Jews and Jesus. The Great Divide

Jewish people all over the world are thinking about Jesus in unprecedented numbers, and it's not because they believe in him as messiah and Lord. And it may not be because of godly evangelistic campaigns worldwide. Since the turn of the 20th century Jewish academics and theologians have been revisiting the identity and the work and ministry of the Nazarene.

And how significant is that? Today I was witnessing in Bondi Junction, nearby our book shop in Sydney. And three young chassidim, ultra-orthodox Jewish men, were readying themselves for Shabbat. They were out to share what they believed as was I. One wanted to know if I had wrapped myself with tefillin that morning; another wanted to know why I believed in Jesus. But to even mention Jesus with a bit of honour was a surprise. The third used the derogatory slur "Yoshke" for Jesus and I corrected him. He recanted. He started calling him "Y'shua."

Wow, Orthodox Jewish people using the name Y'shua with honour and respect. I was surprised and delighted.

Last night I went to a lecture delievered by my recent friend Amy-Jill Levine (photo). She and I met last year about this time, and spent some good time discussing the issues of Jewish people and faith in Jesus. She had no problem discussing, she knew the terms, the parables, the words of Jesus and the apostles. And spoke them to me without a blink.

Sure, AJ is an academic. And her field of study and professorship is New Testament at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. So it should come as no surprise, except, wait a minute. AJ attends an Orthodox synagogue in Nashville. She's a faithful Jew. She does not believe in Jesus like I do, and tens of thousands of others of us.

So why the apparent comfort in discussing the issues? Isn't the Jesus of the New Testament the great divider? So how can centrist Jewish people who would radically disagree with our theological conclusions be comfortable in using his name and his parables, like it's a series of poems from Keats or stories from John Grisham.

Donald Hagner wrote about this phenomenon in the 1980s. He posited that the reclamationists, those Jewish academics like Neusner and Flusser and (he didn't know her then) AJ, accepted the ethics of Jesus, as little more than Talmudic Judaism re-tooled. But they refused the eschaton of Jesus, that part of the New Testament which allows him to claim to be the only way to the Father. His claims to be the Messiah. His claims to be the fulfillment of biblical Jewish desire for the consummation of all things.

In the Q and A session last night, a Holocaust survivor, a Mr Goldberg couldn't quite figure out what our lecturer was saying. He chronicled his own story from cheder in Poland to Auschwitz at 16 to learning of his parents' death inside the camps. He was saying he was a sufficiently schooled and real Jew, who although he didn't practice his religion and didn't really believe in God, wondered if AJ was using the parables of Jesus to bring Jews like him to believe in Jesus. Is that so? She denied it. Of course. She made it very clear that she found Jesus to be a serious Jewish teacher, not a liberal Jew, not a Roman-obsessed revolutionary. But not God.

It's a great conversation. It's all about the Great Divider. Hear these two quotes.
John 7.43 So there arose a division in the multitude because of Him.
John 10.19 There arose a division again among the Jews because of these words.
Seems that everywhere the real Jesus went, some believed and some didn't.

And that continued last night in Bondi, and today in Bondi Junction, and among people of good will and ill will, and throughout the world.

So what do you think? Who do you think Jesus is?


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