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Many Jews ask, “Why must you always try to convert us? Can’t you leave us alone?” They are entitled to an honest answer:
The “we don’t so you shouldn’t” argument does not hold up well in ordinary day-to-day life. Suppose General Motors said to Ford Motor Co., “Look, we’ve stopped all our advertising to save money. Would you agree to stop all your advertising?” I think Ford would reply, “You can advertise or not as you prefer, but we think there are good reasons to buy our cars, and we’re going to tell people about them. Or suppose the Democrats said to the Republicans, “Look, another presidential election is coming up soon. You’re planning to spend $100 million and we’re planning to spend $100 million. We’ve decided that we’re not going spend any money trying to persuade people to vote for us. Would you agree not to spend any money trying to persuade people to vote for you?” I think the Republicans would say, “There are a lot of reasons why people should vote for us, and we’re going to tell voters about them.”
There is an age-old Jewish tradition of telling people what they do not want to hear. From the beginning, God has called Jews to evangelize. Moses proclaimed God to Israelites who did not feel the need to be witnessed to. Before they crossed the Red Sea, the Israelites told Moses, Ex 14:12 “Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Even after God led them safely across, Ex 16:2 “The whole congregation of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt ” Finally, as Moses led the Israelites to Mt. Sinai he cried out to God, Ex 17:4 “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” But Moses led them to Mt. Sinai and gave them Torah.
All the Hebrew prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Baruch and many more spoke Gods truth to people who did not want to hear it. Isaiah: Is 5:13 “Therefore My people go into exile for want of knowledge.” Jeremiah: Jer 2:13 “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters.” Ezekiel: Ez 6:2 “Set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them.” Hosea: Hos 4:1 “There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land.”
Centuries before Jesus of Nazareth arrived on earth, Jews actively sought converts among the pagan tribes. They continued to seek converts among the Romans until Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. When he prohibited the promotion of any other religion, most Jews stopped. Some devout Jews continued to evangelize until about the eleventh century, when persecutions made it virtually impossible. Jews today are politically free to evangelize but rarely do, partly because rabbis during the intervening centuries have prohibited Jewish evangelization for the safety of their people and partly because Jews who evangelize would have no basis to ask Christians not to evangelize them.
Jesus told us Acts 1:8 “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” God’s Messiah has called us to be His witnesses to Jews in particular, as He called Moses and the prophets. We who revere Him as the Messiah will do as He did. Jesus offended Jews in the synagogues. Lk 4:28 “…When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.” Jn 6:66 “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” We who are called to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified must do it knowing that it will upset some people. Jesus told us, Mt 5:11 “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”
When we accurately teach the Catholic faith we cannot profane Judaism because we are completed Mosaic Jews. We revere our Father in heaven and hold that Torah was sacred teaching for His covenant family. We can teach the Catholic accurately only when we do it as St. Peter did, 1 Pet 3:15 “with gentleness and reverence.”
Catholics also do not demand that everyone convert. Pope John Paul II wrote, in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, § 39, “On her part. the Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience. To those who for various reasons oppose missionary activity, the Church repeats: Open the doors to Christ!”
Suppose a Jew departed the earth and was taken to purgatory where he would spend a thousand years before his final entry into heaven. St. Augustine said that the pains of purgatory are much greater than anything we experience in this life. The Jew sees a Catholic whom he had known in earthly life receive a plenary indulgence at the point of death and go straight to heaven. Would he not say, “My friend, why did you not tell me while there was still time that I too could have received a plenary indulgence and gone straight to heaven? Is your charity so weak that you could not have withstood the protests I would have made for a few minutes to save me all this?”
Let us review the teaching of the Church. The four Gospels tell us that Jesus’ entire public ministry was devoted to evangelizing Jews.
Jesus told Nicodemus, a prominent Jew and member of the Sanhedrin, Jn 3:5 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus spent His entire public ministry evangelizing Jews. Mt 10:5 “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Mt 15:24 “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” After rising from the tomb Jesus told the Apostles, Acts 1:8 “… you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” Jews lived in Jerusalem. Jews lived in Judea. The Samaritans were partly Jewish and partly pagan. Jesus expected His followers to evangelize Jews and pagans alike.
