Is from the Jews"
on Saving Grace within Judaism
and on Messianic Hope within Christianity
Prof. Aaron Milavec
Preface (see below)
1: Saving Mr. Martin from Hellfire
2: Legalism and Grace among Jews and Christians
3: The Story of Salvation?-Return to Humility and Truth
4: The Gradual Emergence of the Church out of Synagogue Judaism
5: Jesus' Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen as Affirming Jewish
6: Jesus as Messiah: Christian Humility and Jewish Objections
7: The Unsavory Odor of Christian Evangelization
Reflections on Covenant and Mission
Three boundaries are very clear. The first is that Jesus was personally
committed to Judaism and that he trained his disciples to interpret
and to do Torah in the anticipation of the kingdom of God that
was just ready to break into history. At no point did Jesus or
his first disciples renounce their Judaism in favor of establishing
a new religion. If the Jesus movement had consistently retained
this legacy of Jesus, it would undoubtedly have remained a sub?group
within Judaism to this very day. But it did not.
us to the second clear boundary. By the mid-second century, Gentile?dominated
segments of the Jesus movement retained their self?definition
as "the true Israel" while, at the same time, rejecting
all forms of Judaism that were not absorbed into their own movement.
History after this, Jacob Neusner reminds us, was marked by the
intimacy and the bitterness characteristic of a "family quarrel":
We have ample
evidence for characterizing as a family quarrel the relationship
between the two great religious traditions of the West. Only brothers
can hate so deeply, yet accept and tolerate so impassively, as
have Judaic and Christian brethren both hated, and yet taken for
granted the presence of, one another.
clear boundary is also very clear. In the early 1960s, the antagonisms
fueled by this family quarrel were, for the first time, being
rigorously reexamined because the smoke of burning Jewish children
was in our nostrils. Since then, a small measure of mutual understanding
and healing has been achieved. Official and unofficial dialogues
between Jews and Christians have emerged nearly everywhere. After
nineteen hundred years, Christians and Jews are again listening
attentively to each other with respect. The painful topics that
have been brushed under the rug for centuries can now be publicly
remains to be done. And the time is short. For, as the geo-political
realism of John Paul II reminds us, "in order to be a blessing
for the world, Jews and Christians need first to be a blessing
for each other." May this volume facilitate this end!
rhetoric defining Jews as "Christ-killers" was officially
abandoned by Catholics during the last session of the Vatican
Council in 1965. Expanding upon that prophetic impulse, the Vatican's
1985 Notes on the Correct Way to Present Judaism told Catholics,
point blank, that "Jesus was and always remained a Jew"
(Notes sec. 12) thereby putting an end to the imagined claim that
Jesus himself rejected Judaism as a defective religion. In this
same document, Catholics were also made familiar with the ways
in which Jesus shared common ground with the Pharisees of his
day and were warned that "an exclusively negative picture
of the Pharisees is likely to be inaccurate and unjust" (Notes
sec. 19). In 1998, Catholics were instructed that "no one
can remain indifferent [to the Shoah/Holocaust], least of all
the Church, by reason of her very close bonds of spiritual kinship
with the Jewish people" (We Remember sec. 1). Finally, in
2002, by virtue of "Reflections on Covenant and Mission,"
Catholics were asked to consider whether Judaism?-"the faithful
response of the Jewish people to God's irrevocable covenant"?-ought
to be regarded as "salvific" for Jews quite apart from
any relationship with Jesus.
Each of these
steps forward was the triumph of grace. Each step forward, however,
was hindered by the troubling tension Christians feel between
their own fierce acceptance of the crucified Christ and the overwhelming
Jewish rejection of Jesus. Christian preachers, consequently,
routinely exalt the wisdom and grace that has come to them through
Jesus and Mary; meanwhile, seldom, if ever, do these same preachers
draw any significant attention to the wisdom and grace that has
come to them through the children of Abraham and Sarah. Even the
Vatican's 1985 Notes on the Correct Way to Present Judaism can
say many wonderful things about Jews and Judaism but then turn
around and starkly declare that the "Church and Judaism cannot
then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation" (Notes 7).
