This is the very beginning of the first chapter of a book of mine to be published this year. There is much more of course, to the book, and to the chapter. But in view of rising antipathy to my people, the Jews, I thought I would say this now.
Surrounded by rolling farmland, looking like some harmless recreational campground, Auschwitz waits. We arrive only to be swallowed up by the silence. Shuffling along, instinctively quiet, mirroring in life the ringing silence of death, we listen to bored tour guides regurgitating rehearsed explanations decrying “what Nazi Germans did on Polish soil.” But such learned scripts fail to drown out the sound of the silence sobbing about absence, millions of voices gone in a moment, and myriads of descendants of the holy seed of Israel forever unborn. Even on this sunny day, the darkness overcomes us, while the silence screams, there, at the edge of that foul maw that swallowed up so many of the holy nation, the royal priesthood, God’s treasured possession.
Horrified, we strain our ears for sounds of life, and our eyes for light, any light to lead us away from this infernal vestibule. A voice pierces primordial night: “Let there be light.” Darkness flees before unquenchable brightness: the voice of God on the lips of man.
Auschwitz opened a new intercommunal dialogue for Jews and Christians, like endless caverns suddenly unearthed, aflood with the light brought by spelunkers from above. Having stood together at the brink of extinction, one community as victim, the other as bystander, each knows that after the Shoah further silence only increases the darkness. Light-giving words must be spoken, united with deeds. The “never again” carved by Christians and Jews is the only fitting monument to the six million. It requires the hammer and chisel of words spoken in communal self-examination and courageous, determined dialogue. Like a hammer pinging on the anvil of a bright new morning, it is only such living voices that can drown out the silence of the dead.
A phoenix arising from crematoria ash, the modern State of Israel gave Jews a new voice in the council of nations, while repudiating two millennia of Christian assumptions. Facing unprecedented horror on the one hand, and ecstatic fulfillment on the other, both communities cry out, “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I did not know it.” Suspecting that God is breaking through the confines of comfortable provincialisms, like the congenitally deaf now learning to hear for the first time with cochlear implants, each community struggles to discern and interpret the voice of God as he speaks through the “foreign lips and strange tongue” of the other.
But how may we discern the way out of an abyss where even God was given up for dead? And what is the right response to dry bones resurrected, realizing a prophetic hope sustained in prayer, marinated in blood, awash with the tears of two thousand years? Is it even possible to discover what God is up to in the world, and the roles he has assigned to Israel and the church at a time when graves split asunder?
Increasingly, Jews and Christians are realizing, “We must find answers to these questions, and we must do it together.” It is as if the Holy One has given to each community part of a treasure map indecipherable apart from that half held by the other. Unless Jews and Christians can come together and form a respectful, trusting, and communicative partnership, the map will continue to remain obscure and its treasure buried, unavailable to all.
Before she can partner with Israel and rightly interpret the treasure map of the mission of God, the church must first hear as if for the first time God’s word concerning Israel’s enduring election, for she can neither accompany nor learn from her Jewish partner apart from this radically transformative hearing. In its youth, the church became blind and deaf to these things. It is time to be healed, and the first signs of healing are already among us.
Mark’s Gospel portrays the leadership of Israel and the church as each in process, blind and seemingly unable to comprehend the truth about themselves, each other, and the mission of God. The text provides both diagnosis and cure. In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus heals a blind man, not suddenly, but in stages. After first putting saliva in his eyes, and laying hands on him, Jesus asks, “Do you see anything?” Looking upward, the man reports, “I see men; but they look like trees, walking.” Jesus lays hands upon him again, and it is only then that “he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly.”
At its birth, the church was already touched by Yeshua. Now, propelled by the convulsive impetus of the Holocaust and the founding of the modern State of Israel, churches and theologians are reaching conclusions, issuing statements, and adopting policies denouncing anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, affirming the continuing election of the Jewish people. Yet, some view these developments with suspicion, dismissing such theologians as trendy post-Holocaust theological revisionists, as if theology must never be revised, even if refusal to do so obscures culpability in genocidal horrors. Even in those circles where such revisions are officially embraced, a paradigm shift is one thing, a shift in practice, quite another. It is hard for the church to see things differently after two thousand years of skewed perceptions. It is harder for her to detect and uproot habits and reflexes shaped by millennia of supersessionist triumphalism.
The church needs a second touch if it would see herself, Israel, and the Messiah as they really are, instead of in the distorted mirror to which she has become accustomed. Indeed, both church and synagogue must learn to doubt their misperceptions as just so many walking trees, to then seek a second touch from God to bring them into a new partnership. God has decreed that neither community can enter into the consummation of all things apart from forming this respectful, attentive, and communicative alliance. The first sign of their blindness being healed will be when church and synagogue see one another differently than before.
This chapter highlights what Israel remembers and the church forgets, that the people of Israel are eternally beloved. The church needs to learn this lesson, review it constantly, and explore its implications deeply. That Israel is destined to be her senior partner in the consummation of the mission of God will jar and offend many Christians. But this is far less jarring and offensive than when Jews are forced to endure the cacophony of church’s claim to be the new Israel—words that seek to unmake the “let there be light” of Israel’s creation.