Living here in Sicily, we have had the opportunity to see the process of grafting in action several times. Whether on orange trees, olive trees, lemon trees, or others, each time that we have been around any farmer that is working with trees, they are almost always in a process of grafting or talking about what they are doing with it?

First, what does it mean to graft? If you aren’t familiar with it, it is a concept that seems quite strange. You take one tree and you connect it to another tree and they grow together.

Why do that? Why graft? There has been enough cross-pollination, either through natural processes or through man-made processes, that you may not get a particular kind of fruit by planting a seed from that fruit. For example, imagine that you are a farmer who grows and sells Granny Smith apples. You are known for that apple and people buy from you because you sell that apple. Now you decide that you want to expand your business. If you take the seeds from some of your apples, buy new land, and plant the seeds, you may get some Granny Smith apples, but you may not. You don’t really know.

However, on the other hand, if you cut a branch off of a tree that you know produces Granny Smith apples and you graft it to an existing tree that is compatible, they will grow together and you can now produce more Granny Smith apples.

Paul used this example to explain what God himself had done with the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews were removed from the tree so that the Gentiles could be “grafted” into the tree:

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, 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.

Romans 11:17-18

What exactly is Paul talking about here? How can the Gentiles be grafted in? What tree is Paul referring to?

Paul is saying that, because of their unbelief, God removed the Jews from the “tree”. The tree, in this case, is a metaphor for those who are God’s people. They are grown up in God and are one as his people. The Jews are the people of Israel who were chosen as God’s people, but at a certain point, as a result of their unbelief and unwillingness to listen to God, their unbelief and unwillingness to hear, understand, and do what he is saying, God cut the Jews off of the tree so as to allow the others, the Gentiles, to be grafted in to the tree and be God’s people.

Paul uses this metaphor of grafting because it is an example of a process that intervenes to get the planned and desired outcome. God planned, even throughout the Old Testament, that all of the nations would know him. God planned that they would be blessed and have a relationship with him. We see this as far back as God telling Abraham that he would bless him so that all of the nations on the earth would be blessed, and we see the fulfillment in Christ in that Jesus opened the way for all people, through faith, to come to know God in Christ.

So the non-Jews, the Gentiles, are grafted into the people of God through Christ. Grafting is an interventionist practice, both in agriculture, but also in what God has done. Jesus brought and embodied both justice and mercy in that he received the justice from God for the sins that had been committed, but also demonstrated the love, grace, and mercy of God, being sacrificed, killed so that others would live. God intervened on behalf of all people, but he calls each of us to believe and understand what he has done so that we can be grafted into his family. And that is what God has done for us. Through our faith in Christ, like the farmer, he has grafted us into his family so that we can produce the fruit that he desires.

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