Occasionally I am optimistic. Of course I have faith in God and so I always expect that he will keep up his end of things. But what I am saying is that sometimes I am even optimistic about the human dimension of things.
For example, Shavuot with my synagogue friends yesterday revived a bit of optimism for me. I am skeptical that any synagogue or Jewish group had as fine and as spirited a Shavuot in Atlanta yesterday as we did.
For starters, many synagogues and Jewish families ignored Shavuot yesterday. This once great pilgrim feast is almost extinct in broader Judaism. Messianic Jews are among the few groups keeping more than a Yom Tov, but keeping a feast, a celebratory gathering.
I think it is a good question to ask: why are Messianic Jews more devoted to at least this aspect of the Torah calendar than mainstream Judaism?
Alright, confession time. There was an area we got slaughtered if we were in a contest of devotion and spirit. That area is in the Tikkun Lail Shavuot. Perhaps it is just because we are a small synagogue. But we only had five people interested in staying up all night and reading Torah and so, being an essentially lazy leader, I did not put one together after seeing that low response.
But while we may lag in piety with regard to near-ascetic practices of cloistered discipline, we excel and are unsurpassed in joyful zeal for things like the giving of Torah and the Holy Spirit on a hallowed day of the year.
Picnicking and dancing, talking about life and Torah and God, we continued our celebration all day and even had a group remain until havdallah. And as the discussion flowed into the night, the subject came up: how are Messianic Jews different qualitatively from mainstream Jews?
I think we are. I think we have a spirit and fervor about some things that exceeds the rest of the Jewish community. We certainly lack in other areas and if God gave us a report card I would be afraid to look at it. But we would not get poor marks in everything. In fact, I think we lead the Jewish community in some areas.
I don’t accept theologically, scripturally, or experientially the notion that the Jewish community lacks the Holy Spirit. I am persuaded that Yeshua, as Mark Kinzer says, is hidden within Judaism and that the election of Israel includes the divine presence in the midst of the Jewish people.
But I do accept theologically, scripturally, and experientially the notion that God’s outpouring of Spirit on Yeshua-followers is more intense and powerful in certain ways than his presence in broader Judaism.
Theologically, I am persuaded as the Fourth Gospel says that those who know the Son know the Father. Scripturally, I am persuaded that the the Acts 2 pouring out marks a qualitative difference in the intensity of Spirit empowerment. And experientially, I am persuaded that Messianic Jews and Christians have a devotion and zeal that is unmatched regarding certain things (this is particularly true of communities more so than individuals).
It would be great if we realized and played to our strengths more and lamented our weaknesses less. Yeah, we’re small, poorly funded, messed up with confusing theologies, and some MJ synagogues still don’t get what Judaism is about. But there is room for optimism. As we see synagogues emerge with a devotion to Torah and tradition coupling this devotion with Spirit, here we find our strength.
Any Jewish people in Atlanta who might have decided to spend Shavuot with us yesterday would have had a powerful experience. I’d like to think they would come again and perhaps want to make our community their home. Having seen the Spirit of Messianic Judaism, I’m confident they would always have nagging doubts being somewhere else in Atlanta’s Jewish scene, do those Messianics have more Spirit than anyone else?