Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The survival of the Church is inextricably bound to the survival of Israel

Folks, I’ve been meaning for a while to start a string of posts on Judaism – both biblical and post-biblical – and Judaica in general, but other events sidetracked me. I wanted When Anti-Zionism Turns Into Anti-Semitism which I posted last month to be the flag-bearer of the series but its place will be taken instead by yesterday’s discussion of the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s (PBC) document, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible.

To continue the series I want to comment on this excellent article by David P. Goldman published in the June/July 2009 issue of the journal First Things, entitled Jewish Survival in a Gentile World. These are some salient points from that article:

·  It is no exaggeration to say that observant Jews and orthodox Christians have more in common with each other than either has in common with liberal or secular Jews on the one hand and liberal Christians on the other. Indeed, Jews who affirm the election of Israel should consider it all the more providential that Benedict XVI comes now as a witness to Jewish holiness. He told delegates of the Israeli rabbinate on March 12, “The Jewish people, who were chosen as the elected people, communicate to the whole human family knowledge of and fidelity to the one, unique, and true God.”

· The pope stands alongside observant Jews on one side of a great divide within the Jewish people. It is just as remarkable that observant Jews have become allies of the pope against his own detractors in the Catholic Church. The pope’s letter to Catholic bishops on the mishandling of the Lefebvrist-bishops affair (published the same day as that meeting with the Israeli clergy) declares: “I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility. Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust which—as in the days of Pope John Paul II—has also existed throughout my pontificate and, thank God, continues to exist.”

· Observant Jews whose suspicion of the Church has been honed by centuries of ill experience have trouble absorbing the odd circumstance that Providence has placed them in the same foxhole as Benedict XVI. But the crisis in Catholic–Jewish relations over the lifting of the Lefebvrist bishops’ excommunication has led to a moment of clarity. After the pope’s response, there can be no doubt that we have in Benedict a theologian with a deep understanding of Jews’ relation to God. We have also learned that the pope’s opponents inside the Church are our opponents. As a simple matter of fact, the pope’s opponents now aggregate on the left; the atrophied right wing of the Church, held up as a horror story to frighten the Jews, has little remaining influence—with the result that Catholics who oppose the pope on the ordination of women, the Church’s claim to unique truth, and the preservation of Europe’s Christian character are the Catholics who also overwhelmingly embrace the Palestinian Arab cause.

· When Christian theology declares that the New Testament fulfills the Old, they mean in effect that the history of Israel is a map to the inner life of every Christian. And this history is not simply a record interred in a book. The history of the Jewish people is manifest in the life of the Jewish people, for we are our history: Every one of us stood with Moses to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, and all who clung to YHWH are alive today, as we pray before reading the Torah in public. We, the living people of Israel, are a flesh-and-blood map to the salvation of every Christian.

· For Christians, it is not merely that God’s earthly incarnation was as a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, or that God’s promise to the Jews stands surety for what Christians believe to be his promise to them. The Christian’s rebirth to citizenship in Israel demands an inner transformation. When Christians say that Jesus fulfills the Torah and that his life recapitulates the defining miracles in the history of Israel, they mean that each Christian’s participation in Jesus’ sacrifice is the reliving of the history of Israel. The continued presence of Jews on this earth in God’s service is indispensable to Christian salvation, because it is the life of the family of Abraham that Christians must relive.

· For that reason Abraham Joshua Heschel averred without a hint of exaggeration that the wise old men who lead the Catholic Church know that Israel is so holy that our disappearance would endanger the existence of the Church. It is the Jew who converts the inner pagan inside each Christian, wrote Franz Rosenzweig, by which he meant that, absent the living people of Israel, the Israel of the Spirit into which Christians hope to be adopted too easily becomes an abstraction.

The whole article is captivating and may I say, true in its presuppositions, in its delivery, and its conclusions. Jews and Christians alike will find it challenging and may react toward it with various degrees of emotion, but both will be unable to ignore Mr. Goldman’s main thrust.

The quote by the eminent Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel also confirms an intuition that has been growing within me for a while now, first brought progressively to mind by my reading of a number of outstanding works of literature by Michael O’Brien (Father Elijah: An Apocalypse and Sophia House), Anne Rice (Servant of the Bones and the Christ the Lord series), and Chaim Potok (My Name Is Asher Lev and The Gift of Asher Lev) and then brought sharply into focus by the aforementioned PBC document, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible.

This is my intuition: as Israel goes, so goes the Church. Our destinies are inextricably intertwined. Destroy Israel and the Church will soon follow.

By “Israel” I don’t mean merely the State of Israel. That’s only a subset of Israel – and Mr. Goldman knows correctly that Catholics do not make the State of Israel coterminous with Israel in its biblical sense. I mean all of “them” and all of “it,” the Jewish people everywhere as well as their beliefs and practices. Were they to disappear suddenly, the Church would soon follow.

I therefore find unsurprising the length at which the devil, the world, and the flesh have gone to stamp out the Jews throughout history. How and whenever Christians lent themselves to the diabolical task of destroying, terrorizing, forcefully assimilating, banishing, or exterminating Jews, they were by their acts undermining the very foundations of the Church. Destroying Israel would guarantee the destruction of the Church. The devil knows this, hence his unceasing diligence in his quest to destroy Israel by the hands of Christians, when at all possible. The irony is not lost on him, I am sure.

(I believe there’s still much soul-searching to be done among us Christians to understand the meaning and implications that too many from those among us, followers of a Jewish Messiah, have been willing persecutors of the Jews throughout the ages. We need to come to terms with that too, so that we too can heal our “family tree.” But that’s a subject for later.)

I am positive that people from along the Jewish-Christian divide will find this intertwining of the Church and Israel profoundly unsettling, challenging, and threatening. This realization is bound to rekindle ancient suspicions and hatreds. This can be seen readily not only from the commentary that Jewish people had left at the bottom of Mr. Goldman’s article in First Things, but also by the “horror” at the supposed “Judaisation” of the Church shamelessly expressed by many within the Church and as exemplified by a writer in this thread at a Catholic Answers forum – a thoroughly orthodox Catholic organization, by the way, not responsible for what the commenters say – or by this Anti-Semitic blogger at The Ugly Truth. To them, Mr. Goldman’s arguments will be akin to blasphemy, I’m sure.

I harbor no illusions that sweetness and light will be the lot of those of us who see the intimate connection between Israel and the Church. Stones will be cast from both sides of the divide. Those who don’t mind their passions and know not the God who is Love will continue not only to hate, but also to incite others to hate. As far as Christians who hate Jews are concerned, were they to continue in their hate without repentance, confession, absolution and penance, will end in hell, for that’s the consequence of such a mortal sin. I’m sure that God-fearing Jews hold similar views regarding the hatemongers in their midst.

Let me finish by restating the principal insight that I gain from Mr. Goldman’s article: as Israel goes, so goes the Church. Our destinies are inextricably intertwined. Destroy Israel and the Church will soon follow: our mutual survival depends on our mutual, continued existence.

I think so. I know so.

- Read also Zionism for Christians, also by David Goldman, published in First Things the summer of 2008.