Could He have intended an exception for Jews? He told the twelve, Mt 10:5 Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He added, Mt 15:24 “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Before ascending to the Father, He commanded, Mt 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s miracle highlighting the universality of the Catholic Church was an evangelization of Jews. Acts 2:5 “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, at § 1226, states: “The apostles and their collaborators offer Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans.”
After Vatican II, Holy Mother Church began to lead her flock toward the rapprochement with the Jewish people.
Pope Paul VI’s Nostra Aetate, 4, October 28, 1965, states: “The Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.”
Nostra Aetate 4 continues, “Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ – Abraham’s sons according to faith – are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage.” In short, the Jews were the first to receive the revelation that God’s Messiah completed.
Nostra Aetate 4 adds, “Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.” To work toward this mutual understanding and respect, Nostra Aetate continues, “Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.”
The then-new Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews issued a statement, Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration “Nostra aetate” n. 4 in 1974. It contains much ordinary guidance on how to treat Jewish teaching with dignity, but a few paragraphs particularly warrant attention.
One was, “In virtue of her divine mission and her very nature the Church must preach Jesus Christ to the world (Ad gentes 2). Lest the witness of Catholics for Jesus Christ should give offence to Jews, they must take care to live and spread their Christian faith while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis humanae). They will likewise strive to understand the difficulties which arise for the Jewish soul – rightly imbued with an extremely high, pure notion of the Divine transcendence – when faced with the mystery of the incarnate Word.” In this the Church acknowledged that Jewish spirituality reflects an innate longing for the transcendent God. The 1974 guidelines add, “When commenting on biblical tests, emphasis will be laid on the continuity of our faith with that of the earlier Covenant, in the perspective of the promises, without minimizing those elements of Christianity which are original. We believe that those promises were fulfilled with the first coming of Christ. But it is none the less true that we still await their perfect fulfillment in his glorious return at the end of time.”
The 1974 Guidelines add: “The history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of Jerusalem, but rather went on to develop a religious tradition. And, although we believe that the importance and meaning of that tradition was deeply affected by the coming of Christ, it is still nonetheless rich in religious values.” This paragraph needs the most careful analysis. Post-Christian Judaism changed in two very important ways. First, Jews no longer carried on the mitzvot to sacrifice. Jesus fulfilled and completed the sacrifice mitzvot in His own Final Sacrifice, which Catholics, completed Jews, will re-present until the end of time. Second, while pre-Christic Judaism pointed toward Christ, post-Christic Judaism pointed away from Christ, taking on a distinctly anti-Christian tone. Its continuing richness in religious values comes from its ongoing interest in the Torah, and from its continued possession of the divine election.
Finally, the 1974 Guidelines say, “There is also an ecumenical aspect to the question: the very return of Christians to the sources and origins of their faith, grafted on to the earlier Covenant, helps the search for unity in Christ, the cornerstone.” The Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews sees the rapprochement as a key to Christian unity, that we may be “one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
Let us now turn to Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church, 1985, also published by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
The Preliminary Considerations, say, “… the Holy Father plainly drew inspiration from the Council Declaration Nostra Aetate, 4, which says: ‘All should take pains, then, lest in catechetical instruction and in the preaching of God’s Word they teach anything out of harmony with the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ; as also from these words: Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred Synod wishes to foster and recommend mutual understanding and respect.’” But it does not appear anywhere in Nostra Aetate! Vatican scholarship is simply too good to let something like that slip by unnoticed. This is sabotage, a sign that someone in the Vatican does not understand the large dimension of salvation history in which Notes participates. Both sides have their naysayers; this is a reminder to remain vigilant.
Notes reached out as Rabbi Neusner had suggested, to the personal touch that provides entry into the other. At § 2, “The aim is, moreover, to present the events of the Old Testament not as concerning only the Jews but also as touching us personally. Abraham is truly the father of our faith (Rm. 4:11-12; Roman Canon: patriarchae nostri Abrahae). And it is said (1 Co. 10:1): “Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.” The patriarchs, prophets and other personalities of the Old Testament have been venerated and always will be venerated as saints in the liturgical tradition of the Oriental Church as also of the Latin Church.”
