The opening of this chapter is deceptively familiar – We hear some version of Paul’s sorrow, for those who continue to grow from the roots which Paul shares. Personally and psychologically, few adults avoid this feeling toward others, who share our origins, but not our subsequent choices – our original given identities, but not our subsequent acquired ones.
We will have to be very self-aware again today – lest we project our experience and attitudes on Paul, or at least, adopt traditional readings – particularly liberal confusion between Providence and Progress! If it would help those in his community of origin, Paul claims he’d even be cursed by sacrifice from Christ and he identifies that community of origin thoroughly.
However, would it be ’for their sake’? Do they need help? Would they get help? From what, for what? Let’s acknowledge the power of the dominant readings: supersession, maturation, progress, and their cousin evolution – Judaism is obsolescent, Christianity a ‘new and improved’ version – the ‘new paradigm’ does all that the old one could, and does more, better, extending to include the Gentiles.
One way I learn to resist this model: as it is used by naïve Muslim, Bahai, Mormon, and secularist friends, it patronizes me and my Christian faith as, in turn, obsolescent, and I should grow up, progress, evolve, and ‘get over it’!
Sure, they are welcome to offer their model – but let mine coexist!
Hans Küng’s work with Thomas Kuhn’s ‘paradigm’ model is invaluable, as they collaborated to apply Kuhn’s ‘structure of scientific revolutions’ to the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam over millennia. We never ‘outgrow’ an earlier religious paradigm.
Paul continues with some elegant rabbinic, Talmudic reasoning, drawing on the traditions of the patriarchs: “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. Halfway through today’s quota of notes, let me beg you to reconsider- whatever the recitation of that trio of names triggers in you:
Yes, it’s the heart of patriarchy, a target of feminism
Yes, it’s a chant of devout pietists in 3 Abrahamic faiths
I can resist extreme partisan uses with you – but what is the assertion about our commonalities here, rather than of our subordination or differentiation? Paul is rejecting a crude genetic physiological root of ‘us’. It’s a continuing argument in Romans: Abram leaving Ur and Haran trusted long before most of God’s promises and covenant, or circumcision. Sure, covenant and circumcision becomes a focus, when Abram, become Abraham, in old age, cuts a covenant by circumcising his old body, Ishmael’s adolescent body, and Isaac’s newborn foreskin.
But God chooses Jacob in the womb over Esau, before any trust or covenanting occurred.
The Calvinist in me loves the ‘in the womb’ bit – so much of our call is a given, not chosen or deserved by our thoughts, words, or deeds. I am even encouraged to invite you to imagine: God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – Created and sustained a villain!
1 I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie – my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy spirit –
2[when I say] that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.
3 For I would pray that I myself be accursed, [separated] from Christ for the sake of my brothers-and-sisters, my fellow-citizens according to the flesh,
4 who are Israelites, whose are the adoption and the Glory and the assurances and the lawgiving and the worship and the promises,
5 whose are the fathers and from whom is Christ according to the flesh, whose is God, who is over l, blessed [be He] forever. Amen.
6 Now it is not that the word of God has lapsed. For not all who are from Israel are Israel,
7 nor are all the children [of Abraham] Abraham’s seed, but “In Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Gen 21:12)
8 That is, it is not the children of [Abraham’s] flesh who are who are the children of God, but the children of [God’s] promise are counted as “seed”.
9 For this word is [a word] of promise: “At that time I shall come and Sarah will have a son” (Gen 18:10)
10 Not only that but also: Rebecca receiving semen from one man, Isaac our father –
11 for while [the twins] were not yet born and had not yet done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might stand –
12 [based] not on [human] works but on the one who calls – it was said to her: “The greater shall serve the less” (Gen 25:23)
13 As it is written: “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated” (Mal 1:2-3)
14 What then shall we say? Is there injustice with God? Of course not!
15 For to Moses he says: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exod 33:19)
16 So, then, [it is] not [a matter] of [human] willing or running but of God being merciful.
17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I raised thee up, in order that I might demonstrate in thee my power [for salvation] and in order that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod 9:16)
18 So then he has mercy on whom he wills, and whom he wills he “hardens” (Exod 4:21, etc.)
1 At the same time, you need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow.
2 It's an enormous pain deep within me, and I'm never free of it. I'm not exaggerating * Christ and the Holy Spirit * are my witnesses. * It's the Israelites . . .*
3 If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I'd do it in a minute. They're my family.
4 I grew up with them. They had everything going for them – family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises,
5 to say nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything, always. Oh, yes!
6 Don't suppose for a moment, though, that God's Word has malfunctioned in some way or other. The problem goes back a long way. From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit.
7 It wasn't Abraham's sperm that gave identity here, but God's promise. Remember how it was put: "Your family will be defined by Isaac"?
8 That means that Israelite identity was never racially determined by sexual transmission, but it was God-determined by promise.
9 Remember that promise, "When I come back next year at this time, Sarah will have a son"?
10 And that's not the only time. To Rebecca, also, a promise was made that took priority over genetics. When she became pregnant by our one-of-a-kind ancestor, Isaac,
11 and her babies were still innocent in the womb * incapable of good or bad – she received a special assurance from God. What God did in this case made it perfectly plain that his purpose is not a hit-or-miss thing dependent on what we do or don't do, but a sure thing determined by his decision, flowing steadily from his initiative.
12 God told Rebecca, "The firstborn of your twins will take second place."
13 Later that was turned into a stark epigram: "I loved Jacob; I hated Esau."
14 Is that grounds for complaining that God is unfair? Not so fast, please.
15 God told Moses, "I'm in charge of mercy. I'm in charge of compassion."
16 Compassion doesn't originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God's mercy.
17 The same point was made when God said to Pharaoh, "I picked you as a bit player in this drama of my salvation power."
18 All we're saying is that God has the first word, initiating the action in which we play our part for good or ill.