This passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans reveals a deeply personal side of him. He confesses his “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” that his “own people,” his fellow Jews, have rejected the gospel. They seem unable to see Jesus as the Christ, the fulfillment of the ancient promises, the culmination of all history and prophecy. And they may well see Paul’s conversion as a betrayal or repudiation of his heritage.
That Jesus is the fulfillment of all Jewish history and law and prophecy is so clear to Paul that it breaks his heart that his kindred, the elect of God through the ages, don’t seem to see it. The Jews are the rightful heirs of those promises: “To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.” In the strongest language imaginable, Paul confesses that he “could wish himself accursed and cut off from Christ” for the sake of his own people.
For any of us who grieve that some of our own kindred do not share our faith in Christ, this “sorrow and anguish” can ring all too true. Even those of us who have left the denomination in which we were raised for the sake of another faith tradition that feels more authentic to us can relate to Paul’s pain. What seems a natural, reasonable, and organic choice to us can feel to our own families like a repudiation of our heritage.
Paul’s grief is real, but his anguish is generous, not angry. He does not cast off those who cannot follow where he would lead. Through it all, his conviction that Jesus is the promised one of Israel, the “Messiah who is over all, God blessed forever,” remains unshaken.
Dear God of all, help us to love those who do not share our faith. May we love as you love all that you have made. Amen.
Jacob is attacked one night by an unknown assailant and wrestles with him until morning. We discover that the assailant comes from God, so Jacob is given a new name, Israel. The psalmist is feeling unjustly accused and cries out to God. He is confident that he would be vindicated if all the facts were known. In Romans, Paul deals with difficult theological issues. He states that he would sacrifice his own soul if his fellow Israelites would accept Christ. Jesus teaches a crowd that is growing hungry, and his disciples are trying to figure out how to feed them. They see only what they lack, while Jesus asks them what they have. This story is a lesson about offering God what we have and trusting God to multiply it.
Read Genesis 32:22-31. When have you been forced to wrestle with yourself or your self-identity? How did this struggle reveal a blessing?
Read Psalm 17:1-7, 15. When have you felt the need to serve as your own advocate before God? How has this experience affirmed your trust in God?
Read Romans 9:1-5. When have you experienced Paul’s anguish that others do not accept what you have come to know in your faith, whether by conversion, denominational change, education, or encounter with God? How do you continue to be in relationship with such family or friends?
Read Matthew 14:13-21. When have you witnessed small acts of sharing that have led to great abundance?
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