Notes said, at § 3, “This concern for Judaism in Catholic teaching has not merely a historical or archeological foundation. As the Holy Father said in the speech already quoted, after he had again mentioned the ‘common patrimony’ of the Church and Judaism as ‘considerable:’ ‘To assess it carefully in itself and with due awareness of the faith and religious life of the Jewish people as they are professed and practiced still today, can greatly help us to understand better certain aspects of the life pastoral of the Church’ (italics added). It is a question then of pastoral concern for a still living reality closely related to the Church. The Holy Father has stated this permanent reality of the Jewish people in a remarkable theological formula, in his allocution to the Jewish community of West Germany at Mainz, on November 17th, 1980: ‘The people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been revoked.’” Here the Notes goes beyond relationship, all the way to theology. Post-Christic Judaism has value today, not merely as the echo of a distant past but as a living covenant.
Notes having entered the realm of theology, is careful. At § 7 “Jesus affirms that there shall be ‘one flock and one shepherd’ (Jn. 10:16). The Church and Judaism cannot, then, be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all.”
Then came a key passage. At § 10, “We shall reach a greater awareness that the people of God of the Old and the New Testament are tending towards a like end in the future: the coming or return of the Messiah – even if they start from two different points of view. It is more clearly understood that the person of the Messiah is not only a point of division for the people of God but also a point of convergence.” Finally, we see a reaching forward to the end. Having participated together in the Messiah’s crucifixion, Jews and Catholics are ready to participate in His resurrection. “The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition of all Israel.”
That is the high point, but there is more. Notes observes, for instance, that Jesus was not always critical of Pharisees. At § 16 it points out that Lk 13:31 Pharisees warn Jesus of the risks He is running, that Mk 12:34 Jesus praised some Pharisees, and that Lk 7:36, 14:1 Jesus ate with Pharisees. It adds that Pharisees are not mentioned in the accounts of the Passion, and that Acts 5:34 Rabbi Gamaliel defended the Apostles in a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
Then, at § 21a, Notes says, “The Gospels are the outcome of long and complicated editorial work. The dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum, following the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s Instruction Sancta Mater Ecclesia, distinguished three stages: “The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explicating some things in view of the situation of their Churches, and preserving the form of proclamation, but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus” (no. 19). Hence, it cannot be ruled out that some references hostile or less than favorable to the Jews have their historical context in conflicts between the nascent Church and the Jewish community.” Notes here quotes Dei Verbum 19 out of context to suggest that some references unfavorable to Jews were the result of long and complicated editorial work in an atmosphere of conflict. Scripture scholars love to speculate on what really happened, as opposed to what the Gospels say happened. But Dei Verbum, in the same passage, said: “Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven.”
Vatican II’s Ad Gentes, the Decree of the Missionary Activity of the Church, begins, “Divinely sent to the nations of the world to be unto them a universal sacrament of salvation, the Church, driven by the inner necessity of her own catholicity, and obeying the mandate of her Founder (cf. Mark 16:16), strives ever to proclaim the Gospel to all men.” Ad Gentes continues, 7 “This missionary activity derives its reason from the will of God, “who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, Himself a man, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:45), “neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12). Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church’s preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself “by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door. Therefore those men cannot be saved, who though aware that God, through Jesus Christ founded the Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it.” Therefore though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Cor. 9:16), and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always retains its power and necessity.”
Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, December 8, 1975, 14 says: “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church … Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection.”
Nothing in any of these definitive and universal statements suggests an exception for evangelizing Jews.
Perhaps most striking of all, the Church’s definitive statement of its relationship with the Jewish people has no exception for evangelizing Jews. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, at § 839, states: “When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, the first to hear the Word of God. The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. Rom 9:4 ’To the Jews belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ,’ for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, delivered a talk at the seventeenth meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in New York on May 1, 2001.
Cardinal Kasper began, at § 1, “The Declaration Dominus Iesus, published in September 2000 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has sparked off various reactions by different people and communities, also by Jews.”
