The gifts and call of God are irrevocable.

October 29, 1999 Romans 9, 1-5 + Luke 14, 1-6

October 30, 1999 Romans 11, 1-2a, 11-12, 25-29 + Luke 14, 7-11

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Christianity began within the womb of the Jewish religion. Paul, a scholar of the Law of Moses, and the writings and wisdom of his people, had been a member of the Pharisee's spiritual movement. The Pharisee's were primarily lay people, and they were the developers of the synagogue as a site of teaching and worship. Perhaps the greatest conflict of the early Church was in the relationship between Christians and Jews. The first Christians did not see themselves as anything other than Jews, but late in the first century AD, Christians were excommunicated from the synagogues. Paul writes to the Romans in the era leading up to that breaking of fellowship, and his concern is to establish that the rejection of the Jews paves the way for the opening of the Gospel to the Gentiles.

But he is careful to establish that God does not reject the Jews, they are still loved, God remains faithful to the covenant He made with them. "The gifts and call of God are irrevocable."

It is a sad commentary on our own history that we have often forgotten this, and anti-semitism has flourished among Christians. Part of the call to Jubilee is an examination of our conscience, and certainly, there is much in Christian history that cries out for repentance and change of ways when it comes to anti-semitism.

It was a hard thing for the early Jewish Christians to see that the Table was big enough for the Gentiles. And for the descendents of the Gentile Christians, it became a hard thing to understand that the Table was big enough for the Jews too.

This is also a good time to remember the descendents of those first Jewish Christians, who live today in the land of Jesus's birth, life, death, and resurrection, the Arab Christians of Palestine, and their cousins who are Islamic. How hard it is for many of us to understand that the Table is big enough for them too! There are hard feelings and much injustice, but the gifts and call of God are irrevocable, and that applies to everybody in Palestine, including the Arab Christians and Muslims.

The Gospel for these two days teaches us about humility in two ways.

First, another person in need of healing is presented to Jesus on the Sabbath, while at the home of a religious leader. Jesus heals the man, and then tells the guests a parable. As is often the case at a banquet, there is some competition for the best seats. Jesus tells them, "everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." How different this is from our own era of publicists who teach that "perception is reality." The other day I saw an advertisement where the Disney corporation was offering free materials to teachers about a justice issue. And of course I thought of the workers in Haiti who make 13 cents an hour making Disney licensed merchandise. But they don't work for Disney, they work for a contractor, so I guess it's not Disney's fault. I saw another advertisement for Nike, of all people, featuring a reading of the 23rd Psalm. I thought about the workers who make Nike shoes, earning pennies to make profits for Nike stockholders.

Humility is not a virtue that is encouraged by our culture of death economic system. But it certainly is one of the keys to the kingdom of God.

October 30th is the birthday of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Russian novelist, who was one of Dorothy Day's favorites. The phrase "The World will be saved by Beauty", which is one of the mottos of our Catholic Worker house, was written by him in the Brothers Karamazov, uttered by one of his characters, Fr. Zossima, who is in dialogue with the nihilist Ivan Karamazov ("if God does not exist everything is permissible", which is certainly the motto of the modern culture of death.) In his youth, Dostoevsky was involved with radical politcs, was arrested, condemned to death, and went so far as to be chained to the execution post, when his sentence was commuted to imprisonment in Siberia. His only book in prison was the New Testament. In the Brothers Karamazov, he wrote, "Strive to love your neighbors actively and indefatigably. And the nearer you come to achieving this love, the more convinced you will become of the existence of God and the immortality of your soul." (Information from All Saints by Robert Ellsberg.)

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