My eyes have seen your salvation…. to lighten the Gentiles and and for glory to your people Israel
Simeon looks forward to the coming of the Messiah to restore Israel to favour with God (“the consolation of Israel”, v. 25). The Spirit has told him that he will see the Christ before he dies (v. 26). This is the Messiah, who will restore Israel. God has saved Israel and also those who are not. His people and that people are both Jews and Gentiles. That people is both; we are properly a
Church of Jews and Gentiles.
As we know what we know as Catholic Christianity arose out of a sect of Jews, a revivalist movement with a mission originally to the Jews – which was not very fruitful. The shock of that failure, the pain felt at that rejection, of Jews by other Jews is heard in the gospels; the number of times the term the Jews is used in a dismissive and fatefully general way. Especially in the gospel of Matthew, the gospel closest to Judaism Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children 27.25), a text which has been used in terrible ways.
We might indeed think in sorrow of the impact of the bitterness of that division and the contribution of that to the destruction of European Jewry in the last century. It is not easy to quantify but few would deny either its reality or its capacity for survival. Archbishop Justin refers to it as ‘a virus’.
Some of this comes from the view that the church has taken the place of Israel; we are not the chosen and the Jews who remain Jews are no longer heirs to the covenant. They have missed the bus. Not only that they are full of resentment and want to slash the bus’ tyres.
This is not the view of Luke or indeed of dear Paul; Simeon sees the Messiah, for him a Jew (and most of the characters we revere in the NT are fully paid up Jews;) and politically correct Luke brings in another tribe in the person of Anna. Salvation is for the Jews but also for the Gentiles.
As you know, for some in the First Testament, consolation and restoration are to come to Israel first, and then to the Gentiles; but Luke is painfully aware that what has happened is more the other way round. After the Spirit comes on all in Jerusalem, the mission of the church gets shifted to the Gentiles, led by a Jew.
Luke does see nevertheless an opening to the Jews; and indeed that remains true, however much Christianity has tried to shut that opening. The purposes of God for his older people are not withdrawn, still less does the death of Christ bring guilt on them. God’s word to them is unfailing, to quote the title of that report which you no doubt are eager to read.
The church remains a church of Jews and Gentiles. This is not however about turning Jews into Christians. To be sure, one would welcome and with great sensitivity a Jew who sought to become Christian, but given the dismal record of Christians towards our Jewish brothers and sisters, a question should be raised as to whether it is right to target Jews in evangelism campaigns.
In an afterword to the report I referred to the Chief Rabbi voices his “real and persistent concern, that even now, in the twenty-first Century, Jews are seen by some as quarry to be pursued and converted”. This is an approach the church of Rome has firmly and repeatedly rejected.
There is of course the question of Israel or of the Zionist colony in occupied Palestine. Among Christians , there is much sentimentality about the so called Holy land, something which issues in a neglect of the land’s indigenous peoples.
For some Jews to oppose Israel is to be anti-Semitic. For others to oppose, even to criticise Israel is evidence of anti-semitism. For many the conditions under which the indigenous population have suffered for so long are the conditions of colonial occupation, ethnocratically administered and with a culturally genocidal agenda. If one takes such a view – as I would -, then it may make some Jews fearful but it would be failing in commitment to justice and not to be truthful. Zionist settlers and Jews generally have a proper need to be able to live a social and political life together in security.
A church of Jews and Gentiles – this is one way of describing the people of God, the Catholic church. But its boundaries are not identical to those visibly baptised and professing; perhaps there is a sense in which the church is incomplete, and happily so if she is to be holy. The great Cardinal, Walter Kasper revered to Christian-Jewish encounter as ‘a sacrament of every otherness that as such the Church must learn to discern, recognize and celebrate’.
Talking of a sacrament is a bit tricky – Kasper is not thinking of adding number 8 – but if we take it a mystery of grace then that may be less an issue. A gift whose recognition is a necessity for our being faithful as church. As Archbishop Justin writes
Understanding the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is not an optional extra, but a vital component of Christian formation and discipleship
And so what?
As some of you may be aware, I am an enthusiast for the elder covenant.
When you hear a text from Judges do your ears go limp? Do your eyes shut? No – I am sure none of you do; but it is a condition much to be found, a fear of the OT, l or PDP. There is much of this about but it is something to be combated. Love your OTs, consider Jewish commentaries. The Jewish people belong to the mystery of the church.