In this season we celebrate the birth of Jesus our Savior, also called, possibly in error, "The Messiah."
In the pre-World War II era Jews were sometimes subjected to prejudice, discrimination and persecution because they refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah. But was He? Did Jesus actually fulfill the requisites for the Hebrew "Moshiak ben David"? That matter is not as clear-cut as some Christians might think or want it to be.
According to Hebrew scriptural traditions the Messiah was prophesied to be a fully-human descendant of King David, not the hybrid fully-divine, fully-human individual of Christian Trinitarian theology. Two of the Synoptic Gospels go to great lengths to substantiate Jesus’ descent through the Davidic line. And the two accounts substantially conflict, I might add. But this blood connection is through Mary’s husband Joseph, and he had only a stepfather relationship to Jesus. We Christians believe Jesus was the begotten Son of God.
The Jewish Messiah was also to be a political and military leader. By his own witness, Jesus was not. And according to Hebrew prophesy and tradition the Messiah would come after Jerusalem was restored and the Temple was rebuilt, the third Temple. He would then bring the Diaspora Jews back home to the Promised Land for a one-thousand-year reign of peace and light. To date none of this has happened. The Promised Land situation remains controversial and the Temple is mostly a pile of rocks and under Muslim control. And almost half the world’s Jews are fully-assimilated citizens of the U.S. with little thoughts of moving to a land fraught with uncertainty and hostility.
Although a prejudice rarely encountered in this country today, European Jews have often been maligned as "Christ Killers" and blamed for Jesus’ death. This was based partly on the interpretation of certain passages in the Gospel of John. But who actually did kill Jesus?
Although the death sentence was prescribed in ancient Jewish law for certain offenses, it was rarely imposed. And under Jewish law execution was carried out by stoning, burning, strangulation or beheading, never by crucifixion. According to the Torah stoning was the most common method. Crucifixion was a Roman method of execution. Anyway, the power of Jewish courts to impose the death penalty was ended by the Romans in the first century CE. Incidentally, modern-day Jews are generally opposed to the death penalty irrespective of their geographical location, nationality or politics.
Although Jesus was born, lived and died a believing, practicing Jew and practically all of the first-century CE Christians were Jews, few Jews today are Christians. And many young Jews today describe themselves as ethnic, but not religious Jews. Although almost half of today’s American Jews marry outside their faith, relatively few convert to Christianity. They frequently list themselves as "of no particular faith." While not exactly atheism, this smacks strongly of agnosticism. But what am I trying to say here with all this verbiage?
Simply this: Jewish people should not be faulted for their failure to accept Jesus as the promised Messiah because He simply wasn’t. He met practically none of the scriptural and traditional requisites and criteria for the Hebrew Anointed One.
And as for us? While making a big deal of proclaiming Jesus as our Lord and personal Savior on Sunday and at revivals, we do pitifully little to honor Him the rest of the week by following His teachings. Love our enemies? Sell our goods and give the proceeds to the poor? Turn the other cheek? Come on, now! Let’s not get too radical.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.