“Jews and Christians, as children of Abraham, are called to be a blessing for the world …” – Pope John Paul II
As someone, sometime, somewhere has famously said, “Timing is everything”. As I post this today, the timing is not lost on me. It’s the beginning of Holy Week for Christians and today is Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the traditional day on the Christian calendar in which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey while the crowds waived palm branches and shouted “Hosanna in the highest”. According to the Gospels, this event happened a few days before the Passover festival was to begin in Jerusalem. Passover starts in just over a month. This is one example of a calendar difference, an issue of timing between Christianity and Judaism, but that’s another subject for another time. Today I want to share and highlight some of the not oft shared similarities between the two faith traditions as espoused in a recent document released by the Catholic Church. I highly encourage you to read the official document here.
-Credit Where Credit is Due-
This post I’m sharing today was inspired by the Messiah Journal 122 article titled “The Vatican’s New Perspective on Judaism: New attitudes inspire hope for reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity” written by D. Thomas Lancaster and published by First Fruits of Zion, Winter 2016/5776. Order here.
Nostre Aetate is Latin for In Our Time. Nostre Aetate was the theologically revolutionary Catholic Church document released by the Vatican II Council in 1965. Nostre Aetate had at its core an objective to work towards repairing and strengthening the spiritual kinship shared by Christianity & Judaism. The document renounced anti-Semitism, the charge of deicide (killing God) and challenged the assumptions of replacement theology (the Church as Israel’s replacement in Gods plan). The effects of Nostre Aetate have remained increasingly relevant to Jewish & Christian relations since its release and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Nostre Aetate, the Vatican released a new theological document, based on Romans 11:29, titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable”. The new paper released by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, revisits, clarifies and updates the intentions of Nostre Aetate.
In the Preface for “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable”, the stated aim is to explore theological topics “such as the relevance of revelation, the relationship between the Old and the New Covenant, the relationship between the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ and the affirmation that the covenant of God with Israel has never been revoked, and the Church’s mandate to evangelize in relation to Judaism. This document presents Catholic reflections on these questions, placing them in a theological context, in order that their significance may be deepened for members of both faith traditions.”
I first read about the new Catholic document “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable” a few weeks ago and I was immediately impressed with its progressive ideas, powerful statements and sound theology according to my estimation. I guess I was largely surprised by this because I was largely unaware of Nostre Aetate and the work that has been done in the past 50 years to bridge the gap between Christianity and Judaism by the Catholic Church. I’ve been on record with this blog in the past as someone who has been critical of Catholic doctrine and traditions and this new reflection is in no way an endorsement of Catholic theology as a whole. But reading this new paper from a Messianic Jewish perspective I was blown away by the succinct language employed by the Vatican to communicate Biblical and historical truths that have been neglected for millennia. Especially since the Church was the very reason why suspect theology beget such an unfortunate history towards the Jewish people in the first place. The FFOZ article highlighted the work that has been done by Messianic Rabbi Dr. Mark Kinzer, through him being a key participant in the Helsinki Consultation, which is an ecumenical forum that is focused on the relationship between the Church, the Jewish people, and the Messiah. Rabbi Kinzer discovered Jesus while in a Catholic setting and recently published a book ‘Searching Her Own Mystery’ which calls on the Church to consider its Jewish origins, close affinity and rootedness within the framework of Israel.
The new Vatican document speaks of the special theological status of Jewish-Christian dialogue of the two distinct and yet mutually related faith traditions. With that end in mind, I will share just a small sampling (way too many to include in a short post) of some of the direct quotes I found most stimulating. I urge you not just to blow through these statements but to really comprehend and think on what they’re saying and their implications. I cannot overstate that from a Messianic Jewish theological perspective this is fascinating stuff coming from a Catholic committee.
-On the Jewish Roots of Christianity-
“Jesus was a Jew, was at home in the Jewish tradition of his time, and was decisively shaped by this religious milieu. His first disciples gathered around him, had the same heritage and were defined by the same Jewish tradition in their everyday life.”