He added, § 1 “Obviously, there have been some misunderstandings. The highly technical language of this document for the instruction of Catholic theologians - a document that is perhaps a little too densely written - raised misunderstandings on the very meaning and intention of the text among people who are not very familiar with Catholic theological “jargon” and with the rules of its correct interpretation. Many of these reactions appear to be based on information which obviously uninformed secular mass-media have thrown into the arena of public opinion.”
Dominus Iesus says at § 10, “It is likewise contrary to the Catholic faith to introduce a separation between the salvific action of the Word as such and that of the Word made man. With the incarnation, all the salvific actions of the Word of God are always done in unity with the human nature that he has assumed for the salvation of all people. The one subject which operates in the two natures, human and divine, is the single person of the Word.”
Most Catholics would ask, “What’s wrong with that? Cardinal Kasper replies, § 2, “The problem raised by [Dominus Iesus] is linked with the intention of the document. The Declaration mainly deals with Interreligious Dialogue. But it is not itself in a dialogue either with Hindus, nor Moslems nor Jews. It argues against some newer relativistic and to some degree syncretistic theories among Christian theologians, theories spread in India and in the western so-called postmodern world as well, which advocate a pluralistic vision of religion and classify both Jewish and Christian religion under the category of ‘world religions’. It argues against theories that deny the specific identity of Jewish and Christian religion, and do not take into account the distinction between faith as answer to God’s revelation and belief as human search for God and human religious wisdom. Thus, the Declaration defends the specific revelation character of the Hebrew Bible too, which we Christians call the Old Testament, against theories claiming, for example, that the Holy Books of Hinduism are the Old Testament for Hindus.
Cardinal Kasper in his defense quotes Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in an article “L’eredità di Abramo” (The Heritage of Abraham, in L’Osservatore Romano, 29 December 2000): “It is evident that dialogue of us Christians with the Jews stands on a different level with regard to the dialogue with the other religions. The faith witnessed in the Bible of the Jews, the Old Testament of Christians, is for us not a different religion but the foundation of our own faith”. I think this is a clear statement, to which I have nothing to add.”
Protestant evangelization of Jews is highly organized, systematic, and supported by Evangelical Protestant denominations nationwide, with the result that most Jews today who are interested in Yeshua HaMoshiach, Jesus the Messiah, believe that the only way for a Jew to approach Jesus is through one of the Evangelical Protestant outreaches, all of which are hostile to the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church is the true home for Jews who sense a call to Yeshua HaMoshiach. See my article, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,Originally published in Envoy, 7.3 (March 2004). Yet Catholic evangelization of Jews has received little support from most of the successors to the Apostles.
Orthodox Judaism is quite robust in the United States. Orthodox Judaism is the Judaism of God and Torah and Covenant that has lasted four thousand years. Rabbinic law says that Jews are not to ride on the Sabbath. Orthodox Jews take it seriously. Knowing they have to walk to synagogue, they buy a home or condominium, or rent an apartment, within walking distance of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue. That tends to produce intensely Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods where the people all see each other in synagogue and strengthen one another’s faith. The young Orthodox Jewish fellows encounter girls who are nearly all Orthodox Jewish. They marry, and produce children who are taught the Jewish faith. The witness of Orthodox Judaism to God and Torah will continue. However, liberal Jews who have cast aside the Old Covenant sometimes regard their temple (synagogue) more as a place for social gathering than for worship of God. My article, From Memory to Reconciliation, originally published in The Catholic Faith, Jan-Feb 2001 part 1 and Mar-April 2001 part 2 issues, at “Liberalism is Killing Judaism,” offers some background.
Catholic teaching on salvation for Jews appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, at § 1260, “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” Not all Jews are the living witnesses of God and Torah that the Bishops Committee assumes. Since we cannot distinguish among Jews as to their probable salvation through this Baptism by desire, it is prudent to assume their need for baptism.
When the bishops do address this issue, from the Catholic perspective of Christ’s commands to evangelize at Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8, which is the correct response: (a) Provide episcopal support for a strong outreach program to show inquiring Jews that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ, or (b) Discourage any Catholic evangelization of Jews at all, and entirely cede the Jewish people to the Protestants?
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