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THE ROLE OF ETHNIC ISRAEL IN GOD'S PLAN FOR THE EVANGELIZATION OF PEOPLES
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, 30th Week of the Year, October 31, 2015
Rom. 11:1-2, 11-12, 25-29, Ps. 93, Luke 14:7-11


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew" (Rom. 11:1-2).


St. Paul continues today to agonize over the fact that God's chosen people, Israel, St. Paul's own people, after so many years of preparation for their Messiah, rejected him when at last he came. How could this be? In Chapter nine St. Paul tried to solve this problem by saying that those who believe in Christ are the true Israel, and so God's plan did not fail after all, for the true Israel accepted their Messiah.


But now in Chapter eleven St. Paul presents another reflection to try to solve this problem. Here he says that the rejection of their Messiah by the main body of ethnic Israel is only a temporary hardening that has come upon them. In the end the whole nation will be saved and accept Jesus as their Messiah. God has predestined this to happen for the sake of the salvation of the Gentiles, so that St. Paul and the other apostles would turn toward the Gentiles and evangelize them. Then when their full number has come in, the Jews too will believe in Christ.


St. Paul would always go first to the synagogue when he entered a new town in order to preach to the Jews, but when the Jews rejected his message, he turned to preach to the Gentiles in that town. In Antioch of Pisidia, the Jews in the synagogue "contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles'" (Acts 13:45-46). In Corinth, "Paul was occupied with preaching, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles'" (Acts 18:5-6).


So this is the reason why God predestined the nation of Israel to reject her Messiah, that is, so that the apostles would turn to the Gentiles and so that the full number of the Gentiles might come in. So there was a good purpose in the plan of God for the Jews to reject Jesus as their Messiah.


But now in this chapter St. Paul explores a new thought about this problem. It is that this rejection of Jesus on the part of ethnic Israel is only a temporary hardening, and it will only continue until the full number of the Gentiles comes in. He says, "I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:25-26). This now makes more sense to St. Paul. The whole nation of Israel will eventually accept Jesus as their Messiah, "for the gift and the call of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29).


So in the plan of God, Israel rejects her Messiah for a time so that the Gentiles might be saved. If Israel's rejection of Jesus means salvation for the Gentiles, what great good will come upon the world when Israel finally accepts Jesus? So St. Paul looks forward to Israel's conversion to Christ and to the great blessings this will bring to the world. He says, "Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean? ... For if there rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:11-12, 15).


It seems that St. Paul means that Israel's rejection of Christ led to the Gentile mission, the evangelization of peoples, mission ad gentes, to the nations, to the peoples; but Israel's final acceptance of Christ will usher in the Parousia, the second coming of Christ, and the final resurrection of the dead. So ethnic Israel continues to play an important role in salvation history. The true believing remnant of Israel fulfills Israel's destiny so far, but the whole nation is still playing out its part in the overall perspective of salvation history that will ultimately lead to the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.


In the meantime, the Gentile mission itself will continue to put pressure on ethnic Israel. St. Paul says that it will make Israel jealous to see that the Gentiles are now inheriting the promises God made to Israel. This jealousy will help lead the whole nation of Israel to Christ, so that they not be left out. St. Paul says, "Through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous ... Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them" (Rom. 11:11, 13-14). So part of St. Paul's motivation for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles is to save at least some Jews by making them jealous enough to come and see what they are missing out on in rejecting Jesus.


So in God's plan of salvation history, we are now in the phase of the Gentile mission, mission ad gentes, mission to the peoples. This is now the era of the evangelization of peoples, of mission, of missionary work among non-Christians to bring in the full harvest of the nations into God's kingdom. We see St. Paul's great zeal to bring all peoples to Christ for their salvation. He so much wants the conversion of the Jews, his own people, to Christ that he could almost want to be separated from Christ if that would bring about their conversion (Rom. 9:3).


We should also have the same zeal today for world mission among those who have never heard the gospel. It is a mission of salvation, God's salvation in Jesus Christ, through his death on the cross in reparation for our sins, for all who believe in him and call upon him for their salvation. This is the way God wants all peoples to be saved. This is why Christ sent out his apostles to go to the ends of the earth to preach salvation in himself. This is the reason for the Church's mission. We go out on mission to the ends of the earth to preach Christ and his saving death on the cross and to call and invite as many as we can to faith in him, baptism, and entry into his Church so that through faith they might be justified with all their sins forgiven. Thus made righteous by Christ, because of their faith, they can then participate in the full sacramental life of Christ's Church and thus have all the helps that he has given us to salvation and a new life in the light of his resurrection. Then they too can spread this joyful good news of salvation to many others, thus fulfilling God's will, "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4).

 

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