Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: The Jews for Jesus

One Friday evening, my sons and I were driving down the interstate on our way to a local university when a large tour bus passed us in the next lane. I didn’t really notice it myself, but my oldest son did and it caused him to get a quizzical look in his eye.

“What do you suppose it means to be a ‘Jew for Jesus?'” he wanted to know.

“A what?” I asked.

“A Jew for Jesus,” he repeated, pointing to the bus, which was now in front of us.

I sped up a little and read the verbiage that was written along the side of the bus in perfect script. “Jews for Jesus,” it said. Oh dear Lord, you couldn’t give me an easy one today could you? I wondered. “Well there is such a thing as a Messianic Jew.” I offered, hoping it would quell his Q&A for the day. My oldest son was notorious for his questions (I wonder where he got THAT from) and rarely let anyone off for a simplified explanation. I was in hopes that he was not in the mood to argue theology.

“A what?” He replied.

 Darn it. I knew I would never get off so easy. “Put simply, a Messianic Jew is someone who believes that Christ was ‘the guy’ so to speak, but they are still…Jewish.”

The child, who colleges would throw money at only a few years later to entice him to their campuses mulled this assessment around in his head for a bit. “I don’t get it. If they are Jewish, but are for Jesus…then…doesn’t that make them Christian?”

I didn’t know how to answer the question. This is what happens when you give birth to someone who may in fact be smarter than you. At some point you may have to admit you have no clue. However, today was not going to be that day. “Do I look like a rabbi to you? I am a Catholic woman. If you want to know how a saint is canonized, everything about the fruits of the spirit and why we don’t worship Mary, then I am there for you…if you want to nitpick of the teachings of the Torah and how Jesus factors into the Jewish tradition, I’m think you need to call in one of the Chosen rather than hear my thoughts on the subject.”

He looked at me for a minute as though he wasn’t sure if I was calling his bluff or not and I said a quick prayer that he wouldn’t come back with a snarky comment like “You don’t know, do you?” Instead he said, “Do you really think I should call a rabbi?”

I shrugged. “Why not?” I challenged. “I think if you called a temple and were respectful, told him who you are and what you want to know, why shouldn’t he tell you?”

The following Monday he did just that. I head him dial one of the local temples and when the Rabbi came on the line, my son told him that he was a 4th grade student at a nearby Catholic school and that he saw something over the weekend he didn’t understand. “I was hoping you could explain it to me, Sir,” he finished.

From what he told me later, the Rabbi said he would be glad to help if he could.

“Well, we were riding down the street and I saw a bus that said ‘Jews for Jesus.’ I was under the impression that the Jewish people do not think Jesus was the Messiah so if these people are Jewish and they are for Jesus…doesn’t that make them Christian?”

I wish I knew this man’s name, for I would call him now 17 years later and tell him what a wise man of God he was. He weighed the gravity of my son’s question with his age and gave him the most appropriate response I’ve ever heard. One I wish more ministers would rely on rather than wade knee deep into theology someone is not ready to handle. “My child, the short answer to your question is yes.”

Satisfied in the Rabbi’s pronouncement, my son thanked him for his time, hung up the phone and rested easy that night knowing he had the magical mystery tour bus figured out at last. Though in time he would learn there was a little more to that answer than met the eye…for that one brief moment in a nine-year-old’s mind…it was enough.


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