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The Jewishness of Jesus and the Horror in Pittsburgh

By Rev. Julie Wright

On Saturday, October 27, 2018, a gunman entered the Tree of Life Congregation killing eleven congregants, wounded several others, and sent shock waves of horror throughout the world.  Last Thursday I attended an interfaith prayer service at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, Minn. It was good to be together after such a horrific week.  It was essential to come together.

As I prepared to lead Sunday worship, my spouse asked if I would be carrying a cell phone in my pocket. “Of course not,” was my reply. I never bring a phone with me into worship. It’s a sacred time and space. However, the point was not lost on me: in an emergency, having a phone at the ready could mean the difference between life and death.  Must I now consider the safety of my congregation while in the sanctuary – by definition a safe place? “How have we gotten to this point?” I lamented.

For thousands of years, Christianity has tried valiantly to divorce Jesus from the Jewish life he lived and from the Jewish faith that gave him life.   That must stop. When we separate Jesus from his Jewish identity, we cease to see the full picture of Jesus.  Yes, I know we Christians like to focus on the divinity of Jesus, but what about the human aspects of Jesus?  We spend plenty of time in the season of Advent lauding the arrival of the newborn babe. During Lent, we focus on the pain and humiliation of Jesus’s crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. And yet, we like to pretend that the divine nature of Jesus out shadows the human experience of Jesus.

When you and I separate Jesus from his Jewishness, it’s easy then to vilify Jews or Arabs, Muslims or Sikhs, Blacks or any number of people who may not fit with the image of the blue-eyed, blond-haired Jesus that hangs in a number of American churches. When we deny the fullness of Jesus’s own humanity, it becomes dangerous and much too tempting to see others without a full view of their humanity – without all its complexity, beauty, strength and fragility.

This moment is an important one in which to repent, that is to turn from the ways that you and I have reduced our neighbors into caricatures or worse, and then to turn to the God-given edict that all are made in the image of a loving Creator. It is our humanity that unites us. It is our Creator that unites us and calls each one by name.

How can you and I change the world when it seems that there is so much hatred and violence in the world today?  Is it even possible to address the division in this country when we may struggle to broach the subject with our own families? Yesterday as I sat in my home lamenting this with my family I made a commitment:

  • In my study of Scripture, I commit to paying greater attention to the Jewishness of Jesus and to honor the rich heritage from which Christianity was born.
  • I commit to honoring the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) for the gift that it is – not just to Judaism, but also to Christianity.
  • I commit to being in greater dialogue with interfaith clergy about what it means to be mutual partners in healing the world.

This work cannot be done alone. I ask you to join me. Let’s be a community that faces the brokenness of the world by looking deep into our own pain and into the wounds of the world.  Pay attention to the cracks and crevices in your armor that cause discomfort, disillusion and pain, for as Leonard Cohen wrote, it is through these cracks that the light gets in.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1:5

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