Evangelical communities in the United States have largely supported the nation of Israel and for good reason. Years of antisemitism and persecution have skewed the Jewish perception of their Christian counterparts, and has painted a false image of the very Jewish Jesus. Pastor John Hagee runs CUFI (Christians United for Israel) out of Texas, and over the years it has become one of the largest pro-Israel organizations in America. The Hebrew Roots movement and rise in Messianic Judaism may contribute to the fairly recent explosive support for the Holy Land.
Growing up as a reform Jew, my religion and ethnicity were so intertwined that Zionism was just as much of a religious virtue as say, tzedakah (charity) and mitzvoth (commandments and good deeds). I looked in awe at scenic laminated photos of the Western Wall and the Jerusalem skyline proudly displayed after a group from synagogue returned from a trip. Twice a week at Hebrew school the American and Israeli national anthems were sung and the flags were brought down together to the bimah (raised platform in the synagogue from which the Torah is read and services are held). Before Jesus found me and completed my Jewish identity in him, I was spiritually lost and wondered why I needed to travel across the world to experience God in a more powerful way. Since God created the heavens and the earth, it didn’t make sense to me that I was ‘less of a Jew’ if I hadn’t yet taken up my birthright trip or had tourist photos taken in a Middle Eastern desert.
As a thirteen year old studying for my bat-mitzvah, my knowledge of the Torah wasn’t extensive, but the various questions I had weren’t taken too seriously by my tutor. My portion was Korach, and after inquiring about the possibility of a man getting swallowed by the earth and how that could possibly relate to Jewish life here and now, he replied “Who knows if any of this sh*t is real”. (this is an example of a ‘flashbulb memory’. I don’t remember much else from bat mitzvah study at 13 but those words were so utterly shocking (and funny at the time) that they never left me and probably never will)). I figured that my religious confusion would be wiped away once I made it to that patch of land and that God would solidify my Jewish pride as I touched the wall. This wasn’t exactly the case. I visited Israel with my local church last summer as a hoopla after finally, through Jesus, achieving the assurance of an authentic relationship with God that I had always been searching for. I got the touristy desert photo & everything!
The potential drawback of this thinking is putting religious piety before humanity and care for the lowly. This is exactly what we’re told not to do (Isaiah 2:12, Isaiah 23:9, James 4:6, James 4:10, Philippians 4:3, Proverbs 8:13, Proverbs 27:2, Proverbs 29:23, Luke 14:11, Matthew 23:12, etc..). The word ‘humble’ occurs 71 times in the Bible, not including the variances ‘humility’ and ‘contrite’. That would give us an even 100. We know that the fullness of God’s plan will unfold regardless of our human attempts to assist, and Jesus makes it clear that our job is to simply obey and draw those from every tribe, nation, and tongue into his kingdom so they too can experience his peace. I will not put myself with one camp or the other, because labels don’t help us to actually understand people. Jesus ministered to individuals as well as to groups, and the need to assimilate can draw us away from our unique, God given identity and into a watered down form of spirituality. This conflict is more complicated than meets the eye, and Christians need to be a light and safe haven for the Jewish and Muslim communities pitted against each other. At the end of the day, we want every people group to notice something different about us. I’ve been called a pacifist, but knowing that Christ is the ultimate authority over every world power gives us the peace to walk confidently through tumultuous situations and show unconditional kindness to those who seem strange or unfamiliar.
Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men came forward, seized Jesus, and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reaches for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its’ place,” Jesus said to him,”For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” ~Matthew 26:50-52 (NIV)
During this holiday season my hope & prayer is that we focus on our similarities rather than our differences. Reversal of fortunes is a common theme weaved through God’s story, and it’s a call to us to treat our ‘enemies’ as his sons and daughters with infinite potential, marked with his fingerprint. As the wise Martin Luther King said,
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”