May 22, 2016
And so dear Rabbi, after dragging you through 2,000 years of mostly unpleasant history, I am ready to answer your question. Must a Jew convert? Yes. So must the pope, so must the president, so must I, as well as all Jews and Christians, especially the clergy. Convert to what? I must be converted to the righteousness of the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I have tried to demonstrate that the idea of chosen-ness is at the heart of the problem.
If my people are the chosen, then you really should forsake your people and join mine, as was required by both Jew and gentile for centuries. At least until modern times, no matter how much a Jew tried to join the Goyim (gentiles), he really couldn’t. There was always suspicion that the conversion wasn’t real, as in the case of Spain and the conversos. As far as people like Hitler, Stalin and those like them were concerned, the waters of Baptism could never wash away Jewishness. A Jew could never really become a gentile and I suspect the reverse was true. A gentile might convert, but he would never be quite Jewish, maybe his children or grandchildren, but the stain of baptismal water could never quite be forgotten.
My point in all this history is that it wasn’t that way at first. The first century was a heated argument about what it meant to be an Israelite. I have struggled for years to understand righteousness (in Hebrew, “zedekah,” in Greek “diakosyne”). This is as far as I have come: to be righteous is to be godly, to imitate the love and generosity of G-d as much as possible because G-d alone is truly righteous. The best I can hope for is to imitate, to struggle towards His life giving, generous righteousness. You, a rabbinic Pharisee, believe that righteousness, to the degree it can be attained is available in the precepts of the Torah. Am I right in saying that the Torah is instruction in how to walk in the way of righteousness? We followers of Jesus claim that He is ultimate Torah, the Torah come to life and the ultimate instruction in how to walk in the world. I remember asking you to comment on something another rabbi was once heard to say, that G-d is hesed (loving kindness). And, as I thought you would say, you told me that “A Jew cannot say this. All that a Jew can really say is that G-d is ONE. Loving kindness is an attribute of G-d, but we cannot say that G-d is hesed.”
We believe that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the binding of Isaac on the cross and so doing showed us that G-d is what He asked of Abraham – total, self-sacrificing Hesed and Ahubah, that is, Love. He made us in His own image, an image which we darken with sin and selfishness. We, the followers of the little heretical sect of the Nazarenes insist that Jesus was the Messiah, son of Joseph and that he will return as the glorious Messiah, son of David. We believe He was more than we expected. He was the very heart of G-d, which has always been fixed on His people, Israel. And we believe that He showed us Heaven’s plan which is more than we expected. We claim that He taught us that the ONE-ness of G-d is a One-ness of union, not of isolation and that the destiny of humanity is to be restored to intimacy with the Fellowship that is G-d.
Don’t worry if this is a bit hard to swallow. I am not expecting you to do so. However, these are not ideas completely foreign to Judaism, especially in the Meditative Kabbalah and exemplified by Abulafia. We Notzri (Nazarenes) are not really completely foreign to you. Even our Trinity which we claim to be perfectly one yet perfectly diverse sounds strangely Kabbalistic because it is about union with the divine. We believe that the Messiah revealed the fullness of the divine nature and has invited us to participate in that sacred fullness.
As I said, I am certainly not expecting you to say, “Oh, now I understand!” In fact, knowing as I do and you knowing me as you do, I can almost hear you saying, “No, don’t be crazy. You misunderstood, and I’ve warned not to get involved with Kabbalah!” Don’t worry. I won’t get involved with Kabbalah. I leave that sort of thing to Hollywood Goyim, but I am trying to say that we, Nazarenes and rabbinic Pharisees or as most people would say “Christians and Jews,” are after the same thing: true union with the divine. We believe it can be attained by grace and trust, and by Heaven’s generosity, but we are struggling after righteousness and we define righteousness by Torah and Hebrew Scriptures.
Most Christians don’t understand this. Why should I expect Jews to understand it? This was what Paul taught and what Jesus incarnated, at least as I understand it. So many have made the whole thing a matter of joining the club. You must be my religion and my nationality to get in the pearly gates and to receive your mansion on a street of gold. There is no mansion. There are no streets of gold. Jesus never talked about a mansion or gold streets. He talked about the Father’s house where there is a place for me and for you and for every human being who strives for and accepts the righteousness of G-d. To accept Heaven on Heaven’s terms and not on our own, to seek righteousness by our own stumbling towards light, we are in the same boat you and I.
In a sense I don’t want you to join my club. I want to be allowed to join yours, though I may not understand it in same way as you. I genuinely believe that that the Torah is G-d’s heart and Jesus of Nazareth is the Torah come to life. There are a thousand reasons to say this is wrong, but this Jesus has drawn me closer to righteousness, despite my resistance to His invitation.
We Christians and Jews are not strangers and we must not be. You have brought me closer to the Messiah by your patient explanation of Torah, and I can only hope that I have brought you some little encouragement as you pursue the life of righteousness. Together, let us both be ever more converted to the G-d who is ONE!
Your friend and devoted student.