St Paul takes it as read that Israel failed catastrophically to understand what it was God wanted for them. You might think – and, more to the point, Gentile Christians who considered their Jewish Christian counterparts terribly wedded to old stories of God’s favour might think – that God would have scrapped the whole project of saving-the-world-through-Israel. That he would have given up on them, and started over with some other people.
But he hasn’t, says Paul. On the contrary: God has actually used Israel’s failure as a way of furthering his original plan. God has actually used Israel all the more to carry out his great project of redemption because they failed so spectacularly.
For one thing, God had always insisted that, no matter how great Israel’s unfaithfulness to him, there would always be a ‘remnant’ of true Israelites whose faithfulness would not waver. The fact that God chose to remain faithful to that ‘remnant’, rather than to scrap his plan with Israel as the great majority of the Israelites rejected him, actually casts God’s own faithfulness towards Israel in a far sharper light. But much more than that: the grace of God, Paul says, could only come to the whole world through the failure of Israel to grasp it correctly; the triumph of Christ in keeping the Law perfectly and bringing righteousness to all those who trust in him could only occur as a result of Israel’s incapacity to do it themselves. And so that means that Israel’s unfaithfulness – Israel’s failure – ends up counting in God’s eyes as a necessary thing out of which blessing for the whole world can flow.
Jewish-Christian relations have often been strained. We Christians have frequently looked at the Jews and reckoned them people on whom God has given up, a people whose failure makes them somehow less than us in God’s eyes. But Paul reminds us here that precisely the opposite is true. Yes, the Jews failed to serve him correctly. Yes, they were unfaithful. But since through their unfaithfulness God has ended up being glorified, and since through their failure his grace has been extended to save the whole world, Israel’s place as God’s first people has actually been cemented all the further. We Gentile Christians do well to rejoice with our Jewish (and especially our Jewish Christian) brothers and sisters for God’s favour shown towards them, and to resist every attempt to suggest that they are somehow less than us. They are greater.
These devotions were originally written for the parish of All Saints, Ascot and we are grateful for permission to republish them on Fulcrum.
Patrick is curate of All Saints’, Ascot in Berkshire. A musicologist by training, he is married to Lydia, a university lecturer, and dad to Madeleine. He writes (sporadically) at benedixisti.wordpress.com and tweets (even more sporadically) as @patrickgilday.