There is a topical controversy over the release of a video released by the organisation “Jews for Jesus” entitled “The Jew who died for you”
As taste of both the problem and the video itself may be viewed ”here”“
Brother Ivo almost hesitates to get involved. Theological discourse within the Jewish culture may be above his humble pay grade, and it does feel rather like intruding into an argument between a recently divorced couple. The dispute is probably overhung with regrets, disappointments, misunderstandings and recriminations, and so one ought not to be surprised that raw nerves are touched.
On the one side, stands a community defending the memory of a horrific past from any taint of perceived desecration, whilst on the other, a group with a clear mission imperative to take the name of Jesus to every corner of the earth wishes to take Christ even into the darkest of places to bring his message of hope and redemption. Why wouldn’t they want to take the Good News into even the worst parts of their cultural history if it has been helpful to their understanding of almost incomprehensible evil?
Brother Ivo wishes the Jewish community nothing but good. His family has historic ties of friendship and obligation to them. He had a Jewish Uncle. His father, as a young man, welcomed the children off the Kinder trains at Liverpool Street Station, and worked for Jewish companies for much of his working life. Brother Ivo worked in an equal partnership with a both a Jew and a Muslim. He is an unapologetic supporter of the right of Israel to exist.
He finds it slightly uncomfortable to set these matters out, but sometimes it is helpful to present the credentials of warmth and respect before addressing such a difficult subject. If he blunders, it is through foolishness not malice.
In the interests of full transparency, his church has welcomed Jews for Jesus in their teaching capacity, not to tell us how to evangelise Jews, but rather to present from their unique cultural perspective an explanation of the Jewish Passover customs, so that our Maunday Thursday understanding of the Last Supper might be better informed.
He watches the dispute with sympathy both ways.
The holocaust is uniquely powerful in its power of warning. One can see how the Jewish Community wants to keep it untainted as a sacred memory to those who were lost; yet whilst it was overwhelmingly targeted at the Jews, it was not exclusively so.
Christians have also found that our most precious of symbols, the image of the crucified Christ, has been used and abused both commercially and “artistically”, most notably in the notorious “Piss Christ” that placed a crucifix in a tank of urine.
It is not easy for Brother Ivo to place that image at the top of this post, but it is intended to illustrate his own willingness to face the uncomfortable as he invites others to do so.
Many Christians find that image incredibly offensive though not all; the prominent art critic Sister Wendy Beckett was more sympathetic to that piece than Brother Ivo, and used it to point to the utter rejection of Christ by the world. To her, he very desecration made Christ’s redeeming love even more transformational. more amazing.
Brother Ivo is not entirely sure he agrees, but he sees her point.
So our Jewish friends may at least be assured of one thing and that is that their Christian brothers and sisters, – even the Jews for Jesus variety – have some understanding of their discomfort over the tampering with a sacred idea/image.
Brother Ivo watched the offending video “The Jew who died for you”and can see the point of its makers.
There are four component parts.
We are reminded of the fate of the Jews. That footage and cinematic iconography looks no different from that of Schindler’s list.
We see the awful point of selection where some turn one way towards a living hell, whilst others are directed to the gas chambers. There is undoubtedly something of Pilot in this moment of decision. The choser has power of life and death which he can exercise arbitrarily; the victim stands powerless. That is historically accurate and disrespects none of the victims.
The difficulty begins with the depiction of Christ within the line of those to be judged. Yet no Christian can be in any doubt that Christ would place himself on the side of the oppressed and the outcast. Even some Jewish scholars might accept that Christ’s teaching, set as it was entirely within a thoroughly Jewish context and life, would hardly place himself with the oppressor. He is rejected as “Just another Jew”.
If that so offensive? To the Nazis who rejected Christ and his followers as “weak” and soft on the “sub-human”, was Christ not equally rejectable, no better that the other victims and undeniably Jewish? To them, the oppressor – who has since been overthrown – their false doctrine may be described plainly but safely precisely because it has itself been comprehensively rejected.
There then comes a written quotation from the Jewish Scripture, Isaiah 53 4-5
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
Some have taken this intrusion to suggest that the Holocaust is been justified by the video, as if the Jews were being punished ( as Jews) by God.
That surely is seeking offence where none is intended.
Atonement is a very Jewish concept. Christians, including Jews for Jesus, cannot be criticised for telling the truth as they have received it, that Christ is the fulfilment of the scriptural promises of the Messiah and that he carried his cross to the point of agonising death to atone for all mankind’s sin, notably the separation from God. In our understanding, how could Christ not be there in the line, in the rejection, in the suffering?
Surely, it is not simply the video that some critics complain of, but that central message, yet Christian’s can no more backtrack from that, than Muslims from the idea that Mohamed brought the final revelation of God to the world.
Our Jewish friends do have an important right to respect for what the Holocaust means to them, but within the experiences there were indeed redemptive acts notably that of Maximilian Kolbe the Catholic priest who volunteered to take the place of a condemned Jewish family man and like Christ embraced self sacrificial suffering that others might live.
You can’t take the Holocaust out of Jewish history; but you cannot take Christ out of it either.
Our scriptures, both those which are shared and those which are separate, speak of those events and help us to make sense of them. The evil of the Holocaust was overcome in history and its meaning is transformable from the intentions of those who perpetrated it by the very scriptures that we share.
Psalm 10 expresses this in a Jewish context
1 Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?
2 The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.
3 For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth.
4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.
5 His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them.
6 He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity.
7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.
8 He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.
9 He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.
10 He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones.
11 He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it.
12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.
13 Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.
14 Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.
16 The Lord is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.
17 Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
18 To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.
Brother Ivo principally observes from his Christian perspective, but it is surely no offence to the lost to remark that God can and does transform even those darkest of times.
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The ” controversial” video testifies to that truth.
As we Christians would say –
He is as He is in Jesus Christ
So there is hope.