Summary: Israel’s blindness is not total, nor permanent. Moreover, it is the avenue by which God’s salvation comes to the Gentiles.
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
Mystery that Blesses
For some time now, as I have been reading about trends in spiritual fashions, as it were, I’ve noted that one of the currently fashionable things is “mystery.” As near as I’ve ever been able to tell, “mystery” in these discussions is a sense of the bigness of God, the way in which God is simultaneously beyond our apprehension, and yet within our consciousness at the same time. If you read very far in these musings, it gets kind of confusing and abstract. And, honestly, I wonder many times WHY these kinds of people – looking for “mystery” in their worship – do not seek out a high-church Anglican parish with a hefty commitment to teaching the Bible and Christian theology. That is, of course, the thing which we seek to create here at St. Anthanasius, and what we are striving to achieve here looks to me very much like what I’m reading about when all these worship gurus are endlessly talking about re-introducing “mystery” into Christian worship.
We have a different sort of mystery today before us in the Second Lesson, Romans 11:25-36. But, this word “mystery” is a technical term in Paul’s writings. For Paul, a mystery is not a puzzle that you have to solve, or a delicious sense of strangeness. Rather, a mystery is something that had never been known before. Moreover, it is something which could never have been discovered, something which no one could possibly know, EXCEPT for God’s having revealed it.
In this passage of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he touches on a mystery concerning the nation Israel, and his reason for doing so is given right there in verse 25. Paul does not want them – or us – to be ignorant of this mystery, because if we remain so, we are in danger of becoming “wise in our own opinion.” I daresay that even in Paul’s day, some were becoming wise in their own opinion, and that is one reason Paul steps in to correct their wise opinions, because those wise opinions were wrong.
From what Paul says in these verses, it’s easy to see what the wise opinion (and also incorrect opinion) was all about. It concerned the nation Israel, and the wise opinion said something like this: “God is finished with Israel. They have rejected their Messiah, and so God’s done with them. We gentiles are now the true Israel; we gentiles have replaced Israel in God’s plan of redemption. Clearly those Jews are blind and hard-hearted, just as the Prophet Isaiah foretold.”
In fact, the Lord Himself explained the hard-hearted reception he got from his own people THIS WAY in Matthew 13:
14And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
"Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’
The wise opinion about Israel which Paul is correcting is certainly an understandable mistake. But, it is, nevertheless, a mistake, and Paul corrects it in these verses.
Paul first of all insists that the blindness of Israel is partial, and not total. “ … blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” Yes, Israel considered as a nation was blind to the truth about Jesus of Nazareth.
But the blindness is not total, because there are some few within Israel who know the truth. Paul is one of them! The rest of the Apostles are also Jews. In fact, when Jesus was explaining the hardness of Israel’s heart, by declaring that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in them, he was speaking to the disciples, who were Jews just as much as Jesus was.
And Jesus said to these Jewish disciples of his: 16But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
So, it is clear that even in Jesus’ ministry, the blindness of Israel, while massive and far reaching, was nevertheless NOT total. Jesus’ own disciples were Jews, and these disciples included far more than just those whom he appointed to be Apostles.
There was also Mary his mother, the other Mary and Martha, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Simon of Cyrene, the disciples who met the Lord along the Emmaus Road. There were those who met in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, and those several thousand who believed on the Lord when Peter preached to them that Pentecost in Jerusalem – all of them Jews.