I recently taught a session in a course on Judaism and Early Christianity in which I talked about developments over the past 75 years in the ways that Christians have related to Jews. I went back to some material that I had developed when teaching fulltime, and amongst that, I found the following reflection. I wrote this in 2012, at a time when I was concluding 12 years as a member (and six years as co-convenor) of the Uniting Church’s National Dialogue with the Jewish People. I think it still holds good.
“Love your neighbour…”, Jesus instructs us—drawing on his own personal non-Christian tradition (Judaism, and the Hebrew Scriptures which stand at the heart of this faith). “Who is our neighbour?”, we may well ask. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others, are near to us. They are our near neighbours. We have a commission to relate to them in love.
To take just one example from this list of other faiths: in Australia, we have had Jews beside us and in our midst since the First Fleet itself! Jewish individuals have made significant contributions to Australian society in many spheres. In recent decades, the relationship between Christians and Jews has been nurtured and has developed in positive and constructive ways. It is time for us to ask, what “fresh expression” of our faith might we make, arising out of our relationship with Jewish people?
For almost two decades, the Uniting Church has engaged in a formal Dialogue with representatives of the Jewish Community in Australia. With my wife, Rev. Elizabeth Raine, I have participated in this national Dialogue group. We meet twice each calendar year, to share concerns, discuss issues, read scripture together, and canvass ways in which we might work together for a better society. This group is one of many hundreds of such groups around the world, seeking mutual understanding and common action for justice.
The international movement of Jewish-Christian dialogue has been growing since the late 1940s. Out of that movement, has come an understanding that Christians need to create a renewed understanding of who we are, and what we believe. No longer is it possible to dismiss Jews as people enslaved to a legalistic religion. No longer is it possible to declare that Christ has rendered obsolete the “old covenant” and put in its place a spiritually vigorous “new covenant”.
Instead, we are reminded of the ancient claims of Paul. For one, he wrote, “Has God rejected his people? By no means!” (Rom 11:1)—that is, the covenant made with Israel needs to be considered as ongoing, valid, continuing, into our own time. For another, Paul declared, “It is not as though the word of God had failed” (Rom 9:6)—that is, God’s promises to Israel stand fast in their own right, and will be fulfilled in their own right, not through any adaptation or mediation as imposed by another religious group. And then, there is Paul’s climactic cry: “And so all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26)—that is, Jews have access in their own right, through their own faith, to the God of Abraham, alongside the access that is granted through Jesus.
If we take seriously the rediscovery of these affirmations, we will seek to make a “fresh expression” of the Gospel which acknowledges these claims. There is important theological work to be undertaken to enable us to declare afresh the Gospel in our immediate context of a multicultural, multi-faith society!
If we are prepared to stand alongside Jews, as fellow children of God with equal insight into God’s ways, then we will start to create a “fresh expression” of what it means to be people of faith within our contemporary Australian society. There are important steps to be taken in shaping communities of faith for our time!
And if we recognise that Jews and Christians each orient our belief towards the same God, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekah, the God of Mary and Jesus, of Peter and Paul, of Priscilla and Phoebe—then we will seek to implement actions based on that faith, in new and fresh ways within our society. This is the challenge that I see, most immediately, from my involvement in one growing area of the church’s life.
Some of my blogs from the last few years that touch on some of these matters include:
Amy Jill Levine has produced a helpful guide to the ways we might deal with these texts, noting what is helpful and what is not helpful in the various approaches; see https://www.abc.net.au/religion/holy-week-and-the-hatred-of-the-jews/