“We are the relatives who just won’t go away,” observed Rabbi Gary Greenbaum, as he wryly summed up the ongoing challenges of Jewish-Christian relations. I have just concluded a two-day conference of the Christian Leadership Initiative, the program I have been a part of since our study last July in Jerusalem.
The theme for this CLI alumni study retreat has been “Difficult Conversations: Making Space for Productive Jewish-Christian Dialogue about the Holy Land.” Held at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, CA, this time of studying texts, hearing lectures, and offering reflection has been rich and provocative. My head is full of constructive ideas about ways Christians and Jews can engage the best ways toward peace and the meaning and the future of Israel as a Jewish state. Of course, the concern for justice for Palestinians always accompanies such discourse.
Many American Christians live with oblivion about their Jewish roots, and thus do not understand the protracted “sibling rivalry” with our biblical kinfolk. At times we read the virulent New Testament passages about “the Jews” with unquestioning confidence, forgetting that they reflect an epoch of rancorous conflict between the elder and younger Abrahamic expressions of faith. Descriptive rather than prescriptive, they do not articulate how Christians are to regard Jews for all time.
Christian writings over many centuries display a theology that contends that the scattering of Jews after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE is due to their sinfulness in rejecting and crucifying Jesus. Further, Christians have interpreted Scripture as teaching supersessionism, i.e., the church has replaced Israel as the people of God. A careful reading of the Pauline texts, however, argues that Gentiles have been included in God’s salvific purpose, and Jewish covenant has not been abrogated.
As we enter the Lenten season, a fruitful expression of spiritual discernment for many Christians would be to examine personal convictions and feelings about the historic people of God. Often our reading of the Hebrew Bible renders it little more than a foil to illumine how much greater is our expression of faith in God through Jesus Christ.
Many of the liturgies of this season in the Christian calendar, especially those we read during Holy Week, render a defaming portrait of first century Jews. I believe we must interrogate these freighted texts, written at a time when mutually destructive fragmentation was occurring.
Over the past seventy years, there has been a maturation in Jewish-Christian dialogue as bridges of trust have been painstakingly built. A growing consciousness of the destructiveness of anti-Semitic attitudes is encouraging, but hard theological work remains. It is easier to pontificate about the “solution” to the protracted conflict in the Holy Land than it is to do the reflective theological work that would move Christians to a deeper appreciation of our participation in God’s inclusive covenant of grace. We still can learn to be family.
Molly T. Marshall
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