22 April 2016

Romans 11:1-12

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 76


Paul continues to reflect on Israel's relationship with God or, more specifically, the question of whether God has turned away from Israel. His answer is clear: "By no means!" Indeed Paul himself is an Israelite, living proof that this is not the case, and in wrestling with this Paul draws upon the idea of the remnant. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures it is clear that there is never a time when the whole people are faithful to God, but that there is always a faithful remnant. That remnant is now those Israelites who, like Paul, give their hearts to God through Christ.

But what of those who don't?

Paul argues that their hearts have been "hardened" (v. 7), and the word that is used here might better be described as the callus that forms round a fractured bone to help it mend. A callus is hard, to help the healing, but the part on which it grows becomes insensitive, hardened. If people turn away from God for long enough then they become insensitive to God's word and even to God's love. Yet Paul is keen to point to the hope in this situation. First he argues that it is because of the hardness and insensitivity of the Israelites to God's revelation that "salvation has come to the Gentiles" (v. 11); the Israelites have played a part in opening the floodgates of the experience of God's grace. Second he points again to the hope yet to be fulfilled, the time when all hearts will be opened and all are gathered in to God's embrace. We hear the echoes of earlier verses: nothing can defeat the love of God.

To Ponder

  • There are times we are more 'alive' to God's presence in the world and times when God feels distant or more difficult to discern. What causes you to feel numb or be less sensitive to the presence of God around you?
  • When you do feel distant from God, what helps you to remember that God does not forget you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Nicola Price-Tebbutt

Nicola Price-Tebbutt is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has previously served in circuit in Sheffield and as a tutor at Hartley Victoria College in Manchester.