The incredible abundance of online resources and digital search capacities has made ancestral research a popular activity in our day. You can even take continuing education classes to enhance your techniques and the use of such tools as ancestry.com, etc.
One of the advertising tools to draw people into this hobby is to promote that you might find out that you are related to the Royal Family of England or some such thing. Perhaps your forgotten great-grandfather produced a famous invention, or perchance he served as a hero in the Civil War.
Of course, there is probably a greater chance that just the opposite sort of ignominious revelation will surface, but that doesn’t make for very good advertising! Actually, I could testify to this very experience.
Some of you reading this have likely heard me reference my experiences in the last couple of years of accessing these resources to learn about the rather dark one-half of my background through my biological father. I had only a few clues to begin. Yet I was incredibly able to trace back a number of generations, and I was even able to find and eventually meet with a cousin I did not know even existed. However, I have also discovered that great-granddaddy Parks spent a decade or so in federal prison for a crime related to stealing from the mail in the post office where he worked!
The fact is that most of us don’t have very auspicious roots. Not many are from royalty or fame. And if we consider the issue spiritually, ALL OF US have a very dark and troubled background dating back to Adam and Eve.
Today’s passage is more difficult to understand than most, and in a way, it is sort of unusual that we put it in this series and in this week of talking about spiritually caring for one another. But if we are going to be successful in really being an interpersonally caring and serving community, it is good to remember our spiritual roots – whatever they are. Because, whatever they are, this much is for sure: It is all by grace! And that is a major takeaway point when reading this portion of Paul’s writing to these Roman Gentiles about their standing relative to the people of Israel.
OK… to begin… step back from the passage! Remember this about Romans: Chapter 9 talks about Israel’s past (a glorious history of God’s covenant promises), chapter 10 is Israel’s present (a condition largely of unbelief in Jesus as the promised Christ), and chapter 11 is Israel’s future (where there will be a day of salvation and return to the Lord).
So as Paul is writing to a largely Gentile audience, he is telling them that they are (pictorially) wild olive branches that have been grafted into the natural olive tree of God’s program of the ages. By this he is referencing how God’s work was through the nation of Israel and the promises and covenants that had been instituted – and then fulfilled so expansively in the work of Christ that an extensive universal grace was offered to all who would trust in this provision. Through unbelief, the natural branches of Israel were broken off, and now newly grafted branches of the Gentiles were gaining nourishing sap from the root. And Paul makes it clear that this was nothing for them to boast about, as they were supported by the root, not the other way around!
For everyone – Jew, Gentile, whatever – it is all by grace … or as the passage put it, “the kindness of God.” And that is why this reading is a part of our conversation this week. All of us in the church family are there by God’s kindness and grace. None of us have a place for boasting. So much grace has been given to each of us that there is no place for us to stand above or stand aloof … no, we should stand alongside each other in spiritual encouragement. And that is the vision of the leadership of this church.
Romans 11:11-24 …. Ingrafted Branches
11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!
13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!