Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Jewish Christ

So, summer! Hopefully I can blog more often now. Anyway, this next topic is actually related to my last post. I was typing up my last blog, and I realized that what had started as a blog about the solidity of Christ had turned into a post about the Jewishness of Christ. I knew that both needed their own post, so I decided to put this one off until... now. Here it is.

I have sometimes referred to the Jewishness of Christ as the best-kept secret of Christianity. If you are at all familiar with the history of Jewish-Christian relations, you know why I call it that. Throughout history, dating back even to the writing of the New Testament, non-Jewish Christians have been hostile to the Jews. Paul addresses this hostility and arrogance in Romans, pointing out to the Gentiles that the Jews are the original Chosen People of God-we, as Gentiles, are wild branches grafted into the cultivated tree, while the Jews are the original branches. This is important.

The Jews are the original Chosen People of God. The Old Testament is built on this assumption that Israel is God's Chosen People, and God is Israel's God, in a way not true of any other people. One of my favorite titles for God is "The Holy One of Israel." I'm not going to completely unpack this title, but I am going to bring out one thing that's relevant. He is not just "The Holy One." He is the Holy One of Israel. How incredible is this? The omnipotent Creator of the Universe, infinite in his power and majesty, gloriously holy, condescends to be the God of one small, insignificant group of people-not only that, but he personally brings them into being, sets them apart, nurtures them and protects them. There are many passages which suggest a marriage between God and Israel-indeed, it is this marriage on which all marriages are based. There is this unbreakable bond between God and his people, the people of Israel. This bond has remained constant since Israel was only one person, one family. It remained when Israel rejected God in favor of earthly kings; it remained when Israel frequently slipped back into idol worship; it remained when Israel was taken into captivity, and it remained when Israel returned once again to their Promised Land. And, according to Paul , it remains constant still. And it is in relation to this bond and not apart from it that God became man.

I should say that a lot of what I'm thinking about has been greatly influenced by Karl Barth's "The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country." He wrote quite a bit on Christ and the Incarnation: specifically, concerning this topic of Israel and the Jews, he wrote:

"The Word did not simply become any "flesh," any man humbled and suffering. It became Jewish flesh. The Church's whole doctrine of the incarnation and the atonement becomes abstract and valueless and meaningless to the extent that this comes to be regarded as something accidental and incidental. The New Testament witness to Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, stands on the soil of the Old Testament and cannot be separated from it. The pronouncements of New Testament Christology... relate always to a man who is seen to be not a man in general, a neutral man, but the conclusion and sum of the history of God with the people of Israel, the One who fulfills the covenant made by God with this people."

The Jews are the Chosen People of God. Not a chosen people. The Chosen People. It is important to keep this in mind when thinking about the Incarnation. The Word became a Jewish man, became Jewish flesh, for a particular reason-it was in no way accidental. If you take away the Jewishness of Christ, make him an Everyman, a "neutral man," Israel is left drifting, as if God had forgotten about her, as if God had forsaken his Chosen People. Our own faith is left disconnected from the Jewish faith of the Old Testament, and even from the God of the Old Testament. Paul tells us that God will complete the work he has begun in us-Christ is the everlasting, eternally ongoing completion of the good work he began in Israel. This is God coming down and taking the place not of any group of people, but of his people. He remains the Holy One of Israel, but now he is also the holy Israelite, the first truly holy Jewish person to ever live. In him God fulfills his promises to punish the unrighteous and reward the righteous, for Christ fulfills both roles. In him God fulfills his promise to use Israel to save the world. And in him God will save Israel.

I like to think of Jesus as...

All right, long time since my last post, sorry guys. I'm going to really try to post on a regular basis from now on. Anyways...

Some of you may have heard the term "Everyman". It is a figure in a book, play, or movie, who is not really a character of his own-instead, he is meant to represent everyone and anyone. He is not white, black, or hispanic-he has no ethnicity. Although he is probably portrayed as male, he can usually be replaced with a female "Everywoman" without altering the story he is in. He has no specific likes or dislikes, no pet peeves or special characteristics that set him apart from anyone else. He has no birthplace, nor is he a specific age. In short, he is anyone you want him to be.

Now we get to the point of this blog entry. If you know me well, you might have heard this rant before and already know where it's going. Here it is-Jesus was not and is not an Everyman.
Jesus was a real person. He was born at a specific time in history, and the place of his birth can be pinpointed on a map. He was male. He liked certain things (holiness) and disliked (and hated) other certain things. Possibly the most important thing about Jesus (you know, besides him being God) is that he was Jewish.

The point of this is that Jesus is not whoever you want him to be. You might have seen the movie "Talledega Nights" (I am not suggesting you do see it: in fact, you probably shouldn't). If you have seen it, you know which scene I'm talking about. While funny, it is wrong in almost every sense. You can't say, "Well, sometimes it's just easier to think of him as white, like I am." Would you think that about a friend of yours who isn't white? Of course you wouldn't. That would be obviously wrong. Same with Jesus. Jesus was not exactly like you are, and it would be wrong to picture him as such.

I'm reading what I've written, and I sound like a grumpy, old-fashioned Christian telling young people to stop being so disrespectful. I'm not trying to sound like that. But I'm tired of people acting as if Jesus is a blank slate on which they can put whatever they want, whatever they need for Jesus to be. In addition, I think that Jesus' "solidity," his real personhood, is incredibly comforting. It means that the author and perfecter of our faith, the one in who's name we pray, is not "a" Jesus-he is "the" Jesus, the one and only. He is the focal point of our faith, and it is comforting that this point is fixed and cannot be moved.