Previously, in Romans: Paul’s writing to two cultures and religions in these house churches –Jewish followers of Jesus, and Gentile newcomers to God’s goodness in Jesus. And Paul’s taking a stab at the big story God’s writing for both groups, one that he hopes will eventually include a shared connection to God.
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry 14 in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! 16 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.
17 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, 18 do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 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. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 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. 24 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.
Points of Interest:
- ‘I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous…’ – In turning his attention to the Gentile members of the house churches, Paul plays the Greco-Roman boasting game for a minute. The amazing things God is doing through Paul around the Roman Empire are inspiring some of his fellow Jews to turn to Jesus.
- ‘the reconciliation of the world’ – These Roman house churches might total 50, 100, or a few more people in total. Yet Paul says small at this seems, God is doing something big – reconciling the whole world! Maybe we’ve taken this historical arc for granted, but think about it. After over 1,000 years, whatever story God was doing with the Jews impacted only a few thousand people in a relatively small area around Palestine. As a result of Jewish resistance toward Jesus’ good news, Paul and others are inspired to take the news elsewhere. And it goes viral! God’s original vision of light to the whole world is coming true. And when Jews accept what God is doing too, it will be yet another great story of life out death.
- ‘dough… root…’ – Paul offers two images to explain what’s happening with this sudden growth. The bit of starter dough given to God as a temple offering is still special even when it’s expanded to feed a family. And the small root of a tree contains the same goodness you see in all its branches. So with God’s story – first to the Jews, then to the Greeks. God has always been good, and all of the people who connect with God – original members of the family as well as the latest additions – get access to that same goodness.
- ‘a wild olive shoot’ – Though they’re more numerous than the Jews, from Paul’s perspective (and perhaps God’s?), the Gentiles are the new kids on the block. Or now that Paul is working his horticultural metaphor, they are the wild shoot grafted into God’s tree.
- ‘do not boast over the branches’ – As a fellow Jew, Paul has told Jews again that they can’t claim superior privilege to the Gentiles. Neither genealogical connection to Abraham nor access to God’s law they held dear makes them superior to the rest of humanity. Now Paul addresses the much more numerous Gentiles, who were part of a Roman anti-Semitic culture. Just because they’re following Jesus and they see some Jews who are not doesn’t make them better either. Core to Paul’s message, and core to Jesus’ story, is that we’re all in this together. Culture, faith, and religion aren’t meant to be separators.
- ‘otherwise you also will be cut off’ – Paul’s warnings about pride get pretty severe. At least in the olive tree image he’s developing, he threatens that these new followers of Jesus can get cut off as well. When I was younger, I think I heard these lines about being connected or cut off from God as speaking to eternal destiny. I don’t think that any more. After all, the cut-off branches here are Jews who’ve rejected Jesus, and Paul’s whole point in this passage is that God’s going to connect them again someday. I think it’s almost more literal. It’s about connection to God, from which we can draw life. Live humbly, and don’t judge your neighbor, and you can stay in God’s kindness. Be proud and judge your neighbor, and you’ll be disconnected and experience God as severe.Jesus himself said that if we forgive others, we’ll be forgiven, but that if we don’t offer others grace, we can’t receive grace ourselves. There’s something deep in human nature and relationships and God’s law at play here. How we relate to others is integral to how we end up experiencing relationship with God.
- ‘how much more will these natural branches be grafted back’ – If God can gather all these non-Jews into the family of faith, he certainly can reconnect the Jewish people to his good news and life again. Paul began Chapter 9 anxiously asking about the fate of his Jewish people. He’s moving toward a hopeful answer.
Taking It Home:
For you – Are you living in strain in any relationship? Perhaps stuck in resentment or bitterness or superiority? As justified as you may be, ask God for help in letting go of this to free you to give and receive grace and kindness with all of your heart.
For your six – If any of your six are Jewish, pray that they will find treasure in their heritage and an ever-increasing living connection to God. Pray that all of your six would know that God is eager to include them in his life.