The Gifts and The Calling of God are Irrevocable.
The recent appearance in the daily liturgy of these words from Romans 11:29—“the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”—put me in mind of Gregory Baum, who died the 19 October 2017 in Montreal at the age of 94. He and others struggled long and hard to have these words included in what was one of the last documents of the Second Vatican Council, the “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” (Nostra Aetate,28 October 1965).
It was Pope John XXIII who had wanted a statement about the Jews included in the council’s pronouncements and had confided this task to Cardinal Bea. But it was Gregory Baum and others who, like him, were both Christian and Jewish, who shaped the document, especially its section on Judaism.
In reading the fragments of Paul’s long and complex argument that are included in this one day’s portion of the Letter to the Romans, it’s not easy to make sense of what he’s saying, but what’s behind it seems to be something like this:
Israel has a mission to be a light to the nations—“I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6)— words directed to the prophet but, by extension, to all Israel.
Paul says that Israel has stumbled (see the footnote to this word in The Jewish Annotated New Testament) in not trusting or believing that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise to her, and so has failed in her mission to the nations.
Paul has taken up this mission as an apostle to the Gentiles, hoping that Israel will become envious of him and soon join him in this mission, which is also hers, and thus be saved from stumbling and falling.
Paul asks, “Has God rejected his people?” And the answer is, No, God has not rejected his people. They are God’s elect, the chosen ones, and they are God’s beloved. But we need to ask in turn, “Have Christians rejected God’s people?”
And the answer is, Yes, Christians have claimed to have superseded Israel, as though God had indeed discarded her, and, for almost 2000 years, Christians have persecuted the Jews. It was not until the Second Vatican Council that the Catholic Church finally acknowledged Paul’s teaching that the Jews are and remain God’s People.
Gregory Baum had once denied that the Gospels were supersessionist, but later reversed his position, recognizing that the Gospels reflected the first century conflict between the Church and the Synagogue, and acknowledging that St. John Chrysostom, Martin Luther, and others down through the centuries had instilled in Christians a contempt for Jews, leading finally to the Holocaust.
It was the Holocaust that changed the Church (and that changed also the Society of Jesus which, until after the end of the Second World War, had excluded those of Jewish origin from joining the Jesuits).
If the Church is the People of God, as the Second Vatican Council declared in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium—“Light of All Nations”), we must acknowledge that this is so, not because we have superseded Israel, but because we are part of the one People of God, which is Israel, “one not according to the flesh but in the Spirit” (Lumen Gentium, II, 9). The gift and the calling of God are irrevocable.