Wednesday, September 24, 2008

God's mystery of the Jews: an answer

I just enjoyed watching EWTN Live with Fr. Mitch Pacwa and his guest Roy Schoeman, a well known Jewish Catholic convert who authored several books that I count among my favorites. It was a great hour of conversation and I found that it passed very quickly, they could have easily filled two hours :-)

I won't repeat all that was discussed because all of it is worth hearing for yourself or reading. But I wanted to point people in the right direction about understanding the great mystery that they were pondering on the program which is, why was it God's will that more Jews and indeed, why not all Jews had recognized Jesus Christ as the Messiah? Fr. Pacwa and Mr. Schoeman were correct in explaining that there is still a mystery and a purpose to the continuation of the Jews in their faith, without having recognized Jesus as the Messiah, that is beyond them, the Jews, being "targets" for evangelizing, and that the mystery is known only to God. They correctly cautioned about evangelizing with an attitude, and I am paraphrasing here, of wanting to collect conversions from Jews with the sense of 1) wrapping up unfinished business or 2) taking it upon oneself to know God's will and try to self delegate "fulfilling prophecy." That is a very serious and correct caution. Regular blog readers know that I am very annoyed at dispensationalist and evangelical non-Catholic Christians who have been very presumptuous in this regard. It is fine to evangelize the way that the Apostles and disciples did, which is to profess and witness to one's faith (explaining areas of confusion or stereotyping) and also to demonstrate through role modeling how one piously lives one's own faith. That is not only agreeable to God but to be expected. However, God frowns on Christians who think they know his mind and all his intentions and who bribe (monetary donations to Israel) or shotgun conversions (preach erroneous dispensationalism to panic certain Jews about "impending end of time" prophecy) in order to take pride in being the "prophecy fulfillers." So here is a way to point you in the right direction of understanding God's will.

The Old Covenant may have passed, and it has, obviously, but Jews still remain "God's chosen people." Who are the chosen? The chosen are the ones to whom God elected to make himself personally known to. Thus, Adam and his descendants the Patriarchs, and Abraham and his descendants the Israelites were Chosen from among all the people on earth to have a personal relationship and knowledge of God himself. God brought himself within their presence. So in addition to obtaining The Law from God, God made himself known as the creator, the father and as the companion, and even friend, of the Chosen people collectively and the patriarchs and prophets specifically. It is easy to only focus on the Law giving and the chastisements, and no longer see the voluminous information "about" God and his loving relationship with his people. It is to the Israelites that God gave personal visitations, explanations of natural law, angelic companions, glimpses of heaven and the afterlife, and a sampling of the mutual love that humans should aspire to have and return to God in gratitude for the love he has for them. All of this is preserved within the body of the Jewish faith and in the holy book, which Christians call the Old Testament.

Now, understand that Jewish scholars through the centuries have diligently, piously and prayerfully studied every word and indeed syllable of what God has uttered and what the holy book has contained. Yes, some of this was to be responsive and obedient to the Law, which orthodox Jews still follow, in response to modern needs for interpretations. But much of the richness of the Old Testament and the work of Jewish scholars is in amplifying and making God, who is in total unknowable to humans, be well understood to humans, and loved, using the events and words that God gave the Jews in mutual participation. To put it in slang, "God and the Jews speak the same language and come from the same neighborhood." Orthodox Jews do genuinely understand God and his perspectives more than any people of faith who ever lived and that has not changed. The Jews not recognizing the Messiah and the Old Covenant no longer being in place does not change that. Indeed, one cannot correctly and fully understand the episodes of the Gospel or the words of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, and St. Jude in their epistles without "being Jewish." The Jews remain the "translators" of how God spoke to humanity in the beginning of salvation history and how God revealed his true nature and authentic being.

For example, no one understands the offering of sacrifice unless one understands what God revealed in the first place to the Jews. Even Catholics, who remain (along with Muslims) the monotheistic faith that still offer sacrifice to God (in the form of the Mass) have forgotten more about the meaning, context and "God's perspective" about sacrifice than has the average orthodox pious Jew. I find myself through this blog and in the occasional real conversation with a human having to explain more about God and how he revealed his true being to the Jews than I had to fifty years ago. The pace of modern development obscures perspectives that were once a natural part of every day life. Even the clear and simple parables that Jesus preached are less, and not more, easily understood by Christians with the passage of time. Orthodox, scholarly pious Jews, even if they no longer worship at the Temple or live as did their ancestors know and comprehend more about both Old and New Testament meaning than Christians.

