I appeal to you, kin, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.).
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
A special day: Starting off with a wonderful breakfast at the Christ Church kitchen and then some shopping in the Jewish Quarter. That was the plan anyway, but something got in the way.
I will not call him by his real name, let’s just say I perceive that he thinks he’s important, Lord, and I don’t want to even chance a contribution to those thoughts. So, his name will be Ron.
As we approach the entrance to the Christ Church compound, just inside the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, there he stands. Nothing threatening about his demeanor, mind you, but he has certainly strategically planted himself in our path, ready to engage. And it works.
“Shalom,” we state politely as we walk toward him.
“Are you Christian?” He replies with a serious countenance.
“We are here to see the land,” I reply, sensing there is an issue about to arise.
“If you are Christians, you are unwelcomed here,” He warns, his face remaining stern. “I am of the Torah and we do not believe the same as you.”
“What is it we believe?” I ask.
“Trinity.” He replies immediately. It appears he has had this conversation with others before and his practiced attack continues. “Our God is not a Father, son or Spirit. He is one.
“Yes, Echad,” I return. I am thinking he and I are one—echad— in our belief that you, YHWH are one, with characteristics that present themselves as you and only you deem necessary. Ron now looks at me with a puzzled glare after I offer the Hebrew word-form for unity: so I carefully continue. “We agree. God is only One.” It would take all day (maybe an eternity) to elaborate and distinguish the totality of that statement. We only have this moment. “God created the world to love in unity, in relationship, did he not?”
“God is not of this world, he is separate of the creation,” mater-of-factly replies our new acquaintance. Then he turns to a woman member of our group, a Messianic believer who has expanded, not rejected her Jewish heritage by recognizing you, Yeshua, as her Messiah. “Are you a Christian?” he points at her as he demands an answer.
My traveling companion stares Ron right in the face and states. “I am Jewish and believe in YWHW the one true God. I am also a follower of Yeshua HaMashiach.”
“Then you are a heretic.” Our adversary can’t accept that a Jewish believer with deep roots would be associated in any form with we Christian scum. Lord, I don’t want this confrontation, but here it is. Ron is no questioner, contrary to many rabbinical students I’ve dialogued with. He is one who believes in setting the record straight and according to his line of attack, we are nowhere near being on the same path as he. I sense it might be a good time to offer an olive branch of peace.
“Isn’t this a good moment then? We’d love to hear about the differences in Jewish ideas about Torah.”
“There is no difference in Jewish belief. We all believe the same thing and there is no disagreement concerning scripture.”
Really? I don’t disagree with the idea that scripture does not contradict or disagree with itself, but as for humane wrestling with the word? My mind raced back to conversations with many of my Jewish friends in faith and I recall many who would not only disagree with this man but would point out the healthiness of point and counter-point in exploring and debating the nuances of scripture. So I pressed, “What about Mishna?” I realize I’m opening a can of worms, bringing up the well tested Hebrew method of seeking agreement and deeper truth through the contrasting and comparison of ideas. I hope it will invite a better way for us to learn from one another. Ron thwarts in my ambition.
“You do not know Mishna—how it solidifies the law. You are twisting the concept,” Ron reacts.
I find it interesting that he is accusing me of twisting a word when all I had done was ask a question. And then you lead me, Lord, in your most patient of ways, to offer a deeper consideration.
“I’m probably not qualified to dialogue with you, but there is one thing I’ve been studying and maybe you can help me with the answer to a very puzzling question. Why would God do such a thing as creating, and then not relate directly to his creation? Why would he even bother creating if he didn’t plan on loving his work?”
Ron looked at me long and hard. He then spoke about his upbringing and how important his father was in the community and how Ron himself had studied in depth. But for some reason, he ignores my question.
I sense in my spirit that you are doing a work and feel encouraged to let the questions continue to fly. “What about when the scriptures speak of God loving and hating and crying and rejoicing? Is that not a God who sounds passionate about a relationship with his creation?”
