Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
Just Like Family
Do you feel distant from one of your relatives? Has there been a rift in your extended family? What happened?
1 With Christ, I tell you the truth and I don't lie. As I pray to the Holy Spirit, my conscience clearly tells me 2 that my heart is about to break. 3 I wish God would curse me and Christ would be far away from me so my people, my brothers, would believe. 4 They are the Israelites. God adopted them as his children and made them important. He gave them his Covenant, his Law, and his promises. They worship him the way he wants to be worshiped. 5 They have the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, the Messiah came from them. Praise God who rules over everything forever. Amen!
1 I tell the truth in CHRIST, I do not lie, as my conscience bears witness to me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that, for me, (there) is much grief and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I wish a curse to be on me (that) I (was apart) from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my relatives according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, for whom (there is) the adoption (as sons), the glory, the covenants, the Law giving, the service (at the altar of the Temple), the promises (from God), 5 for whom (there is) the patriarchs and from whom (there is) Christ according to the flesh, God, the (One) being over all, blessed into ages of ages, Amen.
9:4-5 These verses list the advantages God's people had over the Gentiles. In order, they were: the choosing (adoption) and the glory of revelation at Mt. Sinai, the results of that encounter found in Scripture and in lifestyle (covenants with the patriarchs, the Law, service at worship), and God's promises to be fulfilled (the end times and the resurrection of the just). Just as God revealed himself to the patriarchs of his people, his people would produce the Messiah.
I come from a large family; my mother and my in-laws have great grandchildren. I have so many nieces and nephews that I lose count of the events in their immediate families and their worlds. Except for one brother-in-law and his family who live in Chicago, all my family lives in Southern California; so, I do try to keep up with family news.
I have five sisters and two brothers. At one time, we are all part of a family business. With that amount of closeness, it was inevitable that egos would clash. There have been rifts in the family that have healed over time. But I would not be truthful if I said the rifts have not left scars.
Paul must have felt the same way. At one time he hunted Christians in his zeal to protect his faith and what he felt was his birthright. After his conversion experience, he focused his zeal towards preaching and missionary work in service of the Messiah. Despite his efforts, he faced rejection; most of this Jewish audience turned away from him.
Paul felt deep pain over this rejection, not because he had a "thin skin," but because of his faith. He was an apostle. He believed his mission was an extension of Christ's mission. He held God called him to a life of toil and travel and rejection for the sake of the Gospel. In his heart, he would do anything to spread that Good News, even if that meant his separation from his Savior. Yet, the facts were different. His own people rejected his message, but the Gentiles accepted it joyfully.
As Paul outlined in 9:4-5, our Jewish brothers and sisters have the advantage of God's revelation, his Covenant and his Law. They are his children; they have his promises. In one sense, we Christians are tagalongs. We enjoy God's promises, we are God's children, because we believe in a Jewish Messiah. We are part of the Church because of God's activity through the Jews. They are our distant cousins in faith. As long as there is a rift in our relationship with God's first people, we are not complete.
St. John Paul II made the healing of that rift a top priority in his pontificate. As a Polish seminarian and priest who lived amidst the horror of Hitler's "Final Solution," the pope was painfully aware what anti-Semitism could produce. Until his death, he prayed, toiled, and yearned for closer ties with the Jewish community. He did much to heal the rift between Christianity and Judaism. But, more healing is needed.
We Christians should honor the great treasure Judaism still gives us. Like Paul, our hearts should be broken over the void that still separates us. Yes, there are scars from two thousand years of separation, but with time, mutual understanding, and respect, those scars can recede into the background. Just like family.
Take some time this week to pray for Jewish people. Present their need before God, just like you pray for your own family.