The Two Threads

Sunday August 16,2020 The Twentieth Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

The tie in between today’s readings: Blood and Heart

Psalm 67:2-8, Isaiah 56:1;6-7, Romans 11:13-15;29-32, Matthew 15:21-28

It all starts with Jehovah’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation and a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3). From there, the Bible traces the tribulations and the triumphs of God and His people in fulfilling that promise in the nation of Israel.  But hidden in the history of Abraham’s descendants is an underlying spiritual line of salvation that runs hand in hand with the Genesis 12 promise. This spiritual line thrusts out front and center when Jesus Christ, the son of David and direct descendant of Abraham comes onto the scene. God takes these two threads of the promise very seriously. The Jewish people belong to Him. They are special and He has always watched over them. But the Lord has not left other nations, the Gentiles, out in the cold. Through faith in Jesus, the peoples of the world are counted as Jews at heart and citizens of the heavenly kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem. Our gospel reading in Matthew 15:21-28 is a case in point.

She was a woman. She was not only a Gentile, but a Canaanite, Israel’s historical arch enemy. Her daughter was possessed. In desperation, she pursues Jesus even with these strikes against her. At first, she pleads for her daughter based upon His Jewish Messiahship as the Son of David (vs. 22). He ignores her and her persistence annoys the disciples, who want Jesus to send her away. Instead, He tells her (because of her nationalistic approach) that His mission is to His people, the Jews. She comes closer, at least now He’s talking to her. This time, she worships Him as God and begs for her daughter. Jesus tests her by saying that there is a national order to salvation: the children, the Jews first and not the Gentile dogs. She proves herself: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs feed on the fallen crumbs” (vs. 27). In essence, “Forget the bloodline, I’m coming to You, Son of God, based on grace.”  Jesus recognizes her faith, that she is a Jew at heart, and grants her request.

The Jews, at this time, were almost fanatical in their belief that having Abraham as an ancestor gave them a special “in” with the Almighty and felt blessedly superior over their Gentile neighbors. Both John the Baptist and Jesus spent time correcting their assertions (Matthew 3:8-9, Luke 4:25-29). While being a Jew had its blessings, the real action was with anyone who had believing heart. This fell mostly on deaf ears. In today’s epistle, Romans 11:13-15:29-32, the Apostle Paul uses jealousy in motivating them to take a closer look at Jesus as Messiah and come to faith. In preaching the gospel message, he always observed the priority of the Jew by starting in the synagogues (Romans 1:16). Then, after their rejection, he would turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13).  He hoped that after seeing God work in the salvation of the Gentiles that they would understand that they have lost something special, be jealous of them, and want to come to Jesus also. Paul also spent time warning the Gentiles not to get cocky over their newfound favor with God through Jesus. In the end, salvation is all God’s grace. Nobody should be boasting. Everyone is in the same boat.

Both of our readings in Psalm 67 and Isaiah 56 point to a time when the Gentile come to the God of Israel. Psalm 67 seems to speak in widespread and physical terms while the Isaiah reading seems to be more personal and spiritual. That’s the problems in trying to understand these two threads of the Genesis 12 promise. People cannot agree on how to interpret the Bible passages. Are they literal or spiritual or both? Have the promises been kept or is there still a fulfillment in the future? Some see God’s hand in the formation and protection of the nation of Israel and believe our country is blessed through the Genesis 12 promise as we stand allied with her. The literal interpretations lead to imminent prophetic speculations about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem in Daniel 9:27, the 144,000 Jewish missionaries who evangelize the world during the tribulation period in Revelation 7 & 14, and the 1000 year worldwide reign of Christ from His capital in Jerusalem in Revelation 20 to name a few. Exciting times! For our purposes, however, I want to focus on the spiritual side of the Abrahamic promise:

Romans 2:28-29 (NASB)

28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Romans 4:11-17 (NASB)

11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which [b]he had while uncircumcised.

13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

As Jesus said, “Abraham saw My day and was exceedingly glad” (John 8:56). Our God has lavished His grace of salvation on the world. We do not have to beg for crumbs. Come to His Messiah for salvation. Be a Jew at heart.

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