God’s Choice

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from Romans 9:1-18

1 I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit — 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For 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. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, 7and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named after you.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. 9For this is what the promise said, “About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” 10Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. 11Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.’ 13As it is written,
“I have loved Jacob,
   but I have hated Esau.”

14 What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
   and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. 17For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then he has mercy on whomsoever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomsoever he chooses.


Who should be the person who leads a tribe, a company, a church, a school softball team? In our typical way of thinking, it should be either the people who want to lead (who apply for the position) or the people who earn the role (who are the most competent or have the best resume). While this is usually a pretty good calculus for running human affairs, St. Paul isn’t working according to this logic when he sets up the story of Rebekah’s twins. St. Paul emphasizes that before their birth and thus before they have committed any wrong or achieved any good deed, God determined that the older would serve the younger, “not by works but by him who calls.”

Although St. Paul is speaking here of the salvation of Jews and Gentiles, the original example is about who will receive the birthright of Isaac. Ordinarily it would be the oldest son, who would train to assume the mantle at the proper age. But St. Paul sweeps all this away with the principle that God’s election “does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Whether things go according to expectation or not, the promise of salvation is always due to God’s mercy.

We want to believe that God’s desire to show us justice and mercy somehow depend on us, and that God will love us because of who we are or what we have achieved. But actually these do not make a difference in the calculus of mercy, because it’s not a calculation; it’s love. God acts purely out of who God is.

Thank God that his choice in us does not depend on our desires or efforts, which so often go astray and fall short, but on the love of God poured out for the world in Christ!

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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Today we pray for:

Church of St. John the Divine, Houston, Texas
The Diocese of Badagry (Church of Nigeria)


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