So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not vaunt yourselves over the branches. If you do vaunt yourselves, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.
Have you ever watched a tree grow? Apart from the fact you would need a very long time, it is fascinating to see how trees develop from a fragile sapling into mighty trees. They provide shelter from the elements, food for animals, oxygen for the planet. They protect properties, provide a playground for children and playthings with conkers, yet still stand with a certain elegance – made more pronounced when viewed in winter in silhouette. But they can move with the wind so they do not break. Yet trees remember every year (the deciduous ones anyway) to shed their leaves and grow new ones. Dying branches are discarded and new shoots grow. Roots spread out in all directions and break through the human-made restrictions around them in roads and pathways. How much of this is true of our faith? Do we provide shelter to those who feel exposed? Do we provide food for those who are hungry? Do we provide a safe place for people to pray (and play) and learn? Do we conduct ourselves with a certain elegance while being flexible enough to allow ourselves to be accessible? And all of this while discarding old ideas and being open to new ones? We can learn a lot from trees – take a moment to just look and see…
Lord Jesus, help me to be a tree in my faith: with firm roots, spreading out to my community; with strong branches to provide help for others and take away my pride that I might allow the wind to blow through me to inspire me to movement. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Watson, minister of Patricroft and Worsley Road URCs in Salford.