Theology

Christianity did not invent grace

Though I’ve been a Christian for one third of my life at this point, I am still innately protective of my faith of origin. One of the most difficult parts of my Christian walk has been un-learning some of the antisemitic tropes that have crept into Christian thinking over the centuries. Sometimes they’re obvious; other times, they go virtually undetected unless heard by Jewish ears that are more finely tuned to recognize such things.

Certain anti-Jewish tropes in Christian tradition were hard for even me to pick up on. I’m used to feeling uncomfortable during Passion Plays on Good Friday that depict the Jews as bloodthirsty hounds; I’m admittedly less familiar with anti-Jewish sentiments like the ones in Peter Wehner’s recent piece for the New York Times. This is embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t pick up on them until I came across this reaction piece that a friend shared on Facebook, written by a team of Jewish scholars.

Reconciling A Difficult History

I’m far from the only Christian used to hearing Jesus being referred to as “radically inclusive” and a “champion of the underdogs.” And I don’t dispute those claims at all. Rather, I dispute the targets of such claims. Who is the assumed group that excluded and turned people into underdogs in the first place? The Jews.

I’ll be honest. When I first converted, I didn’t consider these claims to be offensive because much of my Jewish experience was what I would now consider legalistic. I had met few Jews who followed Shabbat and kosher laws purely out of love for the Lord; I only knew Jews like some of my relatives in Israel who didn’t offer much reason for their devout practice beyond “This is just what Jews do.” The implication being, Jews like me who didn’t observe in the same way weren’t actually Jewish at all.

I went on that Israel trip eager to connect with my roots, but I left feeling disillusioned and shamed. I felt excluded in my hometown of Catholics, but I felt even worse being rejected by the people I should have been able to call my own.

Remember Who The Real Enemy Is

Of course, implied in my story is a #NotAllJews warning. I know my experience doesn’t represent all of Jewish practice, just like the gospels’ depiction of specific Jews in a specific time and place doesn’t represent all of Judaism as a whole. But the way many Christians today talk, you would assume that the entire Jewish faith is an empty set of blindly followed rules, with no room for grace. But Jews do understand grace – read the Psalms if you want proof.

For Christians, the fullness of grace is depicted in Jesus Christ, but we did not invent the concept.

I submit that the real enemy depicted in the gospels is not the Jews, and not the pharisees, but Rome. Jesus was a threat to Roman government and executed by Roman methods. When I say “Rome,” I am referring to a nationalist mindset not unlike what we are witnessing today with evangelicals and their undying allegiance to Donald Trump.

It is nationalism, not Judaism, that teaches us to define our worth by power and status. It is nationalism that demands hungry people prove why they deserve to be fed.

Jesus is considered radical by showing us the true priorities of God’s kingdom. Rome is but one example of a human tendency to worship that which is finite. With more intentional study, you will find that Judaism also teaches, “Blessed are the meek, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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