St Paul questions Jewish unbelief by illustrating the faith of a nation torn in two. There were some who believed that Israel were the spiritual sons of Abraham and some who believed that on the sheer basis of their physical lineage that they were immediately among some group of the “elect.” And thus, Paul challenges them with this question, “Who are the true sons of Abraham?” And then, he gives them the answer. “Those who are the children of the flesh are not the children of the promise.” It is not merely Abraham’s biological offspring who are his true children. Remembering that Abraham also bore offspring with Hagar (Genesis 16) and Keturah (Genesis 25). Were it merely physical offspring, then those bloodlines would also be considered the children of God. Further, it is not even those born of the bloodline of Isaac, otherwise Esau and the Edomites would also be included. No, rather, Paul makes a very clear distinction that it is “the children of the promise (who) are counted as the seed.” (v.8). Those who are “in Isaac,” thus those who faithfully believe.
It is so much easier to think of a particular ethnicity, an “elect” group of people, whom God has chosen to be blessed, because on a carnal level, it removes personal accountability. If one is of Israel and Israel are the children of God, then those of Israel need do nothing, for they are already blessed. Further, if one is not of Israel, they also need do nothing, because nothing can change that lineage. You are either blesssed or cursed because of God’s decision, and none of us has the power to change God’s mind, thus you can do whatever you like regardless of your stature and nothing can change it. It becomes much easier because it requires no action or conscious decision on our part.
However, if there is no elect group with these special entitlements, then both sides must take responsibility for their actions. If there is no special elect group, then each of us must make the willful decision to align ourselves with God, to believe in the promise. We must each consciously decide to have true faiths and to order our lives accordingly. And that’s so much harder for us to do. We must heed the words and commands of our Lord. To deny ourselves and abide in Him is much harder than to merely believe that because of our lineage we are either blessed or cursed, but either way nothing we do can ever make a difference.
Thus, the Jews didn’t want to hear this teaching from the mighty apostle. Salvation and God’s blessing was for them only, not for the Gentiles, the “unclean and unworthy.” And while part of this may have come from their selfish pride concerning their ethnicity; I’m sure at least a small part of it came from this responsibility as well. It’s so easy to think that they can do whatever they so choose, whatever they’ve always done, and be completely fine and “blessed.” Whatever went wrong, they could easily blame the Gentiles for. But St Paul challenges this notion by reminding them that there is no one group that God chooses over another. Quoting from Exodus, he reminds them of God’s proclamation to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy and compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” This is not to say that God creates people and determines which list He will put them on, but rather that there is no one ethnicity that has this special privilege. The blessing of God is on whoever consciously turns to Him in faith, abiding in His commandments.
My brethern, we live in a generation that teaches that certain groups are more highly favored than others. And the world, like the Jews in this reading, will continue to embrace this thought because it’s the easy way. It’s easy to say that we are of the elect we need do nothing to be saved, or the inverse, that because wee are not of the elect that there is nothing that we can do to be saved. It’s easy to think that one group is special and another isn’t and you need accept no personal responsibility for anything you do; you can either than God for your blessing or scapegoat all of your problems on those who aren’t like you. However, Paul’s teaching explains exactly how false of an ideology that is. Salvation, the grace, the mercy of God, these are available to any and all who willingly accept it. But that acceptance alone is not enough. That faith requires not only choosing to believe it, but choosing to live our lives according to that belief. And it’s not easy, by any means. However, let us remember that Jesus spoke of two paths; an easy path which leads to death (Matthew 7:13) and a much harder, more narrow path which leads to life (Matthew 7:14).
Christ is in our midst.