St. Paul here and in the following chapters touches on a key theme of his: that all of us have a part to play in the growth of others toward God. He may as well have said, anticipating the book title, that It Takes a Village. But St Paul goes further. While faith is transactional in nature, i.e. we grow by interacting with each other; it is also cross-cultural and cross-generational. Our faith is supported and underwritten by the faith and works of those who have gone on before us. This is sometimes referred to as the communion of saints. While my faith is very important to me, and yours to you, these things are not our own creation. There are no self-made men-or women-when it comes to faith development. Each of us is fed by countless streams whose headwaters we can scarcely begin to trace.
Often these streams come from foreign cultures and traditions, as in the case of ancient Jews and Gentiles. Far from Christianity supplanting the faith of Israel, throughout Romans (e.g. 3:1-2), Paul sees Israel as the necessary precondition of Christianity. The two faiths are all part of the unfolding of God's plan. Therefore, the attempts of some Christians to convert Jews, often by coercion, can be seen as woefully misguided. In Chapter 11, Paul suggests Gentiles are like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the more ancient roots of Israel. Both traditions are subject to the judgment, as well as the love, of God. Indeed, many of the earliest Christian communities were outgrowths of existing synagogues throughout the 1st-Century world. The ensuing centuries of European anti-Semitism have no basis in Paul's vision of Christianity.
Lacking the law of Israel, Paul believes Gentiles must be grafted onto the Covenant of Israel through faith and faith is nurtured by preaching. Saint Michael's is blessed to have, in Fr. Joe, Rev Kristin and all our associated and assisting clergy, truly excellent preaching every week. Our clergy-people are taking their part as spokesmen in the unseen cloud of witnesses, which feeds and supports not only us, but also believers yet to come, in the centuries which lie ahead. Each of us as well has a role to play in the great work of bringing our brothers and sisters home to God. As Saint Francis said, Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words.