As I write this newsletter article, our nation has just seen a spike in anti-Semitic activity with a wave of bomb threats at Jewish community centers and desecration of Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, including right here in Milwaukee. And this comes after many years of growing anti-Semitism on college campuses throughout the USA as well, both among faculty and students alike.
Consequently, there have been strong public statements of condemnation responding to this anti-Semitism. Among others, President Trump, Vice President Pence and ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton have made such public statements in quick succession. The following is an excerpt from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s statement:
In the face of anti-Semitism, we are called to speak out – as an expression of our love of neighbor and as our faithful response to the love of God in Jesus. In doing so, we become ambassadors of hope in the face of despair, imitators of Christ… As Christians, we affirm that Jews remain “beloved of God” and that an attack on them is an attack on those whom our God – the One God – has called “my people.” In many places, with leadership from across this church, we are reaching out and showing up with our Jewish neighbors, often with ecumenical and inter-religious partners… There is also the critical long-term work. As a church, in our 1994 Declaration to the Jewish Community, we have pledged “to oppose the deadly working of such bigotry, both within our own circles and in the society around us.” This will not happen quickly. It will take concerted efforts to correct “the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred” and to seek deeper mutual understanding and cooperation between Lutheran Christians and the Jewish community… So, let us continue to speak out, to reach out, to show up, and to root out this deadly bigotry of anti-Semitism. For the courage to do God’s will, and for the peace of our Jewish neighbors, we pray.
While we seek to stand against bigotry, hatred and violence targeting any and all groups of people, we ought to feel an extra degree of kinship with our Jewish neighbors because of the historical connection between Christianity and Judaism. In fact, after the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD, the two most viable forms of ancient Second Temple Judaism were the Pharisee group and the Jesus group. Over the centuries since that time, the Pharisee group has become known as Rabbinic Judaism and the Jesus group has become known as Christianity. However, both groups have grown out of the same Jewish roots of the ancient Second Temple period.
Therefore, Jews and Christians are siblings in religious faith. We differ regarding the Lordship of Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth, but we are nonetheless historically related to one another as descendents of the Judaism of the First Century AD. Of course, we know that there are people who are ethnically and culturally Jewish but spiritually Christian, and these people are called “Messianic Jews.” However, the great majority of religiously observant Jews do not agree with the Christian conviction that the Lord Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and Savior of the world. This is the longstanding disagreement that goes all the way back to the time of the Apostles of Jesus Christ.
Sadly, many Christians over the centuries (particularly in Europe) have used this historical theological disagreement to target and persecute the Jewish People. And perversely, such anti-Semitic persecutors have done this persecuting of Jews in the name of Jesus, completely disregarding Jesus’ own Jewish heritage and Jesus’ own Divine teachings regarding the basic human dignity of all people everywhere. For the Christian Faith declares that Jesus the Messiah is Hebrew according to his flesh and the Son of God according to his Divinity. And as the Son of God, sent by God in sacrificial love for the sake of the world, Jesus has shown us and proved to us God’s universal love for all nations, tribes and peoples through his life, teachings, crucifixion, death and resurrection. As it prophetically states concerning Christ in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 53, written hundreds of years before his earthly ministry began:
He was despised and rejected by humankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
What amazing grace this is! What wondrous love this is! Because God loves us so much, we also ought to have love for one another and for all the peoples of the world. And among all the peoples of the world, the Jewish People are Christianity’s closest relatives in religious faith.
Years ago at the hospital that I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) for seminary, a rabbi colleague of mine told me that the first question he will have for the Messiah when the Messiah comes on the great Day of Lord is “Were you here before?” And of course, we Christians are assured that the answer will be “Yes” because of the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, which affirms and confirms all that Jesus said and did. Nevertheless, both Jews and Christians are expecting the great Messianic Age to be established someday “on earth as it is in heaven” (from The Lord’s Prayer).
So we as Christians ought to live in the faith, hope and love of our Lord Yeshua Ha-Mashiach (Jesus the Christ), and this includes standing against all forms of bigotry and hatred, especially against anti-Semitism. Just as depicted in the beautiful painting of Jesus next to the main doors in our congregation’s fellowship hall (the old worship space), a painting which shows him sitting with a variety of the children of the world, Jesus is the universal Redeemer and Healer of the world. For “by his wounds we are healed” (from Isaiah 53).
Good Lent to All of You! Pastor Tim