Following is a letter I just wrote to a Roman Catholic priest living in Italy, who is a leader promoting good relations between Christians and Jews . He had graciously written to me out of his hearty agreement with ideas he had found in my writings. This is most of my letter to him. It is included in today’s blog that you might consider on a broader canvas what God is up to in the world. Too often we limit ourselves to our own provincial horizons, forgetting that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of all the nations of the earth.
Out of regard for the privacy of this priest, and of my translator, I have omitted their names, but with their permission, may insert these at a later date.
You will notice that I use rhetoric in this letter appropriate for addressing a Roman Catholic leader out of respect for his office. So if I sound churchier than usual, there is a reason 🙂
Shalom to you respected Father ______. Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus, of the seed of Abraham, Son of God, and son of Mary, the King of Israel, and Lord of the Church.
I regret that it is taking me so long to respond to the letter . . . . Somehow, that letter fell away from my view, and it was out of my mind until a few weeks ago, when I thought to discuss you with my friend. . . who is translating this letter for me. . . .
In this letter I would like to offer some brief reflections and words of appreciation for the letter you sent me.
I am impressed that you agree with me that God is seeking to accomplish something in the world beyond the spiritual salvation of individuals and their spiritual renewal. He is the Lord of Israel and the nations, and his final acts in history will be concerning the fullness of Israel and the fullness of the nations. As you know, this is what I highlight in my book Christians and Jews Together. I am honored that you agree with my vision of the things of God as presented there. As I have continued to think about what the Scriptures say to us, my convictions in this matter have deepened. I expect that by the end of the year, a major new book of mine will be published. The tentative title is Converging Destinies: Jews, Christians and the Mission of God. In this book I will explore in greater depth the history of God’s dealings with the church and Israel in view of the Greater Commission and the Great Commission, matters about which you and I are deeply concerned.
I agree with you that the church must reconsider its interpretations of prophetic Scripture in view of what God has been doing among the Jewish people in our time. I am also deeply touched with your sensitivity to what the Spirit of God has done among the Jewish people for the last 2000 years. In this I see you as a true son of the Blessed Pope John Paul II. In my research, I have come to deeply respect his courage and vision and standing with and for the Jewish people as the people of God. Your voice, like his, and like the voice of Nostra Aetate [a document promulgated during Vaticah II, in 1965, which revolutionized the Roman Catholic Church rhetoric about the Jewish people in a wonderful way], is a prophetic voice. I am encouraged to know that you are in a position to speak of such things to the clergy and laity of the Roman Catholic Church. I rejoice, and again I rejoice!
Reading your letter, I find myself agreeing with you over and over again. With you I agree that the people of our time tend to see the events of history with secular eyes, never recognizing the hand of God. But we who claim to serve Him cannot look at history this way!
Unless I misunderstand your letter, you believe as I do that at the end of time God is going to create a renewed Israel. By this I mean that the Jewish people, who for millennia have sought to remember God’s law and to obey him, will be renewed in the Spirit due to the work of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. I agree as well that in our day there are more and more Jews who are coming to believe in Jesus, many of whom are also molded by the ways of Torah and by rabbinic tradition. Many of these are Jews like me who have turned both to the God of their fathers through faith in Jesus Christ, and also to honoring Him in the context of Torah obedience. We Jews who are thus renewed, are a foretaste of what will happen to the Jewish people as a whole when, as St. Paul says, “All Israel will be saved.” I am touched to see that you agree with Messianic Jewish scholars among us like Dr. David Rudolph and Dr. Mark Kinzer who lament that the halls of theological discussion have for too long marginalized the voices of Messianic Jews. To me it is a counterpart to the Council of Nicea, when the Jewish bishops of the Church were excluded, and the Church turned away from the rich root of the olive tree.
How perceptive and helpful it is that you see God’s dealings with Israel as a sign to the nations. You see that God’s responses of mercy and judgment toward Israel are but a foretaste of how he deals with the other nations of the world. How tragic it is that under supersessionism, the church from among the nations, contemptuous of the children of Israel, has failed to see in them a portrait of how God will deal with all. Paul draws this lesson for us in Romans 11 when he says “If God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you,” drawing a direct parallel between God’s ways with Israel and His way with the church. But sadly, the church has for too long been blind to this reality, and has increased its own suffering and that of Israel as a result. But indeed, as Paul said, and as you rightly understand, “God has consigned all to disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all.” And again, before the eyes of a chastened church, God’s mercy toward the Jewish people is meant to be seen as a sign of hope for a church that must confess that like Israel, it has too often lost its way. As Isaiah the Prophet reminds us, “all of us like sheep have gone astray, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”—all of us, Israel and the church, need His mercy. And when the church assumes that God denies this mercy to Israel, she cuts herself off from any hope for herself in the hands of the only God she can rightly name, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
I am touched as well by your humility in recognizing that in the hand of God, Israel is a prophet people, a people through whom God speaks to the nations. This is not what St Augustine of Hippo or St Jerome taught, except that they said that Israel speaks to the world of her own condemnation and the curse she bears for having “killed the Son of God.” But your words rightly affirm that God speaks through Israel a much different message: the message of grace and mercy despite her sins. This message of mercy is certainly a better message for the church than one of condemnation!
