A Jewish View of the Gospel

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Some years ago I went to meet a Jewish rabbi who became a close friend. As we talked, I found that 90% of our work was the same – leading, caring, births, deaths and marriages, engaging community and schools nearby. For 2000 years the church chose to magnify differ-ences and approve persecution of Jews. In a society where education and property and travel are the gods, our shared belief in the spiritual nature of human life and values makes other differences unimportant.

Christian belief is a mix of Jewish and Greek strands. I value most the Jewish aspects. Like Jesus, I love open debate, as we read in the story of the scholar asking about the Torah. I like to think of Jesus as a great teacher: the scholar used this term. I like to think of him as Rabbi, ‘great one’, as he is called by the disciples, in John, and by Nicodemus of the Sanhedrin who quietly visited him by night to talk. 

Of course Jesus’ teaching was not new. The love of neighbour and stranger is taught in the Holiness Code in Leviticus- it is a spiritual mandate, supported by Deut 10: 17, that God has no favourites and neither must we. The ‘New Covenant’ with its sense of individual connection to the divine comes from the vision of Jeremiah that God will write the Torah on each heart and everyone will know God directly.

Despite these transformative and enduring truths, Jesus’ followers became a messianic sect and parted from Rabbinic Judaism. An early sign of this is the way Matthew is put first in the NT with the first verse saying Jesus was the Messiah, leading to a genealogy of Jesus tracing back to king David. Mark is similar but calls Jesus Son of God. The Greek Fathers burdened us with world-denying Greek theology that disembodied spirituality from sexuality. What you believe about Jesus Christ Son of God became more important than following his Way. Seeing all this, Jesus must be turning in his grave.

In the story called the Good Samaritan the Jewish scholar asks about eternal life, like asking Billy Graham how to be saved. Are you surprised that the answer is totally about loving one’s neighbour? And it is not about drawing a line to limit the number of neighbours, as the scholar may have hoped. it is about us being neighbourly especially to the most needy. Our love of the divine is meaningless without love of neighbour. For someone who lives in a loving way, the eternal will take care of itself.


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