Monday, January 28, 2013

Israel on my mind

Following up to my previous post, another thought about Jews and Judaism.

I was theologically educated in a very pro-Jewish atmosphere. No course I ever took or teacher I ever had ever underestimated or ignored the foundational Jewish contribution to Christianity in every aspect. Continuity was vastly more emphasized than discontinuity. And in the post-Vatican II and post-Holocaust world, it was looked upon as very rude to attempt to convert Jews anymore.

I recall preaching a homily once, contrasting the Jewish Law with the Law of Christ. I suggested that although St Paul (and St James, at the Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15) freed Gentile Christians from the burden of the Mosaic Law, it was not that simple. Moses, according to rabbinical count, had given the Jews 613 separate commandments, while Jesus gave only one: Love one another as I have loved you. Although at first this sounded like a liberation, I opined that perhaps the one was a far heavier burden to bear than the 613.

One of the most striking divergences between Christianity and Judaism is in how the Messiah* is envisioned. Judaism, at least in its bimillennial Rabbinic variety, has seen the Messiah as a man, but no more than a man, chosen by God to inaugurate a this-worldly utopia under Jewish leadership. Jesus did not fit that bill, especially in his orthodox form, as incarnate Second Person of the Divine Trinity on the cross!

It is even clear in the Gospels that the Apostles themselves, all Jews, recognized the problem of his very unexpected parabolic non-triumphant-ness. (Mark 8:27-33). Christianity's Christ, although victorious and reigning in the spiritual realm, died a crucified criminal in this one. He is a Messiah who said to Pilate "My kingdom is not of this world...not from here." John 18.36. The Isaian Suffering Servant libretto of Handel's great work is something a Jew would never create**. And as Ex Cathedra likes to point out, the image oft-used by social justice-obsessed Christian liberals of "building the Kingdom" never occurs in Scripture.

It is a further theme in the rabbis that the delay or arrival of this Messianic utopia may be pretty much up to the Jews, dependent on them. Now in traditional religion, this axial role has to do with religious observance, both ritual and ethical. My impression is that in modern Judaism, where so many of the sons and daughters of Israel leave ancient ways behind but keep their deep archetypal structure***, the coming of the Messianic Age is entirely a job for humans to create on this planet by their own efforts. I have heard Jews more than once make this point as a point of pride, that they do not care about some pie in the sky but work for a just world in the here and now. (As if that is necessarily a good thing.)

Hence, massive Jewish investment in supporting leftish utopian politics and values. Which often, as with actual Communism, or post-Civil Rights US Blacks, turn on them. And in Ex Cathedra's humble opinion, utopias always lead to guillotines and gulags.

So these divergent images of the Messiah and the Messianic Age can provide "spiritual" Christians with a huge dose of restraint and realism about this world's very limited possibilities that "realistic, here and now" Jews --especially post-religious Jews-- allow themselves to forget. The tragic vulnerability of so many of them to leftist utopian schemes very likely finds its roots in the traditional Jewish image of the earthly Messiah and his this-worldly Age.

On this issue, compared to the Jewish trend, Christ's "yoke is easy and (his) burden light." He redeemed the world; we don't have to.


*Maschiah in Hebrew mean Anointed, and in Greek this becomes christos. So one way of interpreting "Christianity" is "Messiah-ism."

**Or a Muslim. Perhaps there is something in the common Semitic mind of Jews and Arabs that finds little or no room for redemptive suffering in a prophet or a messiah. The Quran, copying an old Gnostic trope, emphatically denies that Jesus was ever crucified. And the story of Muhammed  and all the prophets is one of victory over adversity, never sanctified failure.

***They are not alone in this. My principal interpretation of Liberalism is as a toxicly decaying form of post-religious European Christianity, with all its perfectionist ethical pretensions and none of its divine restrictions or grace.


No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...