“One cannot understand Jesus’ teaching or that of his disciples without situating it within the Jewish horizon in the context of the living tradition of Israel; one would understand his teachings even less so if they were seen in opposition to this tradition.”
“Fully and completely human, a Jew of his time, descendant of Abraham, son of David, shaped by the whole tradition of Israel, heir of the prophets, Jesus stands in continuity with his people and its history.”
“From a theological perspective, Christians need to refer to the Judaism of Jesus’ time and to a degree also the Judaism that developed from it over the ages for their own self-understanding. Given Jesus’ Jewish origins, coming to terms with Judaism in one way or another is indispensable for Christians.”
“The soil that nurtured both Jews and Christians is the Judaism of Jesus’ time, which not only brought forth Christianity but also, after the destruction of the temple in the year 70, post-biblical rabbinical Judaism.”
“Thus Jews and Christians have the same mother and can be seen, as it were, as two siblings who – as is the normal course of events for siblings – have developed in different directions.”
“The first Christians were Jews; as a matter of course they gathered as apart of the community in the synagogue, they observed the dietary laws, the Sabbath, and the requirement of circumcision, while at the same time confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah sent by God for the salvation of Israel and the entire human race.”
“The separation of the Church from the Synagogue does not take place abruptly however and, according to some recent insights, may not have been complete until well into the third or fourth centuries. This means that many Jewish Christians of the first period did not perceive any contradiction between living in accordance with some aspects of the Jewish tradition and yet confessing Jesus as the Christ.”
-On Replacement Theology or Supersessionism-
“While affirming salvation through an explicit or even implicit faith in Christ, the Church does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel. A replacement or supersession theology which sets against one another two separate entities, a Church of the Gentiles and the rejected Synagogue whose place it takes, is deprived of its foundations.”
“There have often been attempts to identify this replacement theory in the Epistle to the Hebrews. This Epistle, however, is not directed to the Jews but rather to the Christians of Jewish background who have become weary and uncertain. Its purpose is to strengthen their faith and to encourage them to persevere, by pointing to Christ Jesus as the true and ultimate high priest, the mediator of the new covenant.”
“At issue in the Epistle to the Hebrews is not the contrast of the Old and New Covenants as we understand them today, nor a contrast between the church and Judaism. Rather, the contrast is between the eternal heavenly priesthood of Christ and the transitory earthly priesthood.”
-On Salvation and Evangelism-
“Nevertheless, from the theological perspective the dialogue with Judaism has a completely different character and is on a different level in comparison with the other world religions. The faith of the Jews testified to in the Bible, found in the Old Testament, is not for Christians another religion but the foundation of their own faith, although clearly the figure of Jesus is the sole key for the Christian interpretation of the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The cornerstone of the Christian faith is Jesus.”
“Therefore there are not two paths to salvation according to the expression “Jews hold to the Torah, Christians hold to Christ”. Christian faith proclaims that Christ’s work of salvation is universal and involves all mankind. God’s word is one single and undivided reality which takes concrete form in each respective historical context.”
“Since God has never revoked his covenant with his people Israel, there cannot be different paths or approaches to God’s salvation. The theory that there may be two different paths to salvation, the Jewish path without Christ and the path with the Christ, whom Christians believe is Jesus of Nazareth, would in fact endanger the foundations of Christian faith. Confessing the universal and therefore also exclusive mediation of salvation through Jesus Christ belongs to the core of Christian faith.”
“It is the belief of the Church that Christ is the Savior for all. There cannot be two ways of salvation, therefore, since Christ is also the Redeemer of the Jews in addition to the Gentiles.”
“While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah.”
My hope and prayer is that this Jewish-Christian dialogue continues to move forward with God speed in a real and tangible way and it reaches the masses and lay people of both faith traditions. It will be a mutual blessing and its end will be eternal riches in Messiah and the World to Come for all of God’s people. Amen & Amen!
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” – Romans 11:33