Both Church and synagogue have continued on through history, all over the world, but many times in a heartrending manner. However, despite the tension within the relationship of Church and synagogue, both share the same root, namely God’s covenant-relationship with Israel.
More precisely, the Church stands on the root of God’s relationship with Israel. Paul, speaking about an olive tree with a root and branches, had to remind the Roman Christians, “You do not support the root, but the root supports you” (Rom. 11:18b).
“The Lord our God, the Lord is One”
The root is the covenant of God with Abraham, with Israel, the revelation of His name YHWH, by which He connected with them, established His alliance with them (see Gen. 12:1-3; Exod. 4:13-15). YHWH represents the Lord in His covenant relationship, and is for that reason His greatest revelation to man. It is the eternal Torah, the eternally ever-present, creating Word, which was before creation, stemming from the Father—the Word that became flesh (see John 1:1-18). The root of Israel is the Word of God, the creating Word. That is YHWH in the Old covenant; the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God in the New covenant. That is the Anointed One, the Messiah, and the King. “I am the Root and the Offspring of David,” He said (Rev. 22:16b; see also Rev. 5:5; Rom. 15:12). “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9b). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
Again, the spiritual (and maybe even the physical) root of the Church is Israel, more specifically the new covenant made with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, part of the covenants God made with Israel. And this is still the case in spite of the early infiltration of the Church by elements of Greek philosophy and attempts to detach the Church from her Jewish root and to convert Israel to a non-Jewish theology. Despite her Gentile nature, the Church is grafted into the cultivated olive tree whose root is rich in sap (see Rom. 11:24). But the way we as Gentile Christians over the centuries have expressed our faith, cloaked in Greek philosophical terms that sometimes sounds like blasphemy to Jewish ears has darkened the face of Jesus for them.
Let me give you just one example. Have you ever tried to explain the mystery of the Trinity to a Jewish person, using the words of the ancient Christian confessions of faith, which were deeply shaped by Greek philosophy? The eyes of your Jewish friend probably glazed over! Indeed, however hard you try to explain or grasp this mystery, it remains elusive. In the lands of Christendom over the centuries, Jews chose to die, burning at the stake, with the crucifix of Jesus right before their eyes, rather than accept this foreign Christian god and violate the basic confession of their Jewish, biblical faith: “Hear O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4). The concept of the Trinity is the basic stumbling block between Jews and Christians.
If asked about this matter by Jewish friends, I sometimes take the following approach: “You Jews believe that God is One, don’t you?” “Oh yes, we do,” they will probably reply. Then I say, “Did you know that Jesus, who was a pious Jew, also believed that? When He was asked what was the most important commandment of all (see Mark 12:28-34), He replied, ‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one,’ quoting the Shema (Deut. 6:4), known by every Jew and enclosed in the mezuzah on every Jewish doorpost. ‘And love the Lord your God with all your heart, body, and soul’ (see Deut. 6:5-6; Mark 12:28-34; Lev. 19:18). The same answer that every observant Jew would give today.”
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