Rector's Blog: Jesus is a Jew
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Jesus is a Jew. This is a central part of Jesus’ identity, and it is essential for Christians to understand Jesus’ Jewishness if we are going to be serious about our faith in him.
Jesus was born in the region of Judea and was therefore Judean - the word from which we get the English word “Jew.” He was born to Jewish parents, was circumcised on the 8th day in the Jewish tradition, was raised in a Jewish community, and made pilgrimages to the Temple that was central to the Judaism of his time. When Jesus talked about the Scriptures, he was referring to the Jewish Scriptures that we Christians often call the Old Testament. They weren’t old to Jesus – they were the holy writings that formed his religious and civic life. Jesus prayed to the God of Abraham and Sarah.
Jesus identified with the people called Israel: The vast majority of his public ministry was carried out within the Jewish community and to Jews. When people called him the Messiah, they were talking about a very specific figure in the Jewish faith for whom Israel was waiting. There was no point in his life or ministry where he rejected or renounced his Jewishness.
And you notice I said Jesus is a Jew, present tense. That may be controversial to some, but Christians believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and is still alive today. And at no time during his resurrected life on Earth did he reject or renounce his Jewishness. If you’re a Christian, you believe in the present tense existence of Jesus the Jew.
When the first Christians – who were Jews – wrote and spoke about Jesus, they connected his life and presence directly and explicitly to their Jewish faith and scriptures, believing that he was the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel. Of course, not all Jews living in that time believed Jesus was the Messiah – in fact most didn’t. This difference of understanding about Jesus was the split that officially created Christianity, but those first Christians didn’t understand themselves as rejecting Judaism. How could they? They were pledging allegiance to Jesus, a faithful Jew.
If I seem like I’m belaboring the point, I want to be clear that I don’t think that’s possible in this current time and place. As a Christian living in the United States of America on the planet Earth in the 21st century, I cannot deny that antisemitism still exists. In fact, it feels utterly pervasive in this world and in this country. It is no small thing. It is a bigotry with as deep of roots in our daily life as any kind of racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia, or the like.
It is impossible for you to love Jesus and be antisemitic. Impossible.
And yes, some of us will respond to that that it’s impossible to hate anyone and love Jesus – and while I agree with that, it’s our Jewish siblings of whom I’m speaking today. It’s your feelings, beliefs, prejudices, and preconceived notions about Jews that I’m asking you to take inventory of today if you are a non-Jew, and especially if you are a Christian.
Last Week a man walked into a Texas synagogue with a gun and held its congregants hostage for 11 hours. By his own account, he did this because he believed in the age-old conspiracy theory that Jews run the world. He wanted someone he admired released from incarceration, and he believed that specifically holding Jews hostage could make that happen. The hostages escaped eventually, thanks be to God.
Antisemitism is living and present. Antisemitism is not a relic. And denial of its presence is strong. Many of us still think that if we say we’re not antisemitic we must not be, and we aren’t part of the problem. We say this regardless of the fact that the history of Christianity is rife with Jewish persecution in Jesus’ name.
In Church of the Redeemer’s commitment to racial justice, healing, and reconciliation through The Episcopal Church’s Becoming Beloved Community initiative, I have learned that I have not listened to marginalized voices enough. I have learned that I have been conditioned to decide what racism is rather than deferring to People of Color on the matter, that I have been conditioned to decide what sexism is, rather than deferring to women on the matter, and so on. I am learning to listen, to defer to the expertise of others, to allow myself to be transformed by listening.
For the non-Jew, this kind of listening absolutely must extend to our Jewish siblings. We have to listen to them. They are telling us they experience antisemitism with stunning regularity. They are telling us they are scared simply to be themselves. They are telling us they don’t enter a synagogue without searching out the nearest exit just in case. They are telling us they feel the need to defend their very right to exist.
In America, Jews are subject to antisemitism, marginalization, and objectification from non-Jews on the political Left and Right, with the Jewish state of Israel often serving as a flashpoint for political talking points that have nothing to do with the well-being of our Jewish siblings and everything to do with the furthering of our own interests and ideologies.
Wherever they live, Jews are strangers in a strange land. Eternally other.
But Jesus is a Jew, and if you’re a Christian, you follow Jesus. You follow a Jew.
Acknowledging this is key. Once we have done that, we have only to ask what is our responsibility as Christians, as those who seek to follow, worship, and embody Jesus in this world? Are we willing to actively seek God’s very presence and activity in our Jewish siblings? Are we willing to recognize each Jew as profoundly, beautifully human, made by God with purpose and intention?
I hope that we will listen to our Jewish siblings. We do not know what it is like to be them, but we can learn if we listen. I hope we will pray for their well-being and then work for that well-being in our own lives. I hope we will work for their freedom, for their peace, recognizing it as our own freedom and peace. I hope we will recognize the God-given dignity of every Jewish person. I hope our eyes can be opened to their connection to God, their connection to this world. I hope we will seek and serve Christ in our Jewish siblings. When this happens, we will love them as we love ourselves, and our faith will be transformed.
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