Jesus Was a Jew
Jesus Series #2
Before we get into anything else we need to note that Jesus was Jewish. That’s a key point that many people kind of forget. We tend to imagine Jesus as looking and thinking like someone of our own culture, but unless you’re an ancient middle eastern Jew that’s just not true. He wasn’t Australian or American or British or German or even modern. Everything he said and did had a decidedly Jewish flavour to it. Jesus saw his whole life as being both the fulfillment of the centuries-old story of the Jews and the beginning of a new and bigger Israel. Forget that and you miss the whole point.
This is important.
It doesn’t mean that Jesus is not relevant for us non-Jews. Just that you have to understand him through the eyes of that culture, because if you take Jesus out of his culture his words and actions can start to mean something else entirely.
How do you picture Jesus? Does it change anything for you if Jesus wasn’t of your nationality?
Why does this matter? Because we do things differently. We think differently. We see the world differently.
Conflicting Truths? No Worries!
Part of the wisdom of the Jews around Jesus’ time was an openness and acceptance that there could be differing perspectives on God, faith and life, and that each might still be true. This sounds weird to us, but a similar concept is generally true of a lot of eastern cultures. God was accepted to be something of a Mystery, so truths about God might therefore be hidden in paradox. And on the flip side, anyone who came along saying they knew all the answers would clearly be wrong.
This is why some eastern religions can hold contradictory truths together, like yin and yang. Compassion and strength. The free will of humans AND the sovereignty of God. Was Jesus divine or was he human? The answer is yes. This is also how the early Christians could establish the complex concept of the Trinity and still believe in monotheism (“one God”). Is there one God? Yes. Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Yes.
Paradoxes could even be encouraged, because if your perspective on God is simple and clear it probably doesn’t describe God. Or at least it describes a small god that human minds can comprehend. If you can understand God, is that really God?
If you want to understand more about God and the Bible, you have to become comfortable with paradoxes, questions and even doubt. This is not something Western people are used to. If you’ve grown up in a western culture you were taught to avoid ambiguity and contradiction. Our thinking is built on logic, clarity and certainty. Wherever there are two contradictory views, one must be wrong, we rationalize. We got this this from Greek philosophy.
How We Think Today
There are some benefits to thinking like this. It’s good when you’re working with systems, businesses, institutions, organizations. Great for engineering, mathematics, physics and so on. It’s not so good when you’re working with people and communities, faith and spirituality and emotional health. It’s not so good if you want to repair the rocky relationship with your sister or your dad. It’s terrible if you’re trying to bring peace and harmony to the world, or grow unity in diversity. The conflict in the Middle East, for example, will not be solved while both sides think their perspective is the only right one.
So Jesus lived 2000 years ago and he was Jewish, and that colours everything. That fact brings meaning to the words, and significance to the story that you’d completely miss otherwise. We’ll look at some of these over the next few weeks. So next time you’re reading the stories and think “Why the heck did they say/do that?” just remind yourself that it might be a Jewish thing. There’s obviously a lot more to it than that, but it’s a great place to start.