Romans 11: 11-24

Again we start the day with a rhetorical question, And an emphatic denial –  If some in Israel have stumbled, The whole project has not failed or fallen. The image of mis-steps by some in Israel, which Gentiles watch and learn from –  then practice to avoid –  provoking envy among those in Israel, to motivate their practice –  reminds me of children learning to walk. 

If the world, and the Gentiles, learn from the mis-steps among those of Israel –  how much better can they learn from Israel’s successes? Imagine again of children with elder role models, and a mildly competitive attitude… 

The image Paul elaborates more is of an olive tree and branches. Israel is the ancient tree, pruned recurrently. Gentiles are wild branched, grafted into the tree. Paul is rejecting subordination of Jews to Gentiles –  denying supersession, affirming ongoing dependence of both on shared roots. 

I can leave it to farmers and gardeners, to clarify the interdependence of roots and shoots but just as Torah claims our common humanity, rather than competing races denying others humanity, so Paul’s gospel claims our common covenant roots rather than mutually exclusive alternatives. 

The image maintains the demand for fruitfulness, and the threat of pruning for failure to yield – but I don’t think it supports replacement of Israel by church. Recall from yesterday, I think ‘church’ is not yet in Paul’s mind –  just an extension of good news invitations to Gentiles. 

When in v.13 Paul narrows his audience to Gentiles, I wish again he spoke Cree,  which distinguishes ‘you’ and ‘us’ into ‘us’ with or without ‘you’, clarifying who is addressed, and who is assumed to overhear, akin to literary theorists of implied audience. 

I find that Peterson’s paraphrase goes too far, iIn the name of vernacular, colloquial, idiomatic English usage, to determine issues of how Israel, or some Israelites, erred. ‘Insiders’, or ‘outsiders’, like yesterday’s ‘fine print’, create more issues of inclusion and exclusion, in the semantic fields of who and what is named. 

Is there just one ‘kingdom’ anticipated in the end? I tend toward agreeing, yes. Is there just one anticipatory community of faith? I tend to disagree, at least in honouring ‘branches’. I did grow up in a region of fruit trees –  I remember apple trees bearing one variety on one branch, aAnd another variety on another through grafting, not just genetic manipulation of new hybrids, 

Like the Granny Smiths begun in Eastwood, New South Wales! 

The Peterson use of ‘homecoming’ is similarly provocative –  helpful in its familiarity, it needs clarification. Here I think of ‘Jews for Jesus’ or ‘Messianic Judaism’ –  or of an earlier Pope, in my lifetime,  inviting us Protestants to come home to Rome (once we admitted to straying). 

Moving ahead to a hybrid new improved unity, ‘organic union of churches into one church’,  our own United Church model of 100 years ago, has found some limits. 

The root, branches, and fruit image may serve better, In this age of intersectional identities, Communities of communities, or international forums, multilateral and bilateral. 

11 I ask, then, have they stumbled  so as to fall?  Of course not!  But by their misstep salvation [will come]  to the Gentiles, in order to make them jealous. 

12 But if their misstep [means] riches for the world and their deficit riches for the Gentiles, how much more [will mean] their fullness? 

13 Now I speak to you, the Gentiles.  Inasmuch as I am Apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry

14 in hope that I may make my flesh jealous and I will save some of them. 

15 For if their rejection [means] reconciliation of the world, what [is] their acceptance if not life from the dead? 

16 If the first fruit is holy, so also the lump; and if the root is holy, so also the branches.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and thou, a wild olive tree, hast been grafted in among them and hast become a co-participant in the root, i.e. fatness, of the olive tree, do not boast triumphantly over the branches.

18 If thou doest boast triumphantly  [it is still true that] it is not thou who supportest the root but the root [supports] thee. 

19 Thou mayest say:  ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ 

20 True enough. By unbelief they were broken off and by faith thou standest. Do not think haughty thoughts but fear [God]. 

21 For if God has not spared the natural branches, he will not spare thee.  

22 Consider then the goodness and severity of God: severity to those who have fallen and goodness of God to thee, if thou remainest in his goodness, for otherwise thou too wilt be cut off.  

23 And they too,  if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.  

24For if thou hast been cut off from [thy] native wild olive tree and against all nature grafted onto the cultivated olive tree, how much more shall those who naturally [belong to it] be grafted onto their own olive tree? 

11 The next question is, "Are they down for the count? Are they out of this for good?"  And the answer is a clear-cut no. Ironically when they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in.  But the next thing you know, the Jews were starting to wonder if perhaps they had walked out on a good thing. 

12 Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God's kingdom,  just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming!

13 But I don't want to go on about them. It's you, the outsiders, that I'm concerned with now. Because my personal assignment is focused on the so-called outsiders, I make as much of this as I can

14 when I'm among my Israelite kin, the so-called insiders, hoping they'll realize what they're missing and want to get in on what God is doing. 

15 If their falling out initiated this worldwide coming together, their recovery is going to set off something even better: mass homecoming! 

If the first thing the Jews did, even though it was wrong for them, turned out for your good, just think what's going to happen when they get it right!

16 Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there's bound to be some holy fruit. 

17 Some of the tree's branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root

18 gives you no cause to crow over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren't feeding the root; the root is feeding you. 

19 It's certainly possible to say, "Other branches were pruned so that I could be grafted in!" 

20 Well and good. But they were pruned because they were deadwood, no longer connected by belief and commitment to the root. The only reason you're on the tree is because your graft "took" when you believed, and because you're connected to that belief-nurturing root. So don't get cocky and strut your branch. Be humbly mindful of the root that keeps you lithe and green. 

21 If God didn't think twice about taking pruning shears to the natural branches, why would he hesitate over you? He wouldn't give it a second thought. 

22 Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God – ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot.  But don't presume on this gentleness. The moment you become deadwood,  you're out of there. 

23 And don't get to feeling superior to those pruned branches down on the ground.  If they don't persist in remaining deadwood,  they could very well get grafted back in.  God can do that.  He can perform miracle grafts. 

24 Why, if he could graft you branches cut from a tree out in the wild –  into an orchard tree, he certainly isn't going to have any trouble grafting branches back into the tree they grew from in the first place.  Just be glad you're in the tree, and hope for the best for the others.