“God does not have emotions; those writings are personification,” Ron answers.
“So the scribes are transferring their emotions to God? Are those emotions not actually written attributes of God, written in the Psalms and other places? I’m honestly really confused because I thought you had said scripture can’t be debated.”
“Your words are killing me, you are not my friend. I will hear no more of this. You do not believe in our God.” And with those condemning words, meant not to invite but divide, Ron turns and walks away. It appears that today we will not be of one accord.
It was quite an experience for our first day in the Land, particularly for the others in the group, none of whom had previously experienced any sort of theological attack from a Jewish perspective. Me, Lord? You seem to have made me a magnet for such encounters, and that’s fine. I just pray that you guide me in ever-increasing understanding of how to dialogue while avoiding disparagement. It would have been so much more fulfilling to continue the discussion with Ron; discerning how he arrived at his opinions; comparing rather than condemning ours to his. Instead, I personally felt apprehended, baited into a hostile confrontation in which there could be no fruitful outcome; no hope of restoring the shards of our shared spiritual heritage back into the perfect vessel you once fashioned. It will come, it will happen, you have promised it. What an amazing thing it would have been at this moment for all of us to have received it together…
As for this day, it had just begun and you supply a great comparison in the next moment. We enter into the Christ Church courtyard and encounter some other amazing people. Alex Wolfe, on staff at the Archeological Museum walks us through a methodical explanation of the engineering and substructure which lay beneath the temple mount, including a schematic description of where you, Jesus would have been held at Pilot’s quarters within Herod’s palace: He then reveals that this room was not at the “traditional site”. Most folks are directed to visit those tourist locations because they are convenient and set up for display, but I have learned in my travels that the “actual” event localities, though not as alluring, often offer a more profound and realistic experience when visited. Wolfe leads us to such a site this day; incredibly, a place below the foundations of a coffee shop next door.
We have to climb down a steep and ancient stairwell, into a dark vault which we learn was once a water cistern, converted into a holding cell. The foundation stones of much earlier times speak to the authenticity of this place. Lord, I can almost hear your anguish from when you were once chained in this chamber, or one like it, awaiting the terrible fate you willingly took on. Even knowing that it lead to the greatest spiritual victory of all time; humanity’s…my salvation by your suffering and resurrection.
Being in this place and this time…I draw from your example. These walls tried to close you in, imprisoning your love which you courageously share not only with the oppressed but with your oppressors. They decried you as a heretic for your efforts. My own recent experience,—being unwelcomed as a heretic, so minuscule in comparison to your experience—comes flaring back to memory. It happened not even fifty feet above where we now stand; fifty feet from the very spot where you were held captive prior to your trial and execution. And I’m again saddened that our dialogue with Ron ended on such a dark note. You too were apprehended, baited into a hostile confrontation. But you knew there would be a different and magnificently more fruitful outcome; planned by you to restore the shards of our shared spiritual heritage back into the perfect vessel you had originally fashioned.
I’m astounded at how a particular piece of ground, like a belief, can become someone’s fortress through which none are allowed to pass. For others, The Christ Church neighborhood is a place of welcome, lively discussion and fellowship, regardless of affiliation. My wife reminded me of a man we encountered on our last journey there, who had been outcast from his home and who was recovering from accusations of abuse. He was not there to be judged but to seek repentance and recovery. Both were offered and received—praise to You!
Many other examples flood my mind, Lord, your people reaching out to invite, not to condemn, and that gives me hope even for a strong-willed theologian threatened by counter concepts to the point where pursuit of Truth through honest exploration is refused.
Let me not be that man, Lord: As strong as my belief in you has become, let me hear others. Let me try to understand them, and if we disagree, let me not apprehend—imprisoning them within walls of condemnation; just as I would pray they not condemn me. Let us seek together what eludes us both, the completeness of your Kingdom: It will come, it will happen, you have promised it. What an amazing thing it might be for all of us to receive it together…