"Salvation Is from the Jews"
(John 4:22)

Reflections on Saving Grace within Judaism
and on Messianic Hope within Christianity

Prof. Aaron Milavec


Preface (see below)

Chapter 1: Saving Mr. Martin from Hellfire

Chapter 2: Legalism and Grace among Jews and Christians

Chapter 3: The Story of Salvation?-Return to Humility and Truth

Chapter 4: The Gradual Emergence of the Church out of Synagogue Judaism

Chapter 5: Jesus' Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen as Affirming Jewish Election

Chapter 6: Jesus as Messiah: Christian Humility and Jewish Objections

Chapter 7: The Unsavory Odor of Christian Evangelization

Epilogue: Reflections on Covenant and Mission

Index 307



Preface


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.

This brings 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.

The third 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 aired.

Yet, much 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!

Progress and Decline

The inflammatory 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.

How This Book Began Fifty Years Ago

The reflections 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?

Over the 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.

Details of What One Will Find in this Volume

This book 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.

This volume 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 Jesus.

* 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 of Jesus.

* 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 Jesus.

* How Jews have been terrified by programs of Christian evangelization. Reflections on why such programs are neither beneficial nor necessary today.

Transformations 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 decreed off-limits.

When the 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, 1969).

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).

This prayer 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.

Choice of Title

The title 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:

Here, speaking 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 of Judaism.

This book 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. . . .