Just a quick thought for today. I am reading Luke Timothy Johnson’s commentary on Acts for the Daily D’var, an email list commentary through which I send out readings from the Chumash (five books of Torah) and the Gospels and Acts.
I came to Acts 2:37, “Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘What should we do, brothers?’”
Johnson’s comment is as follows:
At the death of Jesus, Luke showed the reader a people ready for repentance; when they observed the death of Jesus, they had turned back to the city beating their breasts in a gesture of remorse (Luke 23:48). Now, hearing Peter’s message, they are ready to do what is required by God’s action.
—The Acts of the Apostles. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992), 60.
My comment, a few sentences from my Daily D’var email on this passage:
Luke does not emphasize Israel as rejecting Yeshua but shows the segment within Israel open to the work of God revealed through Yeshua. In Luke 23:48, many witnesses of Yeshua’s death go home beating their breasts (Johnson). Here in Acts 2:37 those who hear Peter’s message are stunned. Later, in Acts 21:20 we will hear of the tens of thousands (muriades, mistakenly translated as thousands in many English versions) of Jewish believers.
We are used to the idea of few Jewish followers of Yeshua. In the first century and now, it seems there are so few. What do we do with the “fewness” theme?
We can see it the other way as a sort of muchness. Johnson goes on the say that when Peter quotes from the book of Joel, he uses the Septuagint version (the LXX). And though he does not quote this particular verse, it is adjacent to one he does quote, and in midrashic thinking the unspoken next few words of a passage are often meant to be the main point: For it will be in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem that there will be a remnant, just as the Lord said, and they will be preached the good news (Joel 3:5b, LXX version, 2:32 in modern Christian Bibles). The Hebrew text doesn’t say “remnant” or “be preached the good news” but rather “those who escape” and “will be those whom the Lord calls.”
Could it be (Johnson thinks so) that Peter has in mind especially the idea that his audience, Judeans at the Temple hearing the good news of Yeshua, are the remnant to whom good news is preached?
I get a question from Christians with regularity: why are there so few Jewish followers of Yeshua? My response is: why are there so few Gentile followers of Yeshua? I might also say, are there really few Jewish followers of Yeshua?
It depends on how you look at it.
Where are the Messianic Jews today? Well, very few are in so-called Messianic Jewish congregations. I’d be surprised if there were more than 3,000 actually Jewish Messianic Jews in the Messianic Jewish congregations in the U.S.
So where are we? There are three other places to find us: in churches, in mainstream synagogues (of the non-Yeshua-believing type), and staying away from both church and synagogue.
Those in churches, I hope will discover the importance of belonging to the Jewish people and will in the future be drawn to community with other Jews. Sadly, most will not know they are Jewish anymore in one generation. If you don’t know what I am talking about or think I am wrong, think about it.
What about Yeshua-believing Jews in mainstream synagogues? They exist in all branches of Judaism, from teh Hasidim to the Reform and Reconstructionist. I’m not saying this is a major number of people. But it happens.
And why do Jews stay in churches and mainstream synagogues instead of joining Messianic Jewish synagogues? Well, many have experienced unusual things including: Messianic congregations that have no Jews, Hebrew Christian fellowships that are really churches and not synagogues, weird theology and practices, an environment lacking love and maturity, unqualified leaders who are an embarrassment, and so on.
Churches and synagogues look pretty good compared to 90% of the so-called Messianic congregations (I mean the 90% literally).
And why do some Jewish Yeshua-believers stay away from all kinds of religious communities? First, they buy into radical individualism, the idea that personal faith is sufficient. Never mind the fact that God’s promises are communal and that neither the Hebrew Bible nor the New Testament know anything of solitary worshippers who resist joining with the community. Second, postmodern shallowness leads many to think Yeshua is an interest or intellectual/spiritual pursuit to be compared with other interests like eco-kosher or organic gardening or reading political blogs.
The challenge for Messianic Judaism’s future, and we are discussing it here at the class I am taking in L.A. through MJTI, is to engage the Jewish world with the power of Yeshua’s name expressed through loving, ethical communities involved in healing and serving in this broken world. I think along with this power there must be sound knowledge as well, knowledge of both the Jewish and Christian traditions expressed in a thoroughly Jewish and radically Yeshua-empowered form of worship that is true to Judaism and faithful to the identity and message of Yeshua which we share with Christianity.