Discovering a Jewish Jesus

One fine day in the CCH, Rav Yehoshua surprised me with a pop question (as a proper rabbi should): “What happens if you don’t convert anybody here?”

“I am not here to convert anybody here,” I answered. “I am here to do my job, to teach English, and to be an example to others, both Catholic and Jewish, of someone who follows Jesus.”

Thinking about it now, many years later, maybe that is what we need more of nowadays: better examples. The world has suffered too many BAD EXAMPLES of people who theoretically followed Jesus. 2000 years of bad examples. Tragic, painful and outrageous examples of what supposed “Christians” have done to the Jews and others in the name of Christ. Christianity has produced many positive moral results in society throughout the centuries, but it is also associated with many tragedies that I don’t have to tell you about.

Jesus never hated his people. He was one of them. As a rabbi he had his confrontations with the religious authorites of his day, just like many rabbis in other times. He made his points and people followed him. Jesus was not Roman, was not Greek, and certainly not Palestinian.  He was Jewish.  Not only was he Jewish but he followed Jewish Scripture and law.  He argued points of interpretation.

But in the last 2000 years various cultures have made him to be something else. Something that is not recognized as Jewish. What happened?

When I was growing up Lutheran, I understand that Jesus was not Roman Catholic. He was not hanging on a cross. I understood that images, whether of Jesus or Mary or saints, were wrong. The Scriptures spoke against idols that do not speak, or feel, or see, or hear, as explained in Psalm 115 and elsewhere.

I also knew that Jesus was Jewish, but I didn’t start to understand the meaning of what that Jewishness really meant until I began my years at the Colombo Hebreo.

He celebrated Passover with his Jewish disciples. So I had to learn about the meaning Passover and had the privilege of attending many seders with the families of my students.

Jesus said the Shma Israel. So I had to learn the significance of the Shma.

He went up to the Temple in Jerusalem where he taught, including at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, SUKOT, and Hannukah, so I had to learn about the meanings of these feasts. And the Colombo Hebreo provided the perfect setting.

Thus, after 40 years of working with the Jewish community, with your permission, I have to say that I would still answer the same way if some students asked me the same question they did way back then:  “Are you going to convert?” 

I would still have to say that Jesus is the most important person to me.  He is still my best friend, my best Jewish friend, and he has given me a Jewish heart, to love and bless all of you.  He has grafted me into His amazing Jewish roots! (His love for his people was the inspiration that caused many of the Righteous Gentiles to risk their lives for those targeted in the Shoa. )

So, with your permission, allow me to say that, just as others are following their rabbi, or spiritual teacher, I am following my Jewish Rabbi Jesus, and I am learning more about what that means everyday.

So let me teach you a saying in English: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”  After you have finished giving the baby a bath, the water is very dirty, and you need to throw the water out.  But hold on to the baby! In the same way, the last 2000 years of history have been very muddy, downright dirty. But I don’t want to blame Jesus for what others have done in his name.

During my years at school, Rabbi Goldschmidt asked me to speak to a couples’ group about the difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. A very important topic, and we got good participation.

In the 90’s, the community’s university students invited me to speak at a Cojav get together in Melgar. I decided to speak on the topic, “Catholic anti-semitism vs. Christian Zionism”. The topic produced quite a debate, one that actually surprised me.

There is much more to talk about, to analyze, to consider. Feel free to send your questions… or objections.