12 August 2016

Do they like or dislike us?


We live in this tension of disapprobation. At certain times we are understood to be saying that the religion of the rabbis is wrong, dead wrong, and that only through Yeshua is eternal life given to anyone. At other times, we encounter Jewish people who say, "They may believe something different than I do, but they are Jews, and that's good enough for me." We even hear "Good luck" extended to us, in our book shop, or after a large gathering with prayers and songs, which might look like a church or synagogue service. One problem we face is this: Do we want to be accepted or rejected? Do people really understand who we are and what we are saying? And if they do understand the issue, are we liked or disliked?

A Jewish author and scholar here in Sydney was a featured speaker at a Jewish conference in Brisbane earlier this year. She was at the synagogue on Margaret Street that Saturday morning as I was, to worship and participate in Jewish life, as is our custom. After the services, we all retired to the upper room where a meal was served and some people gave short talks to the small gathering. She was among the speakers. I enjoyed her commentary.

Afterwards, in the clean up and farewell time, I approached her and told her that I appreciated her comments. I introduced myself. She said, "Oh, yes I know who you are." I told her that we sold one of her books at our book shop in Bondi Junction. After a bit of uncomfortable small talk, she said, "I won't wish you good luck. Shabbat shalom." And that was that.

"Disapprobation is not only a synonym of "disapproval" but a relative as well. Both words were coined in the mid-17th century by adding the prefix dis-, meaning "the opposite or absence of," to earlier and more "approving" words: synonyms "approbation" and "approval." The Latin verb approbare, meaning "to approve," is an ancestor of both of those words. Another descendant of "approbare" in English is "approbate," which, as you may have guessed by now, means "to approve."" (Merriam Webster Dictionary online)

I remember a secondary disapprobation back in the mid-1980s. A group of us Jews for Jesus went to the Diamond District in New York City to investigate purchasing diamonds. It was Friday, midday. My friend Loren and I walked from one shop to another. Others went to other shops. We found an arcade with a couple dozen shops inside one building. I saw the sign, "Mendelsohn Jewellers" and approached the counter. The frail older man behind the counter saw us, and stood up. Then he saw our t-shirts with the lettering "Jews for Jesus" and he immediately asked us to leave his shop. "Please go. Just go," he said in a softer voice than I was expecting. I told him that I, too, was a Mendelsohn, and that we were hunting for diamonds. He insisted that we leave his counter. "They are watching," he told me. "If I sell to you, no one else will buy from me today." I'll never forget the pain his face showed, nor the pain of this secondary boycott I felt.

Back in December last year, reports swirled around like a Trump hairline that rabbis were 'accepting Jesus.'
Of course, that wasn't exactly right. Here's the news about the rabbis from Israel Today. Other agencies reported something similar.

To be fair, noted scholars and authors from Montefiore and Schweitzer at the beginning of the 20th Century, through to Amy-Jill Levine and Shmuley Boteach in our day have tried to influence the world, especially the religious world about Jesus and Christianity saying along with the Byrds and the Doobie Brothers, "Jesus is just alright with me." They want the Jewish people to re-welcome Jesus as "one of us" and to knock back the disapprobation caused by centuries of the dialectic and the hostility. In the 20th and now 21st Century, we have a shrunken world where we have to 'get along.' Rabbi Evan Moffic's newest book is titled What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus: A New Way of Seeing the Most Influential Rabbi in History (Abingdon Press).
What drove a Reform rabbi to write a book about Jesus aimed at both Christians and Jews?

A reviewer of the book (Steven H Propp) by Prof. Donald Hagner of Fuller Seminary, wrote this about Hagner's seminal work on this subject of the re-welcome (The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus"): "Donald Hagner is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he taught from 1976 until his retirement nearly 30 years later. He has written/edited many other books, such as New Testament, The: A Historical and Theological Introduction, New Testament Exegesis and Research: A Guide for Seminarians, etc.

He wrote in the Preface to this 1984 book, "I write avowedly as a Christian and not as a 'neutral' observer. I write furthermore as an evangelical Christian... who holds to the ... inspiration of the biblical writings and who attempts to employ historical-critical methodologies in a way that is fair to what is being studied. I do NOT claim that I am more 'objective' than the Jewish writers examined here... my claim in the present book is this: the Jewish reclamation of Jesus has been possible only by being unfair to the Gospels. In order to arrive at their modern portraits of Jesus, Jewish scholars are forced to select from the Gospels what seems to agree with their views and to reject everything that does not... Jewish scholars bring expectations (not to say a priori conclusions) to the Gospels that are far from congenial to these writings." (Pg. 13-14)

Of Samuel Sandmel's We Jews and Jesus he says, "He writes from the standpoint of a liberal Jew ... [but] Sandmel assumes and builds on the subculture of modern critical scholarship." (Pg. 32) Of David Flusser's Jesus, he says, "Jesus, however, he argues, is truly understood only against the Jewish backdrop of the later church's faith in him. Flusser's book is notable in that it is the first book on Jesus by a Jew in which little is made of the Jewishness of the author, indicating the extent to which the Jewish perception is becoming widely understood as the truly historical view of Jesus." (Pg. 33-34)

Then mixed in with these thoughts are the words of Yeshua Himself. He said, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets." (Luke 6.26) I've never really had to worry about everyone speaking well of me, due to my many sins, but still, this warning gave me pause today. Consider this contrasting proverb, "When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." (16.7) So which is it-- they like me, or they don't like me? They wish me 'good luck' or turn and walk away with anger or hostility?

I suppose my conclusion today is that the message I proclaim is one thing and my manner is quite another. If I give people offence by my manner and behaviour then 'woe to me.' But if I live consistent with my message, and others are offended, then, so be it. I don't wish disapprobation on myself or on anyone. I wish people would read the Bible for themselves. I wish we would all get along. I want world peace. I want the stabbings and beheadings to stop. And I believe Jesus, as Prince of Peace, will usher that in one day. And in the meantime... let us all ponder who God is, what He wants for us all, and accept the real Jesus as Lord and Messiah, with or without approval from others. His approval is all that really matters in the end. Paul wrote the believers in Galatia: "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ." (1.10)

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