Attempting the Impossible | Sojourners

Attempting the Impossible

August reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle A
An illustration of a figure balancing on a tightrope.There's a boat with fantastical creatures in the background at sea. A purple figure is raising their hands on the left side. On the right, people sit around another purple figure teaching from a book.
Illustration by Changyu Zou

JEWISH NEW TESTAMENT scholar Amy-Jill Levine claims that all religions are a little bit supersessionist. Christian supersessionism — which understands God’s covenant with Christians to nullify God’s covenant with the people of Israel — has been so mainstream throughout most of Christian history that it has hardly required articulating. It was just the anti-Jewish water in which we swam. Following the Holocaust, however, Christians recognized how much we’d weaponized supersessionism into antisemitism, which provided support for Nazi and white supremacist ideologies and perpetuated anti-Jewish violence. Unfortunately, Levine argues, no exegetical maneuver can fully expunge supersessionism from the New Testament — though many have tried. It’s there. And the authority of God’s word in Christian lives keeps its dangerous power ever-present.

Still, Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (which we read this month) contains Paul’s own grappling with these questions. Chapters 9 to 11 — wherein Paul corrects some of the Gentile converts who think God has now rejected the covenant with Israel — comprise the hook on which most contemporary attempts to dismantle supersessionism hang their hat. So, we’ll pay special attention to these.

This isn’t going to be an easy fix — particularly for Christians (like me!) who want to hold fast to the gospel, atone for complicity with antisemitism, and stand in solidarity with Palestinians under occupation. Still, I trust God’s promises: I believe both that God’s covenant with Israel endures and that Jesus is the Messiah. So, this month, we are going to sit with the discomfort of failing while attempting the impossible. Because, in trying, we might find a new way through.

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The cover for Sojourners' August 2023 issue, called "The Paradox of Poverty." Small figurines of a white couple in fancy garbs stand on top of a tall stack of silver and gold coins. There are other figurines below working by carrying around dollar bills.
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