Speaking the truth in Christ, St. Paul reveals his anguish over “my kindred according to the flesh” who have not received the message of Jesus Christ. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I 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, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 9:2-5).
The promises of God to Israel are irrevocable. The Church, therefore, cannot think of itself as an enclosed treasury of divine promise and favor. Divine promises to Israel, and, for that matter, providential guidance to other peoples and nations, have a place in the Church, felt as “a great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (Rom. 9:2). The Church is in pain because its life in Christ extends to every family, language, people, and nation, and yet this truth is not and has never been fully realized. In a sense, Paul’s anguish is necessary, a wound for the Church to bear in all times. The Church is in birth pangs as it awaits the incorporation of all humanity, not merely along institutional lines, but in the hearts of Church members.
Consider the inner life of Jesus. “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Matt. 14:14-21). Jesus Christ is the lovingkindness of God poured out upon all flesh. Jesus Christ is bread for the world. His compassion is his Cross, a “sorrow and unceasing anguish” as he gives himself in sacrificial love. All those who have been baptized into Christ are called to share this pain.
Our God is the God of all nations. “See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that you do not know shall run to you, because the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, has glorified you” (Isa. 55:5). “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is loving to everyone and his compassion is over all his works” (Ps. 145:8-9).
If we tell ourselves that our love extends to everyone and our compassion to all the works of God, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. We are often narrow, small, constricted, and exclusive; our hearts are hardened, and our necks stiff. In this state, we feel little real pain; we invest in our personal protection and promote our own blindness. It would be a blessing to acknowledge this, and then take the first steps toward a broader vision of God and humanity.
Look It Up: Matt. 14:19-21
Think About It: Five thousand men, besides women and children, equals the whole human race.