In discussing this post on Twitter with a follower, I made the comment, "We often overlook the Jewishness of Jesus and Paul, to our detriment."
This has led me to an analogy that I wish to share, which needs to happen in order to correct an often-mistaken view among Jews, Christians, and the world at large.
Imagine that Judaism at the time of Christ was an olive tree.
This tree grew from the seed of Adam. Its roots were Abraham, and it sprouted and grew under the gardening of Moses. By the time of Christ, it was a large tree with a long history.
Then along comes Jesus. In the view of most Christians and Jews, what Jesus did was this: He said, "Judaism is wrong, I have come to start a new religion. It will grow from the seed of Judaism, but this new religion is something altogether different."
The problem is that this is not at all how early Christians thought of it, nor how the Bible pictures it. Christianity is not a new religion made from the seed of Judaism--Christianity is Judaism in its completely blossomed form. God did not start over and plant a new tree from Judaism's seed: He gardened and cultivated Judaism into what it was supposed to be all along.
Let's listen to what Paul said in Romans 11, when he uses the exact same analogy of a tree:
"I ask, then, has God rejected His people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people...
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember that it is not you who support the root, but the root who supports you." (Rom 11:1-2,13-18 - emphasis mine)
Paul uses the example of an olive tree, and grafting in branches. His discussing of grafting makes it clear that he chose an olive tree as an example purposefully--but we Americans, not often having olive trees in our yards, miss his point.
Olive trees grown from seeds generally give poor yields and are very slow growing, so that is not the common way of growing an olive tree. The more successful method of propogating olive trees is grafting, the process Paul refers to. When grafting, branches of one olive tree are cut into shoots or branches about a meter (3') long. Incisions are made into the bark of the receiving tree, and the new shoot is added in. It is then sealed and allowed to grow.
Paul uses this analogy and makes a few specific points:
1. God did not reject Israel (v.1)
2. The holiness of the branches (Gentiles) is dependent upon the holiness of the root (Judaism) (v.16)
3. The Gentile Christians are not the root, but the wild tree grafted into the healthy tree (v.17)
4. It is the root of Judaism that nourishes the Gentiles, not the other way around (v.17b)
5. If God did not spare the natural branches He certainly won't spare you! Be fearful and honor those to whom you have been joined (v.18-22)
Paul is very specific to point out that we are the wild ones who have been mercifully grafted onto their tree...not the other way around!
The common Christian perception is:
1. God made a new tree, Christianity, from the seed of Judaism
2. If Jews accept Jesus they are removed from Judaism and grafted onto "our" tree
It is mind-blowing that we think this, when Paul explicity states in the New Testament that this is untrue! The truth is:
1. God made one tree, Judaism. Jesus fulfilled it to grow to its full height.
2. Jews following the proper Messiah (Jesus) are the natural branches of this tree.
3. Jews who reject Jesus are cut off of this tree.
4. Gentiles, in God's infinite mercy, are undeservedly grafted onto the tree to fill it back out.
In other words...you and I, we Gentile Christians? We are members of the religion of Messianic Judaism.
Okay, not in the way we use the terms, sure. But according to Peter and Paul, they did not invent a new religion at all! They brought Judaism into its blossommed, final form. Some Jews rejected Messiah, however, and thus were cut off of their natural tree.
When early Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah, God did not create a new tree--He removed the offending branches and added us in their place. But the tree, the faith--Judaism--remained unchanged. It simply had some new adherants, related not by blood but by faith. What has happened is that the pile of discarded old branches still claims to be the 'proper tree'--and thus we have renamed our tree "Christianity."
Christians do not see ourselves as 'new Israel' but as "Israel Proper"--a thoroughly Jewish tree, nourished by the history of the Old Testament, brought into blossom by the Messiah Jesus, and onto which tree we Gentiles have been graciously (and undeservedly) grafted.
So as I have said before, I will say again: we do ourselves a disservice if we do not recognize the Jewishness of Jesus and Paul. After all, it is the Jewish tree to which we have been joined.
(Postscript--Everyone read the passage of Romans 11:25-32. You have just read the context behind it, now tell me what this means? I think there is a clear implication here for the future of those born into Judaism and committed to the faith. But it is a controversial reading. Give it some thought and conclude in your mind what this passage tells us. You can share in the comments if you like, but you are not obligated to do so.)