The Bridge over the Chasm

Bridge at Ausable Chasm
Photo © 2007 mopar05ram CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
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The metaphors we use affects how we think of things. And how we think of things betrays the metaphors hidden in the reaches of our minds.

Being part of a Messianic Jewish synagogue, I continually encounter the power of how we think, power to bring people together, or to push them apart. Because there is a 1700-year-old chasm between Judaism and Christianity, a chasm that Messianic Judaism now straddles precariously, and promises to make both friends and enemies on both sides.

If you see Yeshua as the guardian of the chasm between the old and new covenants, then it’s easy to ask—for example—whether to follow G-d (Judaism) or whether to follow the way, the truth, and the life (Christianity). But if you see Yeshua as the builder of the bridge that brings Torah to the rest of the world, then that question itself becomes nonsensical. Instead, you begin to ask where in the Torah is Yeshua and his teaching reflected and how he fits into Judaism.

This question goes directly to the heart of the very definition of “Messianic Judaism.” The Messianic Judaism I know is attempting to reconnect these two now-separate sides of the Chasm, which requires rewriting the metaphors that both sides use, challenging the hidden assumptions we find underlying those metaphors. Rabbi Mark Kinzer described it thusly in his paper, “Prayer in Yeshua, Prayer in Israel: The Shema in Messianic Perspective” (see Israel’s Messiah and the People of God: A Vision for Messianic Jewish Covenant Fidelity, or the papers from Hashivenu 2007):

Messianic Judaism involves more than the subtle tweaking of an existing form of Jewish life and thought—adding a few elements required by faith in Yeshua and subtracting a few elements incompatible with that faith. Instead, the Judaism we have inherited—and continue to practice—is entirely bathed in the bright light of Yeshua’s revelation. In a circular and dynamic interaction, our Judaism provides us with the framework required to interpret Yeshua’s revelation even as it is reconfigured by that revelation. In this way our Judaism and our Yeshua-faith are organically and holistically “integrated.”

Each proceeds from a completely different metaphor. And I have also found, it can be very hard to get people to recognize—much less accept—a metaphor that they don’t already know. There are many, unfortunately, on both sides of the chasm, who see the chasm and deny the existence of the bridge.

But assuming that you’re willing to explore the surface of the bridge, here are a couple new metaphors that I’ve found stimulating.

The One-Man Israel

I mentioned Rabbi Mark Kinzer’s paper on “Prayer in Yeshua.” One of the major themes in this paper is the idea of Yeshua as the One-man Israel. This is a distinctly Messianic Jewish idea, which flows naturally from the idea of Yeshua as the bridge-builder. Over this bridge, as the chosen Messiah, he brings the blessings of Israel to the whole world. As Rabbi Kinzer puts it, “we make the radical and scandalous claim that Yeshua constitutes the true center of Jewish life, just as Israel constitutes the true center of Yeshua’s ekklessia.”

God promised Abraham that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3). As the Messiah, this is Yeshua’s appointed mission. This is why certain of his actions are so significant. For example, when Yeshua touched a man with leprosy in Matthew 8:2-3— Touching a man with an unclean disease like leprosy would make you unclean. But instead of the uncleanness flowing from the leprous man to Yeshua, healing flows in the opposite direction. Similarly, in Matthew 9:18-26, when the woman with issue of blood touched him, healing flowed from him into the woman, rather than her uncleanness affecting him. And then he touched Jairus’s daughter, who had died, and instead of the uncleanness of the corpse defiling Yeshua, life flowed from him into the daughter.

And as God’s anointed king, Yeshua becomes the anointed representative of Israel. Every Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of the Messiah by quoting the Magi, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matt 2:2).

Isaiah 53 also poses a fascinating parallel. Christians see the prophet as speaking about Yeshua, his suffering and sacrifice. Jews see the chapter as speaking about Israel, about their suffering and sacrifice. It seems an irreconcilable debate, except that with Yeshua as the One-man Israel, both can be true. Furthermore, the sacrifice of the Jews is seen by some Rabbis as atonement for the world, a role we also accept for Yeshua’s substitutionary sacrifice.

The Living Torah

Christians often have a hard time getting the concept of Torah, partly because it’s often translated “law,” because it started with the commandments Moses brought down from Sinai. But “Torah” is not the law of a modern secular state, which is how we usually think of “law.”

In many cases, a better translation for the Hebrew word Torah might be “teaching.” Indeed, Torah comes from the Hebrew verb horah, which can mean “to point out,” hence “to instruct.” And Yeshua surely takes on the role of a teacher, building upon the teaching that came before. A repeated meme in Matthew’s sermon on the mount is “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…” (Matt 5:21,27,33,38,43). In each case, he reinforces the moral lesson of the original commandment and adds to it.

So we see Yeshua as the living Torah, the Word become flesh (John 1:14).

In another sense, too, Yeshua is the living Torah, because by his work he renews the covenant of Torah. We call it the “New Testament,” i.e., the renewed covenant, for this very reason. It’s timely that the Holy Spirit should be poured out upon the disciples on the holiday of Shavuot, which in Christian circles is called “Pentecost.” The symbolism in Acts 2 suggests a parallel to Mount Sinai: the wind, the fire, the Spirit descending on those gathered. And in a twist of irony, Shavuot became the holiday on which the Jews celebrate the giving of the Torah to Moses.