Today’s Treasury of Daily Prayer New Testament reading includes two verses that defy several fashionable categories. Romans 11:28-29: “As concerning the gospel, [the Jews] are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance [ESV, ‘are irrevocable’].”
And so, by the teaching of St. Paul (himself an “Israelite,” 11:1), the Jews are “enemies” in one sense and “beloved” in another. We can’t ignore either term; each is there. In fact, if we ignore either term, we descend into one or more fashionable phobias or -philias that do not reflect the mind of Christ.
“Enemies” (ἐχθροὶ) here is the same word used of he who sows tares among the wheat (Satan), but also of us ourselves, as we were enemies of God apart from the Gospel. It’s also the word Jesus used when He said, “Love your enemies.”
“Beloved” (ἀγαπητοὶ) is used repeatedly of Christ Himself, as in “This is my beloved son.” The Jews’ belovedness, in this context, is connected to the gifts (χαρίσματα) and calling (κλῆσις) of God on their ancestors, the fathers. Which gifts and callings are “not to be repented of,” by anyone. The idea that something immaterial could belong to you as a result of your ancestors—specifically, God’s dealings with your fathers—isn’t very modern. Yet the gifts are theirs because no one can change who their fathers are, or what their history is.
For Christians, then, the Jews will always possess something that is special, which is worthy of Christian esteem, even when those same Jews show animosity toward the Gospel and God’s people (the your in “enemies for your sakes”). This passage is neither justification for a pogrom nor a geopolitical strategy for the Gaza Strip. It is simply a call for Christians to think and behave as Christians, allowing the Bible to form their categories and placing the Gospel of Christ crucified at the center of all things.
It is also a warning. For even if great-granddaddy received the blessing of the LORD, and even if that blessing redounds to you (or me) today, that doesn’t mean that you (or I) needn’t worry about heeding God’s call in the present.