To Paul, Christ is all in all

By  Martha Kremer, Catholic Register Special
  • October 30, 2008
TORONTO - Though known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul never abandoned his preaching to the Jews, says a New Testament scholar from Rome.

According to Fr. Bernardo Estrada, a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, in Romans 9-11, Paul writes about the Jewish people and God’s plan for them, and he cries out in anguish, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people.”
Estrada gave a lecture on St. Paul at the University of St. Michael’s College on Oct. 27 as part of the Year of St. Paul decreed by Pope Benedict XVI.

The professor noted that Paul, in four letters, Romans, Galatians, and First and Second Corinthians, presented himself as Paul, Apostle. He was born in Tarsus and educated in Jerusalem, but in Galatians he explains that with his conversion, everything changed.  Previously, he had practised Judaism strictly and was zealous for his traditions. He believed that God had set him apart before he was born, comparing himself to Jeremiah. 

Even before his conversion, his vocation was to work diligently for God. Speaking of his mission, Paul compares himself to Isaiah in his acceptance of God’s call:  “Lord, here I am. Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). 

Estrada emphasized that Paul referred to Jesus Christ as “The Lord,” Kyrios, that is, God. Only in Israel had the term kyrios been applied to God. Estrada referred to Galatians 2 and the great hymn in Philippians 2: 9-10, “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend.” This is Paul’s confession of faith, the beginning of his preaching.

Paul preached salvation through Jesus Christ, which Christ has won for us by His passion, death and resurrection.

Paul remained devoted to his Jewish roots. In fact, Paul always went to the synagogue in each new city to preach, because the Jews were prepared for his preaching. They believed in one God, they had the Scriptures and they expected a Messiah.

The gentiles often misunderstood Paul, as did those in Lystra, who, after Paul had healed a man crippled from birth, wanted to worship him and Barnabas as gods (Acts 14: 8-18). And in Athens, when he preached the resurrection in front of the Areopagus, many scoffed at his message (Acts 17).

Throughout his preaching Paul was disturbed by those Jews who maintained that converts to Christ had to follow the Jewish law. He had to have Timothy, whose father was a gentile, circumcised (Acts 16:3), and he himself had to undergo a purification rite in order to pacify certain Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 21: 17-26).

Paul’s thinking was universal.  He was proud to be a Jew, but he was also proud to be a Roman citizen. When he preached, he preached to all. In Colossians 3:11, he reminds his converts that in the new order “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all in all.”

(Martha Kremer writes from Toronto.)

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