Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jesus Christ is the salvation that comes from the Jews

I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen (Rom. 9:1-5)

"Even if Israel continues to belong to the people of God, one must not overlook the distinction Saint Paul has explicitly drawn between a people according to the flesh and one according to the spirit...The mystery of Israel consist in being both an 'ethnic' people with certain racial characteristics (no gentile in that sense can ever become a Jew) and also a people created and preserved by God with a special purpose. Both aspects, the ethnic and the theological one, are inseparable as long as one confesses his Jewishness - or negatively expressed- does not become a Christian, that is, move from the theology of the Old Testament to that of the New, which is its fulfillment." Balthasar goes on to note that for the Jewish people to remain identifiably a people after all they have suffered in history "is proof of the ongoing theological relationship between the Israel of the Old Testament and that of today." After all, he observed, God does not revoke His promises. Jesus Christ came after the Baptist's mission to turn the hearts of the children of Israel to God (Luke 1:16). Christ, "being the last and all-embracing Word of God," no longer sought to return Israel to its office, but was Himself "the origin of an 'Israel of God.' (which is what Saint Paul calls the Church)," an Israel "no longer bound by any ethnic ties" (Test Everything: Hold Fast to What is Good, pgs. 33-34).

This reflection on our second reading for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time is late because I was overcome by events. Nonetheless, I have been waiting all week to link this insight of Hans Urs Von Balthasar vis-á-vis the Church and Israel. There is more to say, of course. Scripture does not permit what one might call an unreconstructed supercessionism, but neither can one side-step what Balthasar states here.

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