In today’s first reading, St. Paul is in the midst of his monumental work, The Letter to the Romans. Whole commentaries – really thick ones – are better suited to explain the whole logic and trajectory of Paul’s thought, but here is an attempt to give you some context. Up through Chapter 6 Paul is making the case that all the human problems caused by Adam/Eve and the human family are addressed and answered in Jesus – his life, atoning death, and Resurrection. In Romans 7, Paul asks, “then what was the point of the Law/commandments?”
His answer is the problem is in the human heart and the Law, as good as it is, only serves as a lens to reveal the problem – but! It also focuses the problem into one place: the people of Israel (Rom 8). God’s solution is that the representative of Israel, Jesus has paid the atoning price. Now the Spirit is released into a new family of God to transform their hearts so that they can truly love God and neighbor. This is just the first step to renew all people and all creation. And that brings us to Chapter 9.
The question raised is what happens to the people of Israel who do not accept Jesus as Messiah? The Israelites were chosen and the deck stacked in their favor. Paul lists out all the advantages accorded them. “They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen” (Rom 9:4-5) It is the start of a lament. In the next chapters he laments that the history of the Israelite people has led them to think their future is connected to their performance of the law, when that same history shows that what God desires is a family that loves and acts out of law, not obligation to tradition or law. This takes us up through Romans 10. The next chapter asks the question: what about the future of Israel?
For our part, a question closer to home is “what about our future?” Would a modern St. Paul write: “They are Christians, theirs is…..” and then lists all the things that should have stacked the deck in our favor? What is the state of our hearts? Has the Spirit converted us or are we still people of obligation and performance of church rules? Are we active in the family that loves and acts out of love? That takes us up to our current chapter. What about the future? It is your to write and you’ve a long list of divine favors stacked in “your deck.”