Household of God Fellowship
Recommended Reading — Set 7
The Return of The Jews
Extract from “Salvation is from The Jews” by Roy H. Schoeman
Ignatius Press, San Francisco, U.S.A. 2003
(Permission to display extract has been applied for.)
It might seem odd to refer to the entry of Jews into the Catholic Church as “the return of the Jews”. It is, however, the natural image for one who sees the Catholic Church as simply the continuation (and fulfillment) of Judaism after the first coming of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. In such a case, it is the Jews who accepted Him and became the first Christians who stayed within the core of Judaism, while those who rejected Him left the mainstream, the fullness of the truth of the religion. This concept is shared, and most beautifully expressed, by St. Paul in his image of the “ingrafting”. This image appears in Chapter 11 of his Letter to the Romans; let us return to it at some length, for in many ways it serves as an eloquent summary of this book:
21 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am
an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
2a God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
Here is the definitive statement in Sacred Scripture that when the Old Covenant, which had been restricted to the Jews, was opened up to all peoples (1) in the New Covenant, it did not mean that God removed His special election from the Jews — not even from those Jews who did not recognize Him.
2b Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads
with God against Israel?
3 “Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have demolished thy
altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”
4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand
men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.
6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise
grace would no longer be grace.
7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained
it, but the rest were hardened,
8 as it is written, God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not
see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.”
9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall
and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their
backs for ever.”
Here St. Paul states that God Himself “darkened” the eyes of the Jews, that they might not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, even down to the present time. “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.” It was God who “hardened” them, “darkened” their eyes. There is a mystery here, part of the .,mystery of iniquity”, just as there is a mystery to God “hardening” Pharaoh’s heart during the Exodus (Exodus 9: 12; 10: 1, 20, 27; 1 1:10; 4:8), yet Paul clearly states that in some mysterious way, it was part of God’s Providence that some Jews should remain unable to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. He then goes on to intimate some of the purpose for which God did this:
11 So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through
their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.
12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure
means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will with their full inclusion mean!
Here St. Paul implies that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus was in itself part of the process that enabled salvation to come to the Gentiles. And their rejection of Jesus was not the end of their own salvation, since their “stumbling” was not “so as to fall”.
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an
apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry
14 in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some
15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world,
what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
16 If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump;
and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
Once again in verse 15, St. Paul repeats that it was the Jews’ rejection of Jesus that brought about the salvation of the Gentiles — “the reconciliation of the world” — and that if such a great blessing was the result of the Jews rejecting Jesus, how great must the blessing be that will come about as a result of their accepting Him! Verse 16 then confirms the special election of the Jews as a holy people, in fact, as the holy people through whom salvation came to all of humanity.
They are “the dough offered as first fruits” that makes the whole batch holy, “the root” that makes the whole tree 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 richness of the olive tree,
18 do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember 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 fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.
Here is the central image. Some branches were broken off of the cultivated tree and wild shoots grafted on in their place. But since the original branches “were broken off so that [the Gentiles] might be grafted in”, the implication is that they were intentionally broken off by God. These branches are of course the Jews who reject Jesus, and who are now outside the Church. So again in this verse Paul suggests that the failure of some, or most, of the Jews to accept Jesus was part of God’s plan.
21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will
he spare you.
22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward
those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue
in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.
This is a warning to the Gentile Christians not to see their faith as superiority over the Jews.
23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their 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.
Here is the beautiful promise—that when the Jews return to the fullness of their faith, that is, return to the Church, they will thus be grafted back onto what has always been, after all, their own native root, and the result will be doubly graced.
25 Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand
this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel,
until the full number of the Gentiles come in,
26 and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come
from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob;
27 and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
Again, the statement that the unbelief of the Jews was an integral part of God’s plan to enable the Gentiles to be saved, but that when the “full number” of the Gentiles has come in — presumably at the end of this age of salvation history, at the “end of time” — the “hardening” resulting in the Jews’ unbelief will be removed and “all Israel will be saved”.
28 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but
as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.
29 For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.
Once again Paul repeats that the Jews’ rejection of the Gospel — their refusal to believe in Christ — was for the sake of the Gentiles (“for your sake”); their election, the special love that God has for them, and their special-gifts remain.
30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received
mercy because of their disobedience,
31 so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy
shown to you they also may receive mercy.
32 For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have
mercy upon all.
Here, one final time, St. Paul repeats the assertion that the Jews’ “disobedience” — i.e., rejection of the Gospel — was somehow, mysteriously, part of God’s plan so that the Gentiles might be saved. Then St. Paul concludes in the only possible way, given the unfathomable depth, mystery, and mercy revealed in God’s plan of salvation:
33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been
35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.
(1) all peoples — Or “universalized”, hence the word “Catholic”, which means “univer¬sal”. As Cardinal Lustiger put it: “The grace given to Israel is, in the Messiah, given to the pagans. The Church is ‘catholic’ … because she reunites two categories which divide history: those who participate in the Election, Israel, and those who did not have the right to” –translation by author (Jean-Marie Lustiger, La Proniesse [Paris: Parole et Silence, 2oo2], pp. 15-16).