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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
Paul of Tarsus is unique. He’s convinced we follow not the historical but the risen Jesus; the Jesus who is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, male nor female.
AUGUST 20TH, 2017: TWENTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Many of us have never noticed that Paul of Tarsus employs Tom Sawyer methodology in his evangelization of his fellow Jews. Yet he’s perfectly clear about it in today’s Roman’s passage. “Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles,” the Apostle confesses, “I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them.”
Mark Twain’s hero finagles his friends into whitewashing a fence by pretending to enjoy his work so much that they eventually beg him to let them do it. In similar way, Paul tells the church in Rome that the basic reason he’s preaching the risen Jesus to non-Jews is to make Jews so jealous that they’ll beg him to convert them also. Once they see how Gentiles’ lives are changed for the better by living the faith of Jesus, simple jealousy will drive them to demand to know about that same faith.
It’s somewhat embarrassing to us Gentiles to discover we weren’t originally Paul’s priority. He only turned to us because of his dedication to his fellow Jews. After they rejected his message, he had no other choice. He felt forced to demonstrate that Jesus’ way to salvation actually worked by ingeniously having non-Jews show Jews that it worked. Though many of us falsely presume the gospel Jesus rejected Judaism in favor of Christianity, Paul couldn’t be clearer. “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable . . . You (Gentiles) have now received mercy because of their (the Jews’) disobedience . . . .” But eventually, in spite of their disobedience, they also will receive mercy.
Matthew’s Jesus also is clear about the Gentile/Jew issue. When, in today’s pericope, a Gentile woman asks him to cure her possessed daughter, he initially refuses, stating, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, “You Gentiles don’t fit into my job description.”
Jesus eventually cures the girl – triggered by one of the best comebacks in all of Scripture – but he never says he’s changed his priorities. Though open to non-Jews, he plans on reforming Judaism, not replacing it.
He’s not alone in that pursuit. He has some rather well-known predecessors, including Third-Isaiah, the author of today’s first reading. Active shortly after Israel’s 6th century BCE Babylonian Exile, this open-minded, reforming prophet actually envisions a day when Gentiles, adhering to the Mosaic Law, will participate in Jewish rituals. But as far as we can tell, to offer “burnt offerings and sacrifices,” these non-Jews will have to convert to Judaism. (Something many early Christians also expected of Gentiles who converted to Christianity.)
Paul of Tarsus is unique. He’s convinced we follow not the historical but the risen Jesus; the Jesus who is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, male nor female. We don’t have to be free, Jewish males to be other Christs. Even Gentile, female slaves can make that transformation. In Paul’s “liberal” theology, Gentiles can be Christians without first converting to Judaism. It’s those Gentile Christians whom he presumes will make his fellow Jews jealous enough to also become other Christs.
Just one problem. I personally know of no Jew who, during my lifetime, converted to Christianity. Very few ever do. We’ve traditionally blamed Jews for that situation, at one time even liturgically referring to them as “perfidious.” Yet, following Paul’s theology, we Gentile Christians are the ones to blame. If Jews haven’t converted in large numbers to the faith of Jesus, it’s our fault. We haven’t lived our faith intensely enough to make them jealous.
Embarrassing as it might be, we non-Jewish Christians might be perfidious, not them. We’re the ones who’ve betrayed Jesus’ faith. The proof is in our non-kosher pudding.
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