In my experience, Christianity and Judaism are one single, seamless religion. We share scriptures, history and all substance of faith but the timing of the Messiah's arrival. God the Father has a mysterious intention in always retaining a remnant of Israel, faithfully waiting for the good example of Christians to cause Judaism to "enviously take another look", as Paul says to the church at Rome.
Christianity is slowly improving. Jews are still waiting. As we wait, we Judeans have nourished Christianity over the millennia by providing, in addition to the Holy Family, apostles, prophets, the scriptures, disciples and new Christians -- like me.
Jesus often taught by agricultural parables. Consider Judaism as the "Tap Root" of Christianity, which is the "Tree of Life" in the garden. The tree is both tap root and branches. The painful, ancient tensions between Christians and their "elder brothers in the faith" may be similar to the internal tension in any growing organism. In time the mystery will be made clear. Have faith and be happy.
In the meantime, hold material appearances lightly, open your inner eye and gaze in wonder at the beauty of our Lord.
The War of the Bro’s
I John 4:20
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
How am I, a Jew, also a Christian?
As Saul got knocked off his horse almost twenty centuries ago, I too was knocked to the ground shortly after Vatican ll concluded. Like many a modern Jew, I believed in God in my subconscious, but hoped he wasn’t paying attention to me right now. I tried to “do it my way.” It didn’t work. I was in a pit so deep I didn’t know there was an up. Suffice it to say I was “reached.” One of the many different ways God has of communicating with us finally got through my defenses, and the possibility all this might be true dawned to me. Not a conviction, just a possibility cracked open. I bought a modern translation of the “New Testament.” As soon as I read the opening of Matthew, I realized,
“This is a Jewish book, all about Jews, written by Jews, written for Jews, written for me, today.”
I read beginning to end, and believed. I became a better Jew than I was before, with a new fear and love for God.
I joined a “neutral” Christian church with no crosses or statues, and was later baptized. All this happened with the backdrop of Vatican ll. Had Vatican ll not happened, I am convinced the years of prejudice, exclusion, punching, kicking, spitting, being called “Christ killer”, ostracism, not being shown a house in the wrong section of town, name-calling, seeing similar visited on my family and vividly recalling as an eight year old, the newsreels of Jew arrests, Jew shooting and Jew burning in Poland and Germany, all these would have kept me far, far away from considering Christianity as anything other than a grisly perversion of truth. But Vatican ll happened.
I am the first Jew in my family in over three thousand years to understand and embrace this opening of Judaism to all the nations. This opening of Judaism to the nations is called Christianity. I enthusiastically join this part of the tree. This Jew, Larry, got a choice of how to serve the One God, and maybe this choice is open to all. I don’t know, but if I had chosen to put myself under the original promise I don’t think I would have ended up believing much differently from how I believe now. But this is easier for me. I feel integrated. But I am convinced my Jewish brother Marv and my Jewish sister Marsha also serve the One God in remaining traditional Jews, without adding the Christian extension. They serve two ways. First, they are in awe and humility and obedience to the will of God, a faithful root drawing up living water for the tree of humanity. Second, they also daily present themselves as lambs, as a test, a litmus test for Christians to practice and demonstrate full and mature love for neighbor - and brother and sister.
Vatican ll at last gave permission for love to spill over onto the Jews. Against the backdrop of Vatican ll, I was able to approach and embrace Protestant Christianity. Later, through the Episcopal Church I was reintroduced to the liturgy of my Orthodox Jewish youth. As I experienced monastic retreats and contemplative prayer, the call of the first Jewish Pope drew me to Catholicism. As a Catholic, I remain a Jew who embraces all of Christianity - and all of humanity.
The War of the Brothers
On to the War story. Christians and Jews have been at war for so long we forget there is a war on. The war started when the Jewish followers of a prophet from Nazareth proclaimed him the Moshiach. Our leadership at the time found this blasphemous, and declared war on the breakaway sect. Up until the time of their leader’s arrest and execution, the sect had been openly preaching in shuls. Shortly after the execution, rumors of a resurrection fueled evangelical actions in Judea, Jerusalem itself, and soon spread into neighboring countries. The spread of this sect was an intolerable situation for the leadership, since the sect represented itself as a more correct version of Judaism than the “rigid, rule-based” Judaic theocracy of the time. The leadership responded by ordering the sect expelled from the synagogues and condemned these Moshiachites, or Christians, as heretics.
Did Jews start it?