So orthodox pious scholarly Jews remain the continuity and the "translators" of understanding not only the cultural, societal and faith based norms and history of Biblical times, but they do understand God the Father, in general, more clearly than do Christians. They "speak the same lingo as God" even when they totally disobeyed him and drove God meshugana "crazy" (so to speak) during much of their Covenant with their stiff necked disobedience. Think of a loving but strict father though. Just because a son or daughter might drive him crazy with willful disobedience does not mean that son or daughter does not know their dad very, very well. Jews know God, and they've known him through the ages.

Jesus brought God to humans in a personal way, in order to explain how to live the Kingdom of God even before passing on in death to experience it first hand in eternity. Thus Jesus brought a more personal and individual relationship between God-the same God as the Jews knew-and humans. Jesus introduced humanity to God in a way they could see, touch, speak with, converse, confess and be forgiven, all within the context of living within hope and faith. That is the gift of the Messiah, of the Savior, not just to wash the original sin from humans and cleanse what had become perverted and impure in the faith, but also to teach individual humans who were not prophets or patriarchs how to have a personal relationship with God, within his New Covenant, and within the Apostolic Church that Christ created. Jesus brought the form of God that humans can not only be saved and forgiven by, but also have a personal relationship with. But never forget that the Jews already knew this very same God over the ages as the Chosen People, through thick and thin, and for better and for worse in the human experience. The Jews, however, knew God through their prophets, their priests and their consecrated Kings. The Jews knew God through their community of faith as "a people." Christ and his Apostles and their successors preached and converted one soul at a time.

This is the key to understanding the continuing special relationship between God and the Jews, his first and only Chosen People. Jews continue to have a faith and cultural context that allow them to understand the fullness of God's presence and perspectives, as much as can be understood by humans. I worry that without orthodox Jews that modern humans will continue to lose their Biblical cultural context and thus lose much of their understanding of God himself. I have already seen that happen far more than I like. Orthodox Jews "get" (comprehend) God. They comprehend God as God revealed himself over the ages to them, and they continue to study and find great joy in His word and worship of him. Christians "get" (comprehend) salvation. Jesus allowed the Jews who believed and the Gentiles who converted to be "not slaves" but "friends," as he said to the Apostles. Jesus taught the faithful how to participate with God in their own individual and church based salvation. Jesus taught them how to pray to God, and explained how to have a personal relationship with God. Jesus also gave humanity a great gift from God, which is the sacraments. I've explained in previous blog posts that the sacraments were not just made up out of whole cloth but are foundational upon God's revelations throughout the Old Testament AND cultural mores of the Jews.

For example, it's not like John the Baptist "invented" baptism. I've cited the passage in the Old Testament that explains that a newborn becomes a member of the Jewish community not just through birth and through the naming and sacrifice, but through the pouring of water in washing and the dressing in new garments. Christians increasingly do not "see" such knowledge of God and his ways even as the words are printed in black in the Old Testament. Christians tend to cherry pick the "Jesus formulas for salvation," and I'm not being unkind when I say that. That is the trade off when one brings a very individual faith, which is why I continually wring my hands at the lack of unity in the Christian faith, and the bitter seeds of the Reformation. Orthodox scholarly Jews have maintained a cohesion of understanding of God and God's faith "origins," God's cultural context and God's history with his Chosen People, and thus these Jews never forget. They still delight in all that God has given to them and explained to them, and in the cultural remnants and treasures of their faith.

Without orthodox scholarly God loving Jews, humans would lose much of their understanding of God himself. This does not mean that I do not hope that many Jews come to recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah. But I am explaining that God continues to have a relationship and a reason for the many who did not thus far, which is to remember, preserve, love and treasure the full context of all that God has revealed to them as his Chosen People, and retain the ability as the ultimate translators of the context and meaning of what has been preserved in the Old Testament scripture, as that is still the same God who must be loved, understood and piously feared.

I hope that you find this helpful.