, but that is simply because we think God is much smaller than he is. In fact, there is no estimating that which is God, who is above all things, beyond all things, beyond even definition!
And that is a God worth worshiping. A God whose depths continue to reveal mysteries, from now and ever after. Be of good faith, rejoice, Christians, for God is beyond your ken, and thus will be ever faithful, his promises standing against all the cruelties of the world. Even when the day is darkest, God stands faithful, remaining when all else passes. Rejoice! For God is faithful. Let us end in prayer with the words of St. Paul: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.”
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