Even Jews, therefore, who "remain very dear to God"
(Nostra Aetate 4) are, like the followers of other world religions,
"objectively speaking . . . in a gravely deficient situation
in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness
of the means of salvation" (Dominus Jesus 22). Those who
reject Christ, consequently, are repeatedly harassed by evangelical
Christians bent upon converting them before the end times begins.
This Book Began Fifty Years Ago
of this book began as I myself was torn by the love-hate relationship
between Catholics and Jews in an ethnic suburb of Cleveland. My
early religious training within Catholic schools and my early
cultural training at the outbreak of World War II made it quite
natural for me to pity, to blame, and to despise Jews. Had I been
bombarded by Hitler's speeches blaming and shaming Jews, I would
undoubtedly have cheered him on. The greater part of my family
and neighbors would have done the same. In point of fact, however,
I never had contact with a single living Jew. "Let them stay
where they belong" was my Dad's favorite line. But, then,
in an unexpected moment, a real flesh and blood Jew, Mr. Martin,
made his way into my life.
I was an
impressionable boy of sixteen in 1955. Mr. Martin agreed to employ
me part?time as a stock?boy in his dry goods store on East 185th
Street. I desperately needed a larger income than my Cleveland
Plain Dealer route had been able to afford me; hence, I felt lucky
to have landed this new job. But I was also anxious since Mr.
Martin was a Jew, and I was a committed Christian. Would he want
to exploit me? Would he treat me fairly? Would he want me to work
on Sundays or other religious holidays?
months I was testing Mr. Martin and, unbeknownst to me, he was
testing me as well. One evening, after closing, I was sweeping
the floor when I found a crumpled twenty-dollar bill under the
counter. My starting salary was fifty cents per hour, and twenty
dollars represented a lot of money for a teenager in 1955. Yet,
without thinking twice, my Christian instincts prompted me to
turn the money over to Mr. Martin "lest someone come asking
for it." It didn't even occur to me that the money would
be mine if no one claimed it or that I might receive a handsome
reward if someone did.
As for my
tests, Mr. Martin passed with flying colors. He was genuinely
sensitive to my religious convictions and school obligations when
it came to scheduling my work hours. He treated me fairly, at
times even generously, and this disarmed all my reservations in
working for a Jew. In fact, I came to admire Mr. Martin, and this
admiration presented me with a new problem, a theological problem.
I knew that God had slated all Jews for eternal damnation because
of what they did to Jesus. I also knew that Jews couldn't go to
confession to obtain pardon for such a grievous sin. On the other
hand, it seemed unfair, somehow, that God should hold Mr. Martin
guilty for such a crime. If he did not harm me, even in little
ways, how could he have ever consented to handing an innocent
man over to Roman torturers two thousand years ago? Thus began
my soul-searching journey to try and find a way to rescue just
one Jew from the fires of hell.
As it happened,
the righteousness of one Jew, Mr. Martin, ignited a fire in my
brain that refused to go out. This book, accordingly, is dedicated
to the man who set me on the road to discover a world of Judaism
that I would have never have imagined existed. I was sixteen then.
Now, I am sixty-six. It took me fifty years to gain the wisdom
and the experience to write this book which fulfills a tacit promise
I made to Mr. Martin?-namely, that he would never be tormented
in the fires of Gehennah.
of What One Will Find in this Volume
explains how Christians, in general, and Catholics, in particular,
have taken the prophetic stance of reevaluating the Judaism of
Jesus and the break of the church with the synagogue. Readers
of this volume will discover how to unearth within the Christian
Scriptures and orthodox theology the affirmations of Judaism that
have been hidden from our eyes. Likewise, readers will be alerted
to how the poison of anti-Judaism has misrepresented and disfigured
what Christian theology has to say about the faith, the forgiveness,
and the salvation brought to us from Judaism through Jesus Christ.
Distorted notions of theology and spirituality will be examined
in detail. At each step of the way, this volume will endeavor
to build bridges of mutual understanding that will serve both
Christians and Jews to cross the chasm of distrust that has infected
both church and synagogue over the centuries.
will explore the following issues:
* How legalism
and grace function side by side within Judaism as well as within
Christianity. How Jews experience God as Father independent of
* How the
history of salvation formulated within traditional Christianity
overlooks and distorts the decisive Jewish contribution to God's
plan of redemption. How Jews find divine forgiveness independent
* When and
why the church broke its ties with Judaism. How Jesus' Parable
of the Wicked Husbandmen affirms Jewish election.
