1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
God is the master of irony. He bestowed his favor and love on the children of Abraham when they were enslaved. They were “the least of all people” it tells us in Deut. 7:7. He defeated a mighty giant with a shepherd boy (I Sam 17). When Haman plotted genocide against the Jews, God raised up an unlikely and unexpected hero in a young woman who saved them with dinner parties. (You can read that story in Esther.) In one of his greater ironies, he called a persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, to be the Apostle to the gentiles and to bring many to the Light of Christ.
That same Saul, now called Paul, remembers and counts on God’s irony in this passage from his letter to the Romans. He looks for yet another ironic twist to God’s strange, upside-down kingdom in which the little and least are on top and the powerful are brought low (Luke 1:52). He is looking at the disastrous rejection of the Christ by his fellow Jews and his heart breaks. He does not despair, however. God is the God of splendid ironies and reversals. He imagines that the gentile Christians who are flocking into the Church in his day will goad his fellow Jews to embrace the Christ as well. Some did. Many did not.
But Paul did not lose hope. It looked hopeless. The rancor and hostility were intense. When Paul finished this letter, he went to Jerusalem where the Jewish leaders had him arrested and would have killed him if the Romans had not intervened. That result, however, was just delayed. A few years later the Romans killed him. The Jewish plot eventually succeeded.
Paul died in hope. We cannot forget that. We look around us and see a government that is too often in gridlock, heatwaves and floods which many attribute to climactic change, schools which at times seem to be caught in maelstroms of conflict, war and violence fills our newsfeeds, there are demonstrations, even riots in the streets. Despair sometimes seems like the only sensible option. But Paul knew something about God. He has reversals and irony up his sleeve. That is, after all, the whole message of Easter. What looked like utter defeat was complete victory; and so, Paul hoped. He hoped in the middle of what looked like an intractable first century situation. He would encourage us to hopeful expectation on God in this twenty-first century as well.
God loves irony. This is a perfect moment for his ironic side to come out. Keep your eyes open.