Messianic Jews: Constructive Relationships

One of the big challenges from listening again to the Jewish voice concerns the relationship of Israel to the nations.

There is much in the New Testament to indicate that this distinction did not lose its significance with the death and resurrection of Jesus. For example, the twelve are told by Jesus that “at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19: 28).

In his book La Promesse the late Cardinal Lustiger of Paris contrasted this judgment of the people of Israel with the judgment of “the nations” described in Matt. 25:

“All the nations [that does not include Israel] will be gathered before him” (v. 32).

In the Catholic – Messianic dialogue, one of the theologians in the Catholic team raised the question of the respective callings of Peter and Paul, pointing out that in Galatians 2, Peter is sent to the Jews and Paul to the nations.

“For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.” (Gal. 2: 8).

This may throw light on some puzzling aspects of the Acts of the Apostles. This is the slowness of the Twelve to leave Jerusalem. Even when wider persecution followed the stoning of Stephen, we are told:

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8: 1).

They are all still in Jerusalem at the time of the council described in Acts 15, probably around the year 49. Then when the focus switches to Paul’s apostolic journeys, we hear no more of the Twelve. The explanation may be that when the Twelve did eventually go out, they went to the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, and the focus of Luke in Acts is on the spread of the Gospel among the Gentiles. I want to raise an interesting question here. This is not the expression of a position or conviction, but a thought that the Church may need to pursue. Just as Simon Peter represents those called through the earthly ministry of Jesus that is at the origin of the normal order of ministry in the Church, so Paul is the picture of a charismatic ministry through the intervention of the risen Christ that did not originate in ordination by the twelve. It is very important that Paul is integrated into the koinonia of the Church, that he brings the conflict in Antioch before the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, and that he recognizes the authority of the twelve, and of the “pillars” of the Church in Jerusalem (see Acts 21: 18 and Gal. 2: 1 – 2). But there is no evidence that Paul was ordained through the imposition of hands by any of the apostles. After his dramatic conversion, he says: “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” (Gal. 1: 15 – 17).

This is my question: Is God doing today with the Jewish people something parallel to Paul’s work among the nations? Is it possible and could our theologies and our Churches accept that God might be raising up by his Spirit evangelists and leaders among the Jewish people outside the normal order established among the nations? So far in this talk, the question has been: what do the Messianic Jews have to do to obtain some kind of historic Church recognition. But a different question faced the Catholic team in the dialogue. What do we have to do (a) to make such a recognition a possibility and (b) to make more Messianic Jews want such a recognition (for many today would not). For the dialogue team here is not typical of the Messianic movement as a whole. One reason is that the Messianic team have grown in their understanding and sympathy through nine years of dialogue. So I want to close by commenting on these two questions. What do we have to do to make such a recognition a possibility? First, as I have said, we have as Church to get to know the Messianic Jews better. Second, then it is important that our scholars and leaders enter into a process of re-interpreting the Scriptures including the New Testament in the perspective that God has not rejected the Jewish people and that they remain the covenant people, even in their non-acceptance or not-yet acceptance of Jesus as Messiah of Israel.

What do we have to do to make more Messianic Jews want constructive relations with the ancient Churches? First, we need to humble ourselves and confess the ways in which we have oppressed the Jewish people over the centuries and the ways in which we have insulted and dishonoured them. One thinks here of the 8 homilies against the Jews of St John Chrysostom given in Antioch in 387. They are not why he was recognized as a saint and given the title “golden-mouthed”. Second, we need to make plain to them the ways in which our Churches have repudiated the rejection of the Jewish people. Third, we need to befriend them, and be aware of the way that they often experience being caught between the rejection of the synagogue and the rejection by Christians (why don’t you become ordinary Christians like everyone else?).

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