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Sermon for Proper 13/Ordinary 18 A Romans 9

July 21, 2014

Jacob I have loved“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”— words just after our second lesson

Romans 9:15. That’s a bit strong. Though some commentators say that the word “hate” means “love less:” —”Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I loved less.”

What was wrong with Esau? Hebrews 12:16, See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.

I was tempted to use the text from the 1960s TV programme Beyond the Fringe: “Esau was an hairy man: Jacob was a smooth man.”

The name Esau means hairy. He was the stronger twin, a bearded, outdoors kind of a man, a “man’s man,” a loner, whose lifestyle demanded neither cooperation nor communication with others.

Jacob is more like today’s new man. Smooth skinned, he led a more settled life. His work demanded relatedness and cooperation with other people.

At one level, their story is about sibling rivalry. At another, it has often been interpreted as a prophecy of the future relationship of Christians to Jews : the belief that as Jacob took Esau’s blessing, so Christians have “superseded” Israel as the chosen of God; that we have replaced the Jews as the apple of God’s eye. That led, in the extreme, to the Holocaust. Supersessionism has a Jewish precedent, such as the dispossession of Ishmael by Isaac

Imagine Adolf Hitler writing a history of the Jews. It could hardly be taken seriously.

How could a Jew-hater and a Jew-killer be trusted to deal truthfully with the historical material?

After his conversion, Paul was viewed as a traitor by his fellow Jews. Reaction to Paul was immediate and intense in Damascus after Paul’s conversion:

Paul wrote Romans, between the years 55 and 58. The Christian gospel wasn’t receiving a positive response from the majority of Jews. The church hadn’t anticipated this. It caused great anguish to Paul and other Christians. But Paul didn’t write as a “Christian” passing judgment on “Judaism,” as much as he wrote as a Jew trying, like the prophets of old, to make theological sense of the dynamics of disobedience and restoration among Abraham’s descendants. There is no smugness or sense of “good riddance” in his words as he considers the issue in these chapters. The driving question is “What’s God doing?” not “What’s wrong with these unbelievers?”

Though that is what many Roman Christians thought. Bishop Tom Wright wrote, “In Rome, Paul foresees the danger of the (largely gentile) church so relishing its status as the true people of God that it will write off ethnic Jews entirely as being not only second-class citizens within the church, still maintaining their dietary laws when the need for them has passed, but also now beyond the reach of the gospel outside the church, heading for automatic damnation.” Quoted in Liberating Paul: The Justice of God And the Politics of the Apostle – Neil Elliott (Sheffield 1995) p. 130

Paul is not like Jonah who desired to see his enemies sizzle in the flames of divine judgment Jonah chapter 4 He is like Abraham who had compassion on the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and pleaded with God to spare the city for the sake of a few righteous Genesis 19:16-33 If Paul could do so, he would give up his own life and salvation for the lives and salvation of his fellow Jews. Paul and Jesus both said that salvation comes from the Jews.

Down through the centuries, the Christian Church would have done well to follow the teachings and attitudes of Jesus and Paul. Instead of loving and respecting the Jews, the Church has hated and despised them. The Church has caused millions of Jews untold sufferings. Anti-Semitism did not begin or end with Hitler and the Nazis. It existed in the Christian Church from the beginning and has been perpetuated and promoted in every century up to our day. Back in the middle Ages, a quarter of Europe’s population suffered and died from the bubonic plague. People claimed that Jews were poisoning the wells. Of course, the Jews were not to blame. The plague was caused from rats, which carried fleas that would bite people and transmit a bacterial plague.

Throughout Romans 9-11, Paul never says that the existence of the church does away with Israel. Christians need to grasp, then, the dangers inherent in talking about the church as a new Israel. The church shares the root of God’s gracious faithfulness. We do not appropriate Israel’s rich heritage of adoption, covenants, and promises. We participate in it.

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