I write in my upcoming book something which you hint at in your paper: the true Jewishness of the Savior and the Apostles, that the church is built upon this Jewish foundation. It is interesting that while Christendom remembers that God came to us incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christendom neglects and forgets that this Jesus who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, who descended into hell, and on the third day rose again, was born, crucified, buried, and raised as a Jew. He remains a Jew to this day! And to the extent that the church neglects this truth, avoids this truth, and, God forbid, disputes this truth, she estranges herself from her only source of hope and salvation.
I appreciate as well your discussion of Holy Scripture’s record that the first shall be last and the last first, and how this applies to Israel. I am reminded of Romans 11 where Paul struggles to understand the mystery of what God is doing with the Jewish people. He is disturbed to think that the comparatively feeble response of first century Jews to the news of the Messiah is all that one might expect. He knows from Scripture that the good news must be first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Isaiah spoke of this, and not he alone. This is nothing new. What evokes Paul’s great doxology in Romans 11 is that no one would have ever guessed that the eschatological blessing of God would come first to the Jews, then to the nations, and then to the Jews again and finally!! This is the portrait he paints in Romans 11, it is the mystery with which he wrestles in that chapter, and once discovered, it is his cause for awe and praise. Similarly, the Great and Greater Commission message is incomplete without remembering that the Messianic blessings are to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles, and then back to the Jews finally! Who would have guessed? No one! This is why Paul breaks out in his doxology!
I am thrilled with your section on “The Prophecy of Israel and the Return of Christ in Glory.” In translation, you even use the key word which plays a major role in my new book, “convergent!” Yes, we are so much in agreement on so many things that we even use the same vocabulary! You are right that there are very few in Christendom who are preaching about these things. One purpose of my new book is to catalyze new discussion and ferment on these issues, in the hopes that discussion will read a “tipping point,” a point when the momentum of discussion and opinion will shift. As you know, the opinion of the churches, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, is far removed from seeing the Jews as God’s continued and foundational beloved nation, Christ as Lord of the Church only because He is first the King of the Jews, and the end of all things involving the consummating vindication of Israel as God’s beloved people who, despite all their sins, are saved in the final day through the astounding grace of the Crucified. This message which stirs your heart as it does mine is unknown and viewed as heretical by the majority of those who call Jesus “Lord,” and is far from the minds of most Jews. Surely it is only through an eschatological and convulsive work of the Spirit that these truths will be revealed to all, preached among them and embraced by them. We Messianic Jews are a first fruit of that embrace among Israel, and you, Father ______, and others in sympathy with you, are the first fruits from among the nations to understand and rejoice in these neglected truths. It is a fearful thing for you, for me, for others, to be custodians of such holy treasures.
Finally you touch on something that I have come to feel strongly. Let me illustrate by telling a story that illustrates my point. About four weeks ago in a prayerful state of mind, I went to a local church where a friend is a member. I went to renew acquaintance with his pastor. I had only visited this church once or twice in two years, but on this morning, I felt impressed by the Spirit to go there and I did. When I arrived, I discovered that the pastor was not there that day, but another man was preaching . . . . After the earlier sections of the service were completed he stood up to preach and after one or two sentences, I knew why God had brought me there that morning. He said that he was the Director of Reconciliation and Inclusion Services at a local Christian college. I found this most significant, because I myself have, in the last year, with God’s help, founded an organization — Interfaithfulness, with the vision statement, “Exploring the synergy between Judaism and Christianity, partnership between Christians and Jews, and the relationship between God’s tomorrow and our today.” All of this is very much concerned with reconciliation, as was St. Paul, whose ministry was centered on reconciling the Jewish people to God’s New People from among the nations.
At the end of the service, I went up to the front of the church and spoke with this man and said this to him, “I believe the church will always have a problem with reconciliation until it deals with the root problem which is its fractured relationship with the Jewish people.” Of course you realize that this is another way of saying what you say toward the end of your paper, about God’s desire for Spirit engendered Unity in the ecumenical world, and between Christian and Jews. It is notable, Fr. ______, that we are so much in harmony with each other. In this, as well as in so much else you have to say, I rejoice.
Perhaps some time [my coworker/translator and friend] and I might visit you [and your community] that, in the words of St. Paul writing to the Christians in Rome, “I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” [Romans 1:11-12].
Until then, or until I hear from you again, may God’s richest blessing rest upon you and your work.
Your brother, through the Grace of God in Christ Jesus,
Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD
P.S. I am enclosing a pdf of a brochure about Interfaithfulness, that you might know more of what we do. If you would like, I will also send you by email a prepublication draft of my upcoming book. I regret that it is only in English, but if that will be of interest to you, it will be my privilege to share it with you.