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Posts Tagged ‘Jewish’

The Gospel of John opens with a declaration that in the beginning was the Word, and that all things were created through the Word, and nothing was made without the Word. In verse fourteen, John specifies that the Word took on flesh in the form of Jesus. This hearkens us back to the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures, where God speaks – and from his Word flows forth all of creation. John not only shows us from where Jesus gets his authority, but he also shows us that the Truth of God has always been made evident through Jesus.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus sets about trying to teach his disciples a new way of looking at the Hebrew Scriptures. As a Jewish rabbi, it was his duty to teach his students his “midrash” or teaching, which the New Testament refers to as his “yoke” (Matthew 11:30). If Jesus were just a rabbi, then his interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures was up for debate – which happened quite often. Anytime Jesus is recorded as speaking with the elders and Pharisees, what is happening is a debate upon the midrash of Jesus. They are questioning his rabbinical credentials. However it becomes clear early on, that the Pharisees cannot match wits with the son of Joseph.

The reason that the midrash of Jesus was so questionable, was because from the very onset, it seemed as if he was contradicting everything that Moses had said. When Jesus spoke about the Law, he challenged the core beliefs of his Jewish brethren. According to the midrash of Jesus, revenge was no longer an option. His interpretation of the Law, was not based upon the text itself, but upon the spirit. And from our perspective today, who would know the spirit of the Law better than the Word that it was spoken through?

Jesus had funny ways about how he observed the Law. He didn’t find it sinful to gather food on the Sabbath, in spite of overwhelming disdain from other teachers who thought it should be a day of total rest. Neither did he allow for the stoning of sinners; for who was perfect according to the letter of the Law? Jesus even ate with tax collectors and sinners, the enemies of all religious Jews. The tax collectors because they had sided with the Roman Empire over their fellow Jews, and sinners because they did not live in accordance with the letter of the Law.

While in many ways the midrash of Jesus was more strict, in all, it was more free. The midrash of Jesus required discipline, but it was tempered with mercy. If someone offended you, you forgave them. According to Jesus, it didn’t matter how grievous the sin, nor how many times you had been sinned against. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

It was a completely radical way of re-interpreting the Law of Moses. But ultimately, it was about re-orienting the people of God back to Shalom. It was about bringing man back into full communion with God. This is the meaning of the Scriptures when Christ tells us that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that “no man comes unto the Father except through me”. (John 14:6). Paul reiterates this same point later in his Epistle to the Galatians when he says that we are no longer bound under the Law, for we have been set free from the letter of the Law through Christ Jesus. However, if one insists on following the letter of the Law, they must follow it perfectly, for by following the Law they have been severed from Christ. (Galatians 5)

The road we travel isn’t easy. In Matthew chapter seven, Jesus calls the road to reconciliation with God, narrow. It takes a lot of work, and daily prayer. We must re-orientate ourselves back on a consistent basis to the midrash of Jesus. Brushing away cultural normalities, and hearkening back to a voice which cried out long ago, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”(Matthew 3:2)

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What does it mean to have faith in God?

The Shema Yisrael (usually shortened to Shema) states, “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The Shema is found in Deuteronomy, and forms the basis of most Jewish prayer services. It is a continual reminder to the Jewish people of the Divine kingship of YHWH. It is both a statement, and a prayer. The statement, continually professes their belief in the Lordship of God. When said as a prayer however, it is a cry for belief in times when one is not quite up to the task of believing.

Throughout Jewish tradition, it isn’t quite so important to get all the answers right, as it is to wrestle with the tradition itself. This is an important part of Jewish education. Learning the Torah and being able to recite it verbatim, is quite useful to the education of Jewish children, because once they know the Torah, they can then begin to dissect and examine it as a whole. Once they understand the Torah, they can question it. And to question, means they have begun the journey of faith.

This ties back all the way to the Patriarch of the Jewish people, Jacob. On his way back to Canaan, Jacob encounters an angel, an emissary of the Almighty. There, they wrestle, and Jacob refuses to let go unless he receives a blessing from the angel. The angel blesses Jacob, and changes his name to Israel, meaning “He who struggles with God”. Jacob and his progeny forevermore have been characterized by this struggle, and God has blessed them for it. The core of the Jewish faith, the core of Israel, is wrestling with God.

Ironically, even though Christianity began as a sub-culture of Judaism in first century Palestine, Christianity has taken an altogether different approach to faith. Most Christians do not find value in the struggle, rather Christians are instead encouraged to put aside doubts, and place their faith in God. This strikes me as being rather simplistic. I am not sure that I understand how one is supposed to place their faith in God, if they haven’t wrestled with God enough to be sure that He indeed is God. Why should I follow His precepts if I do not believe them to be intrinsically valuable? I cannot find them to be intrinsically valuable if I do not first wrestle with them. Thus placing faith in God without confronting Him with my doubts.

Truth be told, if God truly was uncomfortable with my doubts, I’m not sure He would be worthy of much praise as a deity. But a god who can handle any doubts I throw his way, and a god who is totally cool with wrestling with me throughout all of my trials and tribulations – that is a God. That is God, who is totally and completely so powerful and beyond compare, that He encourages us to confront Him head-on. He challenges us to engage with Him, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man that takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Belief is passive. I can claim my belief night and day, and shout it to the rooftops. I can do my good deeds, night and day, and proclaim them for all the world to see. But faith is done in secret. It requires strenuous activity that is best done when others are not around. Faith requires that we be completely vulnerable to the thought that our lives are not our own, that we may indeed need to be changed or molded by the Truth. Sometimes, faith in God necessitates a renunciation of previously held beliefs – no matter how strongly we believed them. Sometimes, faith in God requires wrestling with anything and everything we thought we knew, just to get a taste of what is real.

Belief is passive. Faith is knocking down the door and saying, “Oh no you bastard, I want what you’ve got, and I’m not taking no for an answer.” Faith is wrestling with God – and winning.

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