The Divine Plan of Salvation: the First Will Be Last (Wed. July 14)

The word of the day is “jealousy .”  We have the Gospel of salvation.  We are members of the church. We know the grace of God.  These affirmations are the ground on which the weeds of pride can grow.  By thinking that we possess these things, we might be tempted to glory in the supposition that the Almighty God has shifted his favor to us.  And we might suppose that those who do not have the Gospel, are not members of the church, and do not know God’s grace are left out for all eternity.

In our reading of Romans 11:2-12, Paul explains that God has willed unbelief to the Jews and granted belief to the Gentiles for a larger reason.  He writes, “For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them” (OSB vs. 13-14). Today we will find that the plan of salvation involves the reversal of expectations:  the first will be last and the last first (OSB Matthew 20:16).  No one can boast of God’s favor, for everything that happens is by the will and work of the grace of God.

Saving the Gentiles from  Haughtiness

According to St. John Chrysostom, Paul reminds the Gentiles in Rome that God’s mercy does not end with them.  The apostle says this to save them from “haughtiness” (NfPfa:1:11, 488).  Yes, the Gentiles now have the advantage over the Jews since they are responding to the message of salvation.  However, that benefit is just because the Jews have “stumbled” (vs. 11).

The Greek word has the sense that the Jews have offended God by refusing Him (Strong’s #4418, 218).  Despite this fault, they have not “fallen” so hard that they can never get up again (vs. 11).  Paul proclaims that God will not hold their offense against them.  But in the long run, they too will be saved (vs. 14).  In Paul’s view, if salvation has come to the Gentiles because of the Jews’ failure, eventually, it will be given to the Jews because of the Gentiles’ attainment.   With that thought in mind, Paul says that he works hard among the Gentiles to provoke his fellow Jews to jealousy (vs. 14).  Paul’s hope is that as the Jews see how the Gospel is reaching more and more Gentiles, they will become envious and turn from their refusal of God’s mercy to accept His grace in Christ (vs. 14).

A Reversal of Expectations: the First Will Be Last

Note that this outcome is a reversal of human expectations.  One would think that the Jews would be the first to accept Jesus as the Messiah.  Yet, in the series of events that Paul outlines, they will be the last.  This change in the order of the gift of salvation is in accord with the Word of the Lord, “So the last will be first and the first last” (OSB Matthew 20:16).

Parables of Reversal

Chrysostom says that the parables of Jesus prophesize this turnaround (NfPf1:11, 489).  In the Parable of the Marriage Feast, those who were invited excused themselves for various reasons.  In fury, the king sent out his servants into the “streets and lanes” and even the “highways and hedges” to invite all who are willing to come to the banquet (OSB Luke 14:21-23).

And in the Parable of the Vineyard, the owner let his vineyard out to tenants.  At “vintage time” he sent his servants to collect the fruit that was due him.  But the “vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another” (OSB Matthew 21:35).  The owner then sent other servants, and the tenants did the same to them.  Finally, the landowner sent his son, but the tenants killed him, thinking that they could take over the vineyard.  The owner was furious, and he leased the vineyard to others (OSB Matthew 21:33-41).

In the same way, the response of Jews and Gentiles to the Gospel is not in the “regular order.”  We who are  Gentiles have no reason to boast about our salvation, for we are “the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind” who are gathered from the highways and by-ways of the world (OSB  Luke 14:21).  And we are the “others” who are given the grace to work in the Lord’s vineyard and to bear fruit in the kingdom (OSB Matthew 21:41, 43).

How Much Greater Will Be the Fullness of Grace

Thus, Paul admonishes the Gentiles (including ourselves) not to glory in God’s grace.  We should not brag about our good fortune, just as the Jews should take heart that divine grace will also be theirs.  In the end, God’s glory will be even more glorious.  The apostle reasons that if the stumbling of the Jews means the gift of the riches of God’s mercy to the Gentile world, how much greater will be the “fullness” of grace when God’s plan of salvation is completed (Romans 11:12).  That will happen when the Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah and so return to God’s favor.  Furthermore, the apostle believes that if the refusal of the Jews has resulted in the “reconciling of the world,” then the acceptance of the Jews will be like “life from the dead” (OSB Romans 11:15).  That is, God will raise the Jews from the death of their resistance to the Gospel to the New Life of Christ.

 For Reflection

How remarkable is the divine wisdom of this course of events resulting in the world’s salvation!  Surely Paul could not have arrived at his deep understanding of God’s mysterious ways without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  And human reason could not have devised such an historical process that so amazingly reveals the abundance of God’s grace.

To understand it, we must be given a cosmic vision.  By the insight of the Holy Spirit, we must comprehend the vast scope of God’s Providence and the awesome wonder of God’s grace.  In the end, we can only exclaim with Paul, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (OSB Romans 11:33).


Leave a Reply