You are my brothers and sisters in the faith, and I love you as brothers and sisters in the Messiah. I just want you to understand that sometimes you hurt me unintentionally, because you’re not aware of what it’s like to be in the place where I am.
I will not hold it against you, as we are commanded to forgive those who hurt us, plus mostly it is totally unintentional.
I just want to try and say something here that might help you understand. Because I assume you don’t want to keep hurting me. I assume that you love me in the same way that I love you. We are called to be united as one body, but if one part of the body is often ignored then that’s not such a great display of unity, is it…
I am part of a minority within this body, a minority that is often ignored, forgotten, misunderstood.
When I’ve mentioned this before, as I did recently in a post about a particular situation where this was relevant, I felt the reactions all told me that this point was missed, that I wasn’t really heard – not about that aspect. I got understanding responses about other angles, but I didn’t feel anyone really got what I was saying about the painful place I’m in, being part of this often-ignored minority within the body. (This is just how it felt to me. Please forgive me if you did actually get it and I just didn’t get that you got it.)
I can’t blame any of you personally. There is a long history behind this, and lots of wrong or incomplete teaching passed down the generations. And you probably haven’t met many of us – these strange people who are Jewish and are followers of Jesus. What do you even call us? I met a pastor once who was surprised when I talked about the terminology issue, when I said that I personally don’t mind answering to either “Messianic Jew” or “Jewish Christian” but I know others who aren’t comfortable with the second – “why not just say ‘Christian’?” he asked, not getting why my Jewishness was something I needed to mention in this context.
The same guy also made an insensitive comment about some people being “fussy” when, at a church-related lunch, I asked what was in the quiche and on learning that it had bacon in it, went for a tuna sandwich instead.
Yes, I am commanded to forgive.
I’d just like you to know that there is a lot of insensitivity I come across, I’d like you to maybe begin to understand what it feels like to be where I am. I’d like you to at least hear me.
I’d like you at least to register that we exist and that it’s not all that straightforward, being a Jew within the church.
Living in Israel was a lot easier for me – being in a Messianic fellowship there, led by a Jewish pastor, functioning not just in my language but in the context of my culture. But when Jesus died and rose again, he died to atone for the sins of all mankind and he opened the doors for everyone – through him, you have been adopted into God’s family, and you are equal sons within this family, so I have a whole load of brothers and sisters from all sorts of different nationalities, and somehow we’re meant to be lovingly united. So, living in England, I am a member of a local fellowship which is made up mostly of Gentiles, because I live within a mainly-Gentile culture. And this works fine most of the time – but there are those moments…
There are those occasions that involve food, where I have a choice between either being seen as making a fuss (not a done thing in English culture), or looking at the food and trying to judge which items look safe for me to eat, or having something at home before coming out so that I won’t be too hungry.
Actually, I don’t really want to sit here listing all sorts of difficult moments. I don’t want to turn this post into some kind of grumble list. What’s important for me is that you might begin to appreciate that there are issues for me, as a Jew who believes in Jesus, issues that are unique to us. We are not just like any other ethnic/cultural/national minority within the church.
Why? because our identity as Jews is something that has special meaning to God – he created the Jewish nation and set it apart, we are his chosen people, his treasured possession, the apple of his eye. I never understood that until I was born again – my identity as a Jew didn’t matter to me, I didn’t see any significance in it whatsoever. I happily ate bacon and totally ignored the Jewish calendar, immersing myself in the culture around me, until God started showing me that being Jewish is actually something that matters to him.
And being a Jew who believes in Jesus means I have to wrestle with questions as to how to live out this identity – how much Jewishness should I/can I realistically incorporate in my lifestyle? Part of Jewishness is based on God’s original commands – how much of that should I be keeping? [not to obtain salvation, but out of a desire to obey God and please him] Part of Jewishness is man-made tradition, but as long as it doesn’t go against God’s ways I see no reason why I should throw it all out; on the other hand, I don’t feel obliged to keep these man-made customs; and on the other other hand, I choose to keep some of them simply out of a desire to show solidarity with my people. But even with the things that are based on God’s commands, I don’t feel I’ve totally got it all sorted in my mind. I keep going back and forth with… with stuff that you, my Gentile brothers and sisters, have never needed to even think about. That’s part of what I’d like you to understand.
Add into the mix the fact that within my own people, the attitude has traditionally been that if a Jewish person comes to faith in Jesus then they are cut off from their people, regarded as dead to their families and to the community – thankfully my own family have not reacted in this way, and the same goes for plenty other Jewish people I’ve met, but I do know Messianic Jews who were not so fortunate, and personally I have had the experience of someone, when I’d introduced myself and stated my faith, simply looking through me and walking away. And this attitude is part of why I feel the need to keep some Jewish customs, in order to show in a tangible way that no, I have not stopped being Jewish.
Add into the mix the sad history of Jews being actually persecuted by the church; forced conversions; Jews being wrongly taught that if they become Christians they must put aside everything Jewish – I read a historical novel about the times of the Spanish Inquisition and was horrified at the descriptions of how Jews who had gone through these forced conversions were then spied on to see if they were lighting Shabbat candles! that gave me one more reason to light the candles myself – to celebrate my freedom to do so!
And it’s this horrible history that makes it hard for some of us to accept the term “Christian” – we’ve been persecuted in the name of Christianity. That’s part of why some of us don’t call ourselves Christians, not even Jewish Christians, but insist on using terms like Messianic Jew, or Jewish Believer in Yeshua, or Completed Jew – the word “Christian” has too many negative connotations for us.
Similarly but even more so regarding the term “conversion” – there is the horrifying history of people forcing Jews to “convert” on pain of death; but my discomfort with this term when applied to Jews is not just because of this history, my discomfort is because conversion implies changing from one thing to another, as though we stop being Jewish and become Christians. This sort of terminology would make sense for people coming from other religious backgrounds – someone who is Moslem, or Buddhist, for example, would, when putting their faith in Jesus, turn their back on their previous faith. You can be a Christian ex-Moslem, or, in other words, a convert from Islam to Christianity, but there’s no such thing as an ex-Jew. Because being Jewish does not mean being part of some different religion that is incompatible with the Christian faith – the Christian faith is a belief in the Jewish Messiah, who came as promised in the Jewish Scriptures, promised by the God of Israel through the Jewish prophets! And this wonderful New Covenant you have been grafted into – it is God’s New Covenant which he promised to make with the house of Israel!
I think I’d better stop now. Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought. At the very least, I hope you will walk away understanding that being a Jewish believer in Jesus is uniquely complicated.
(Obviously this is just my own perspective – I’m not pretending to represent this hugely diverse group of people, each with their own journeys.)
P.S. Please do not attempt to answer the questions I mentioned that I wrestle with. That is not what this post is for. Thanks.