I’m still in Los Angeles at the 2008 Hashivenu Forum, a forum on theology and matters of Jewish practice. We are members of the Messianic Jewish Community discussing how to build a new Judaism centered around Messiah Yeshua . . .
Yesterday’s paper was by Rabbi Russ Resnik, the General Secretary of the UMJC (umjc.net), “Hesed and Hospitality: Embracing Our Place on the Margins.”
What does he mean by our place on the margins? He means that both from the larger Jewish community and the larger Christian community, Messianic Judaism is seen as marginal.
What makes us marginal to the Christian world? We believe that Jewish followers of Yeshua remain Jews and continue their covenantal relationship with God established at Mt. Sinai. This flies in the face of most traditional Christian views in which the law is deemed obsolete, fully or partially.
It should be more obvious what makes us marginal to the larger Jewish community. Yet Rabbi Resnik brought more clarity to the division between Messianic Judaism and the larger world of Judaism than I expected. He sees our marginality at two-fold:
1. Incidental marginality: the result of 2,000 years of Christian anti-Semitism and Jewish resistance to the idea of Jesus. The rift between the church and synagogue is well-known. Resnik calls it incidental because it is something that need not have been. If you understand the Jewishness of Yeshua and his teaching, it was by no means necessary, humanly speaking, that there be such a rift.
2. Inherent marginality: the result of following a cross-bearing Messiah. We know that following the Messiah who does not follow human expectations, but who turns conventional wisdom on its head, is going to result in families dividing and conflict with those who do not understand. This marginality cannot and should not be changed.
Rabbi Resnik told a story about how such marginality affects Messianic Jews. One fellow leader among us was attending the traditional synagogue in his hometown. He asked if he could be called up to bless the Torah. He is a Cohen, a descendant of the priests of Israel. Jewish tradition is that any Cohen gets first opportunity to come and bless the Torah. The rabbi, knowing he is Messianic, said that he could not make an aliyah (be called up). Yet this was in conflict with the tradition of a Cohen’s priority. So they asked him to do something humiliating. They asked him to leave the room while they asked, “Are there any Cohens present?” Then the congregation would respond, “There are no Cohens present.” Then he was allowed to come back in.
In other words, his status as a priest on the one hand and a heretic, on the other, created the need for this charade.
That is what we mean by marginality. Messianic Jews are marginal in the eyes of the larger Jewish world.
Rabbi Resnik’s thesis is that we should embrace our marginality, both in Jewry and Christendom. The margins are a great place to speak from. Yeshua, as John Meier so aptly says in his famous trilogy of books, was a marginal Jew. He stood at the outside speaking in. We should embrace our marginality, instead of looking for acceptance. We should stand with Yeshua at the margins.
Yet the paradox is that Yeshua who is at the margins is really at the center.
In the same way, both for Jewry and Christendom, Messianic Judaism is really at the center. Unknown to many churches and to nearly all synagogues, the remnant of Israel, those in Israel who follow Messiah, are the vanguard of the Age to Come. Yeshua will return when Israel returns to God. Leading this renewal are Messianic Jews, although our role is so small and hidden now, this is hard to imagine.
Rabbi Resnik went on to give practical suggestions. But the power of the idea is even more important than the practical suggestions.
We stand with Messiah, marginalized by a world that values everything but the rule of God and his Messiah. We stand with the Messiah who said, “Learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy (hesed), not sacrifice.’”
Thus, with Yeshua, we must love those who marginalize us. One of many examples Rabbi Resnik gave was Yeshua at the well in Samaria, a place where Jews were marginalized. Yet Yeshua offered living water to a woman there. From the margins, he reached in with hesed, with a deed of lovingkindness. So must we, in Messianic Judaism, reach out with real love to the larger Jewish world and to Christendom.
It is not our ideas that will win others. It is our lives.