The Church on the Jews

Friday, June 27, 2003



Sadly, for nearly 2,000 years, the relationship between Christians and Jews has been a tense one. Christians have sinned through anti-semiticism. We have sinned so gravely that we must admit some responsibility for the holocaust in Europe during WWII.

The Catholic Church has issued a formal apology for the antisemitic actions of its members. Some people say the apology did not go far enough, and did not take enough responsibility for admitting that the official teaching authority of the Church sometimes erred by encouraging antisemiticism.

Pope John Paul II has quietly worked behind the scenes throughout his papacy to improve relations between Jews and Christians. However, I thought it may be refreshing simply to look at the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the subject of God's chosen people, the biological and cultural descendants of Sarah and Abraham:

From Lumen Gentium no. 16 of the Second Vatican Council:

16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.[18] There is, first, that people to which the covenants and promises were made, and from which Christ was born according to the flesh (cf. Rom. 9:4-5): in view of the divine choice, they are a people most dear for the sake of the fathers, for the gifts of God are without repentance (cf. Rom. 11:29-29).

The Church also states in The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

839 "Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways."(325)

The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People,(326) "the first to hear the Word of God."(327) The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews "belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ",(328) "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable."(329)

840 And when one considers the future, God's People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.

325 LG 16.
326 Cf. NA 4.
327 Roman Missal, Good Friday 13:General Intercessions,VI.
328 Rom 9:4-5.
329 Rom 11:29.

The Church teaches that the gifts of God are irrevocable! The promises made to Abraham and Sarah regarding their descendants remain true today. Perhaps we could say that from a Christian perspective, the New Covenant does not replace the original Covenants. Rather, the New Covenant in Christ and the original Hebrew Covenants run parrallel to one another!

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus Christ did not come to abolish the law, but to bring it to completion and perfection in himself. Isn't this the goal of any good Jew? Indeed, many Biblical scholars are coming to see that Jesus was fully a Jew who lived, thought, prayed, ate, and in every way acted according to Jewish norms and Jewish culture.

It is true that Jesus was what we might call a "progressive" Jew for his times. He often added a new nuance to an old teaching, or interpreted tradition in a fashion that developed from its original intent into a new application in his day, or he transformed the meaning of symbols. He was "liberal" in his day on many issues, though he seemed to be encourage celibacy and was conservative about divorce. Nevertheless, even where he is creative with Jewish tradition, he is acting within the tradition!

Christianity is not really a replacement of Judaism. Rather, Christianity has evolved as a form of Judaism that was open to Gentiles. It is a tradition of an interpretation of the Jewish experience in light of Jesus.

Even before Jesus, some Gentiles became Jewish. To do so meant forsaking Gentile culture and mores. However, in the thought of Saint Paul, the Judaism expressed by Jesus permitted a Gentile convert a means of becoming Jewish without accpeting the specific laws and cultural mores that applied solely to the children of Abraham and Sarah.

I may have lost some people here, so let me clarify.

Paul did not ever explicitly teach a Jew to forsake the law of Moses. Rather, in Paul's mind, it seems that Gentiles were not bound by the law of the Moses precisely because they are not children of Sarah and Abraham.

Since Jesus died for sins, and came first for his own people, it made no sense to impose laws on Gentiles that even first century Jews could not follow - since those laws were not meant for Gentiles even at the time of Moses promulgated them! Paul's argument is that Jesus did not come to expand the scope of the law, but to fullfill it in himself for the sake of all people!

Yet, it is questionable whether Paul would have taught that a Jew should abandon his cultural heritage. We need to bear this point in mind when we Christians interact with Jews.

Sharing the good news of Jesus should never be about asking a Jew to forsake Judiasm. Paul did not teach this, and Jesus, himself, was an exemplary Jew! For at least two centuries, Christianity was probably comprised in the majority by Jews or the children of the Jewish diaspora! Even today, a person could be a Christian and a good Jew simultaneously!

Yet, Jews do not need to be converted to Jesus in order to be saved either! See my thoughts on salvation outside of the Church for more detail on this notion. Bear in mind that teh Catholic Church is clear on this - Jews can be mysteriously and invisibly united to the Church, and therefore be saved as Jews.

Rather than trying to "convert" the Jews, we Christians ought to be trying to learn more about the faith of our elder sisters and brothers from whom our Messiah came! I know that my own Jewish friends have taught me much about their customs that sheds light on what teh Bible is really saying. Christians who do not approach Jews with an open mind and heart to learn from the Jewish people are missing out on a chance of deepening our own faith!

Peace and Blessings!

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posted by Jcecil3 4:05 PM

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