So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
‘Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’
As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.
This present age is preoccupied with ‘fake news’ and an approach to truth which proclaims ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’, without worrying, in any depth, about what the basis of truth might be.
The passage from Romans continues with Paul’s struggles with the complexities of faith and the issues of his day. Can the Israelites just be condemned for their hardness of heart? No, for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. As God has been with their ancestors, so God is with the Jewish people of Paul’s day.
It’s not just a matter of Gentiles being saved and Jews being condemned. Rather, the conclusion that Paul comes to is that, in fact, all have shared in disobedience, so all may share in God’s mercy. In Luther’s classic expression we are all ‘both sinners and righteous’.
Paul concludes his wrestling with the question of what the truth is about Jews and Gentiles with a doxology. In doing this, he points to the way in which truth contains a mystery beyond human comprehension. At the heart of God lies a mysterious ‘otherness’, in the presence of which the only response is humility in the face of God and praise to the glory of God.
And yet, God is also the one who is revealed in the incarnation, and who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is daily present in each part of human life.
Truth is a gift, into which I can grow, not a commodity which I can own. The truth of God is based on the mercy of God, revealed in love in Jesus Christ. Paul’s writing in Romans is an attempt to interpret the Gospel for the Church.
But at the end of the day he points, not to himself, but to the riches, wisdom and knowledge of God.
O God, I give thanks for Your mystery and Your presence. You are other than me, yet You are close to me. Forgive me when I claim to hold the truth on my own. Grant me day by day the humility to see that truth lies with You. May I grow in your love and grace As I grow, may I give you the glory. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Elizabeth Welch, retired URC minister, Chair of the Society for Ecumenical Studies.