But I don't want to go on about them. It's you, the outsiders, that I'm concerned with now. Because my personal assignment is focused on the so-called outsiders, I make as much of this as I can when I'm among my Israelite kin, the so-called insiders, hoping they'll realize what they're missing and want to get in on what God is doing. If their falling out initiated this worldwide coming together, their recovery is going to set off something even better: mass homecoming! If the first thing the Jews did, even though it was wrong for them, turned out for your good, just think what's going to happen when they get it right!
Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there's bound to be some holy fruit. Some of the tree's branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root gives you no cause to crow over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren't feeding the root; the root is feeding you.
It's certainly possible to say, "Other branches were pruned so that I could be grafted in!" Well and good. But they were pruned because they were deadwood, no longer connected by belief and commitment to the root. The only reason you're on the tree is because your graft "took" when you believed, and because you're connected to that belief-nurturing root. So don't get cocky and strut your branch. Be humbly mindful of the root that keeps you lithe and green.
If God didn't think twice about taking pruning shears to the natural branches, why would he hesitate over you? He wouldn't give it a second thought. Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God—ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot. But don't presume on this gentleness. The moment you become deadwood, you're out of there.
And don't get to feeling superior to those pruned branches down on the ground. If they don't persist in remaining deadwood, they could very well get grafted back in. God can do that. He can perform miracle grafts. Why, if he could graft you—branches cut from a tree out in the wild—into an orchard tree, he certainly isn't going to have any trouble grafting branches back into the tree they grew from in the first place. Just be glad you're in the tree, and hope for the best for the others.
Romans 11 just continues to hit home with me and connecting to our current day. This image for me of the Jewish people being parallel to the fundamentalist leads me to the place where the Gentile is parallel to those who are pursuing a grace centered faith. Those of us who are seeking to love those on the fringes and to love those people have an ugly habit of being arrogant.
Isn’t it odd to think about?
But, as I look around at those in my life who are seeking to love the most inclusively this is often at not only the exclusion of but also at the derision of those who would be the “older brother” of their world. I do it too. I am not immune to this. For some reason, we all love our tribalism. We have this need to have an in-group and an out-group. Two sides of the same coin.
Paul, is reminding the Gentiles he is writing to (The Message replaces “Gentile” with “outsider” and for good effect) that they have no room for pride or arrogance. While they have been grafted into the vine, they bring nothing to the table. The root is what gives the nutrients and the growth. Their rest, trust, belief, and faith must find itself in the root.
Too often we fall into the same trap. As someone once said, “We come to trust Christ because we are fully aware of our deep need for grace. Then we go on living as though we never needed it in the first place.”
I think one of the biggest lessons that I learned from my Mimi was, “But by the grace of God go I.”
All of us are in the same boat. We all desperately need grace and this grace is freely offered to all. Everyone around us can experience the grace life, the resurrection life. Therefore, none of us are in any position to hold on to some sense of arrogance or pride of position in the gospel.
When we start thinking that we are bringing something to the salvation table then we are putting ourselves in a position where we are usurping God. You see, God is more gracious, more loving, more merciful, more caring, more truthful, and more faithful than any of us can imagine. We must remain humble acknowledging the reality that grace and mercy are undeserved.
As I continue to wrap my head around the depths of grace and mercy, the more I am reminded that is in those deep waters that…
I find my true self;
I discover the inherent holiness and beauty of my neighbor;
I find the holiness and beauty of my enemy;
I meet my God.