The prayers of Paul
This is a series on the prayers of St Paul found in the letters attributed to him in the order he is believed to have written them. Letters to the same place or person will be treated together with the first letter to that destination.
Below is probably the worst image I have used to illustrate a blog post. It originated on a Christian site which I will not mention as I do not want to draw attention to the guilty party. Finding copyright-free images is not always easy, but this one is spectacularly bad. The article it is attached to says, “The ego … can cause us to shut others out because they are different or have characteristics or behaviors that cause us to feel uncomfortable. In other words, they do not meet our criteria for being lovable.” Now look at the image. How many different skin tones can you see? And why are there no disabled people or children in the illustration? If we are saying that Jesus loves people even if they don’t meet our criteria for being lovable, why illustrate it with a monoculture like the one below?
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.Romans 10:1 ESVUK
Jesus came and preached that the Good Nesa he preached was for everybody. “Come to me all who labour,” He said, and again he said, “I will never cast away anyone who comes to me.” (Matthew 11:28, John 6:37).
In the very first sermon preached on Jesus, Peter said. “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39).
Hebrews 2:9 says, “Jesus tasted death for everyone,” and in 1 John the Bible says that Jesus won the favour of God “for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Paul too wrote that Jesus came for all people. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Paul’s dilemma is that Gentiles are accepting the Gospel and the Jews are rejecting it. At least that is the theme of chapters 9 to 11 of Romans. Them in the passage above refers to the Jews, it is one of those unfortunate Bible passages where the chapter beginning divides a theme into two. The passage in question runs from 9:30 to 10:4. It tells of how the Gentiles have become part of the family promised to Abraham, yet many Jews, by relying on works according to the law to save them, have rejected Jesus.
Faced with this dilemma, you could be forgiven if you expect Paul to condemn those Jews who were not only not accepting those who followed Jesus, but were outright antagonistic. The Church, using Paul’s words in Romans chapters 9 to 11, has persecuted the Jews over the centuries, antisemitism in the Austrian Roman Catholic Church in the 1930s was a factor that contributed to the rise of the Nazis in Germany. But instead of condemning the Jews, Paul opened the door for them. Paul longs for the Jews to return to God, and later on says that God longs for the Jews to turn to him, Paul’s feelings are summed up in this verse – that the Jews, all of them, may be saved.
In these werses, Romans 9:30-10:4, Paul is saying that the plan of God in the Jews through the covenant with Abraham has reached its conclusion in the death and resurrection of Jesus. His prayer is that all people will come to experience this not through forced conversions and slavery as the Church has often forced on them, for the way of Jesus is not one of force but of love and giving away power. May we too pray for the return to God of any group to which we belong, and especially the Jews, who are close to God’s heart.
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