* Why Jews
object to the messianic character of Jesus and how Christians,
in response, are groping toward a more honest assessment of Jesus
as the Messiah of God. How the Jewish "no" to Jesus
was providentially necessary in order that the blessings of salvation
might be available to Christians.
* What it
means for Christians to embrace Jesus as "Son of God."
How Judaism has a taste for the incarnation even without considering
* How Jews
have been terrified by programs of Christian evangelization. Reflections
on why such programs are neither beneficial nor necessary today.
in the Prayers for Jews on Good Friday
In a nutshell,
the transformations in the prayers for Jews on Good Friday illustrate
the transitions anticipated within this book. For centuries, Catholics
habitually prayed for "the faithless Jews -- that our God
and Lord would withdraw the veil [of ignorance?] from their hearts."
Then a new pope, John XXIII, interrupted the liturgy of Good Friday
and decreed that prayers badmouthing Jews and Judaism ware never
again to be used in his cathedral church. Soon thereafter he formed
a special commission to study the question. Then a Vatican Council
was convened. The assembled bishops of Vatican II took bold steps
(against the tradition as it had been) when they declared that
the Jewish people have been and continue to be "very dear
to God . . . since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed
or the choice he made" (Nostra Aetate 4). Blood-guilt was
liturgical renewal was in full swing after the Council, the earlier
abrasive and triumphalistic prayers of Good Friday were dropped.
In their place, however, one found a milder language that continued
to enforce a troublesome image of Jews:
Let us also
pray that our God and Lord will look kindly on the Jews, so that
they too may acknowledge the Redeemer of all, Jesus Christ (Lectionary,
Gone is the
notion that Jews are faithless and ignorant. In its place, however,
is the petition that "our" God "will" (at
some future time) "look kindly on the Jews"?-the intimation
being that he has not in the past and cannot do so in the future
until they acknowledged Jesus as the universal Redeemer. All in
all, Catholics in the 70s still heard nothing in the Good Friday
liturgy that reflected the positive appraisal of Judaism approved
during Vatican II.
Only in 1985
did the praying church finally catch up with and begin to express
sentiments of the (official) believing church:
Let us pray
for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that
they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness
to his covenant (Lectionary, 1985).
is admirable aligned to Vatican II. It captures the notion that
the Jewish people have a unique place and a historical priority
in so far as they are "the first to hear the word of God."
Then, too, it captures the reality that the Jewish people are
not to be stigmatized as needing our prayers because they are
fallen and faithless but?-quite positively?-they are those who
"continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness
to his covenant." This prayer carries the tacit recognition
that the Mosaic Covenant incites love and faithfulness independent
of that Messianic Covenant that Christians associate with Jesus.
Each of the
chapters of this book prepare for or expand the implications of
the 1985 prayer for the Jewish people on Good Friday.
of this book comes from the well-known Jesus' words to the Samaritan
woman at the well. As an alternative, the title could have been
borrowed from Paul's question: "What advantage has the Jew?
Or what is the value of circumcision?" (Rom 3:1) The sub-title
then might have been Paul's response: "Much, in every way.
For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles
of God" (Rom 3:2). Or, again, the title might have been the
words of Jesus heard in Matthew's Gospel: "Whoever breaks
one of the least of these commandments [delivered to us through
Moses], and teaches others to do the same, will be called least
in the kingdom of heaven" (5:19). For its brevity and for
its depth, however, Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman were chosen:
"You [Samaritans] worship what you do not know; we [Jews]
worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews" (John
4:22). Here very clearly Jesus designates himself as having found
true worship and true salvation among his people, the Jews. Raymond
E. Brown says quite forthrightly:
to a foreigner, Jesus gives to the Jews a different significance
[from what one finds elsewhere in this gospel], and the term ["Jews"]
refers to the whole Jewish people. This line is a clear indication
that the Johannine attitude to the Jews cloaks neither an anti-Semitism
of the modern variety nor a view that rejects the spiritual heritage
is directed toward making plain, for novices and experts alike,
how Jesus' words to the Samaritan women have been systematically
obscured and, for a long time, even openly denied by the theology
and the practice of the followers of Jesus. All of this, however,
is about to change. . . .