The sect continued to spread. Saul of Tarsus presented an extreme example of the problem confronting defenders of the faith. Saul, a learned devout Jew was actively pursuing repression of this breakaway sect, when he himself was struck by a sudden revelation of the possibility of the sect’s belief’s validity. Subsequent events convinced this former inquisitor the Christian recognition was valid, and Saul, renamed Paul, abandoned his persecution and joined in the evangelization. Paul made a major contribution to the program to bring the goyim, the nations, to knowledge of God. He clarified it was no longer necessary to first become a traditional Jew before becoming a follower of the Moshiach. This was a new way to become Jewish – without undergoing the rituals that traditionally marked one as a Jew.
This opened the way for far easier conversion of pagans to the new sect. The new sect continued all the traditional Jewish scriptures; the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings and now offered open access to the Holy for all goyim as well as Jews. This easy, short-cut evangelism for the masses further fueled determination among the Jewish leadership to expunge these so-called Christians from the Jewish community, and to distance themselves from this heretical sect.
Did the Christians make peace?
The Christian reaction to this was not “loving.” The new Christians defended their beliefs and actions by all the more vigorously attacking the practices of traditional Judaism. Thus was set in motion the War of the Brothers. Several of the later gospels contain echoes of the fraternal war that accompanied this early “big bang” expansion of Judaism to the masses. “The Jews” are pointed to as accusers and betrayers of Jesus. Yes, there were Jews who accused him, and Jews who betrayed him, including Peter our first Jewish Bishop. But Jesus, too, was a Jew. His mother was a Jew. His father was a Jew. His disciples were Jews. His brothers or cousins were Jews. The gospel writers Matthew, Mark and John were Jews, and we can’t be sure Luke was not a Jew writing with Greek perspective for the Greeks. Certainly Jesus’ followers were Jews, as his accusers were Jews. The wedding at Cana was a Jewish wedding; his questioning of the doctors of the law in the Temple was preparatory for his own Jewish Bar Mitzvah. His friends Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus were Jews. The blind, lepers and crippled he healed were Jews. His burial detail was Jewish, and it was Jews who discovered the tomb empty. He appeared to Jews after his death, comforted Jews, ate with Jews and told Jews to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations. And the Jews did this.
Yet in the Easter Liturgy for millennia, the Christian church has emphasized Jews as accuser and betrayer, and downplayed Jews as friends, supporters, family and disciples. This ancient feud began at the painful moment of divergence of shoot from root. The necessary wound should have long since healed, as does a plant, which “recognizes” its unity of root and shoot, tap root and branch, root system and twigs. Jesus as vine binds together the older root and the fruitful branches. Judaism and Christianity are one as a fig tree is one.
While we know how the story will come out, this present war is an ode to joy for Satan
Jesus taught a house divided against itself cannot stand. Yet the branches are at war with the roots. Until we come together in the present world of trial and testing, it will be difficult to join in the real world beyond our limited earthly vision. We know the 144,000 Old Testament Jewish souls and the countless thousands of souls from the nations are all gathered together in the world which is and is to come. We know the twelve great elders from traditional Judaism and the twelve great elders from Christian Judaism together, all twenty-four, fall down in worship before the throne of the One God. The Book of Revelation tells us so.
Yet in this world we treat each other as members of hostile religions. Christianity teaches supercessionism, which means “we have replaced the Jews as God’s favorite.” The Jews regard Christianity with remembered woes and continuing suspicion. Jews watch as human and institutional longing for the good old ways create tensions within Christianity; as the openings of Vatican ll are challenged in the name of tradition. Remember, brothers, it was mainstream Jewish traditionalism and the desire to preserve the good old ways that spurred rejection of the Christ.
What would Jesus do?
With his last breath, Jesus’ last counsel to his expanded church was “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” He, of course, knew what would happen. The Church rejected Jesus’ counsel, and almost perversely went the other way. Rather than exercise healing love, we have not grown beyond tolerance, debate, commissions and occasional pogroms and inquisitions. Jesus would teach the branch and leaf to respect and love its root. Jesus would teach the spiritual necessity of coexistence. For the Jew, be a faithful believing Jew; follow the ten rules with all your heart. For the Christian, Jesus taught only two rules, which contain the ten; First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might. Second, love your neighbor as you love yourself. This includes loving your elder Jewish brothers - not only despite Jewish behavior, but because of it. Love is love. Yes, this is the test.
The trunk of a living plant
does not replace the root.
The grace of our Lord Jeshua the
Christ be with you all. Amen.