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IN ROMANS 9 PAUL SWITCHES THE FOCUS from God’s universal desire for everyone’s salvation to how that salvation is played out in his day: namely, how God plans to save both the Jews who awaited (and mostly rejected) the Messiah, and the Gentiles, who did not know God and now have the Gospel presented to them. In chapters 9-11, Paul refers more to the Old Testament than anywhere else in his writings. In fact, on commentary says that these three chapters (out of the 100 Paul has written) contain a third of all Paul’s OT references.
He starts today by making it clear that he loves the Jewish people, and that it grieves his heart most deeply that they are (for the most part) not accepting of the Gospel, since Jesus doesn’t seem to fit into their sense of how God worked in the past.
Paul even goes to the point of wishing to be “accursed and cut off” from God. That Greek word anathema – literally means “placed above”: Aquinas “for when they found among the spoils of war something they did not wish men to use, they hung it in the temple. From this, the custom arose that things cut off from the common use of men were said to be anathema; hence, it says in Joshua: let this city be anathema, and all things that are in it, to the Lord. (6:17)” But what Paul is probably referring to is not his own condemnation and eternal separation from God, but rather that he would give up any material or spiritual benefits if it meant the conversion of the Jewish race.
This desire actually echoes what Moses himself declared in Exodus 32: Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Ah, this people has committed a grave sin in making a god of gold for themselves! Now if you would only forgive their sin! But if you will not, then blot me out of the book that you have written.” In this self-denial for the sake of others, Paul and Jesus model the self-gift of Christ Jesus, who in a sense “became sin” although righteous in himself so as to save the condemned and sinful. It shows how profound and pure is their love for the Hebrew people, and how closely united their hearts are to God, since God Himself ultimately carries out the same desire to save the guilty. We must pray that we can grow in the same love for our family and friends who are not truly living their lives for God. Indeed, it is our vocation to pray for others and work to spread the good news.
But as Paul is writing Romans, unfortunately the Gospel is really only making significant ground among the Gentiles (non-Jews). Thus Paul describes Jesus as a “scandal,” a “stumbling block” to the Jews, because 1. God is not human (as Jesus seems to be, and indeed is – fully human and fully divine), and also 2. God cannot “win” by dying on the cross. Or can he? The collective wisdom among the Jews (and Muslims by the way) says that God would never allow that to happen to one of His own, a prophet, etc.
Well brothers and sisters, as far as this is concerned, it is quite clear in the other readings today that God is a God of surprises, and we need to learn to not put Him in a box. Indeed God will do things in His own way, and He will manifest Himself in smallness and weakness just as often as in the power of a storm. He comes to Elijah in silence, not in fury, and Jesus calms the sea and the winds.
Do not expect God to be boring, and don’t put Him in a box. Let Him save you, but according to HIS plan and not your own.
The main thing is to keep your eyes on Him, and not on anything else. Recall that Peter walks on the water, something he is naturally not capable of doing, because of his faith in Jesus. It is only when he takes his eyes off him that he starts to sink and needs to cry for help. May this Eucharist help us to keep our eyes on Jesus, to allow God to surprise us, and to expand our love for our family and friends who are far from the faith.