Often there is little direct relationship between the first reading and psalm and the second reading. The first is chosen to complement the gospel and the psalm to extend our response to what we hear in the first. The second reading is simply one of a sequence of semi-continuous readings from the writings of the Apostles (usually Paul)
But this week there is direct resonance.
Elijah and the psalmist reflect on the unfaithfulness of Israel, and learn to trust still more firmly in the faithfulness of the Lord.
Paul – in a different time, and in different circumstances – engages with the same matter – that God is faithful even when some of his people are unfaithful and turn from him.
This leads Paul to reflect on the nature of the covenant and its obligations. Merely being of the ‘group’ is not enough. To be of Israel – or the Church for that matter – merely according to the flesh does not mean much, indeed leads to a sort of distance between us and God.
Paul’s argument can seem to lead to a sort of dangerous theology of predestinarianism. But only if taken out of the broader context of his argument, which is about the necessity of faith.
Paul is aware that Man – even of Israel, even of the Church – can reject God. But God can use even this rejection to show his mercy.
If we will not accept God as God is – whose love is not compelled by any thing from outside himself, but is always freely offered (though we may not always see it that way!) – but then it is we who have chosen alienation from him.
We have but two choices. But we always have two choices.
- To have faith in God even when that faith would seem to strip us of everything we hold dear – even of our ‘self’.
- Or to hold on to the every thing we (still) have and to reject the living God.
These are our choices and they have consequences.
Even if we are faced with the seeming curse of God – as was Job, as was Abraham on Mount Moriah – God does not abandon those who have faith in him.
Second reading for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Romans 9:1-5
God’s Sovereign Choice
9 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
~ Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
~ Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
~ Photo: Jesse ‘Tree’ St Michael’s Church, Bath (c) 2019, Allen Morris.