Thursday in Lent 5
“So too at the present time there is [among God’s people] a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” – Romans 11.5-6
There are any number of ways of interpreting scripture. But I often find two approaches that always seem to bump up against each other. One approach, a kind of historical-critical approach, is to try and understand what was going on in the passage at the time it was written, and then assume that because the passage comes from Holy Scripture, the truth you’ve uncovered is still in effect. The other approach, a kind of “hear what the Spirit is saying” approach, is to try and understand what was going on in the passage at the time it was written, and then apply the truth you’ve uncovered to the present circumstances, perhaps in a new way. The historical-critical approach would be like when Jesus says not one letter of the Law will be changed. The “hear the Spirit” approach would be like when Peter had a vision that it was okay to eat unclean animals.
I never want to caricature any of my brothers and sisters in Christ, so I won’t pretend that any of us are 100% one way or the other. But I have found it true that we tend toward one approach over the other. This difference of approach is not unlike the way some of us interpret the Constitution more rigidly or more fluidly.
In my heart, I am a “hear the Spirit” guy. Not all the time, by any means, but that’s where my heart is. And so when I read chapters 9-11 of Romans, the heart of Paul’s letter and a part of our morning devotion today, I’m not reading it primarily to understand the Jews’ role in God’s salvation of the world. That’s what Paul is working on, and I want to understand his argument, but that’s not what I’m really reading it for.
I want to know what my role is in God’s salvation of the world. And so, as fraught with danger as it may be, I’m really putting myself and mainstream Christianity in the role that Paul has placed the Jews. For 2,000 years Christians have supposed to been about the work of spreading the good news and of living our lives in a way that is pleasing and faithful to God. For 45 years, I have supposed to been about that, too. And yet the world often doesn’t seem quite as transformed as I think it should be, and neither do I.
I ask myself, then, has God rejected Christians? Has God rejected me? Those questions seem relevant to me, as a non-Jew who isn’t living in Rome or in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. What I hear Paul saying is that through the stumbling of God’s people salvation has come to the Gentiles so as to make God’s people jealous. What I take from Paul’s teaching is that maybe through my stumbling God is still bringing salvation to the world, and that perhaps I should pay attention. Perhaps I might even become jealous when I see the glorious things God is doing for people all over the world who are not yet baptized, not yet believers in Christ.
Just as Paul articulates a critique of God’s people, so I can articulate my personal failings as a child of God and the failings of we in the Body of Christ. But also thanks to Paul, I can holdonto the hope that my stumbling can’t and won’t stop God’s work in the world. Thanks be to God!Peace,