Tag Archives: Jewish culture

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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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Who was Jesus Talking to?

JC Gethsemane

Although I have a lot of fond memories from my sixth grade year in Catholic school, one stands out above all others. We had just finished a unit on Hebrew history, culture and traditions and to celebrate the completion of this unit, our teacher decided to host a watered-down Passover meal and invited one of our priests, Fr. Rick to join us and to recite the words that Jesus said during His Last Supper with His friends.

As we passed the loaf around, ripping small portions from it to eat and sipping Hawaiian Punch from minuscule Dixie Cups, Father offered his knowledge about Jewish customs and asked us what we had learned. Near the end of the event, Father said that he had a few minutes to spare and was willing to open the floor to any faith-related question that we might have since it was pretty rare that we ever had the chance to grill a priest on religious matters.

Now as you might expect from a group of 11-year-olds, most of the theological queries were a bit…shallow. Some kids wanted to know if Father was expected to wear black all of the time. Another kid asked if he had a curfew. Some wanted to know if the Pastor of the parish could “ground” him for coming home late or if he could get in trouble for eating dinner with a woman without a chaperone. Worried that I may never have another chance like this again and with time running short, I tentatively put up my hand.

“Yes, Julie?” Father asked.

“Well, I kind of have two questions,” I told him.

He nodded. “That’s fine, go ahead.” I’m sure he was bracing himself for more of the same kinds of things he’d been asked before.

I took a deep breath. “If Jesus was Jewish and the Jewish people do not believe that the Messiah has come yet, how could Jesus believe in Himself?”

The room fell silent and Father stared at me. “Uh-huh…and your second question?”

I sighed. “OK…if Jesus is God and God is Jesus, exactly WHO was Jesus talking to in the Garden of Gethsemane?”

I felt like the world’s biggest blasphemer, but once the words left my mouth, there was nothing I could do about them.

“You’re a very deep thinker, aren’t you?” Father commented like he was amused.

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

For the life of me I cannot remember how he addressed these two critical issues of faith, but I do remember my parents’ reaction when I told them what went down in religion class that day.

“You asked a priest WHAT?” My mother cried at the dinner table. Needless to say she was not a big fan of my calling into question the very foundations of Catholic belief. My dad, on the other hand thought it was great.

“What did he say?” Dad wanted to know. Although he was a man of faith, he always encouraged my questions.

I cupped my chin in my hand and thought about Father’s rationale, which was about 10 years beyond my comprehension…at least. “He had a big ole explanation for it,” I commented, “But I don’t think he really knows either. I guess it is just a question of faith.”

I looked so sad that my father tried taking a crack at the answer, but his logic didn’t make any more sense than Father Rick’s. No matter how many ways he tried to tackle it, it was a concept I couldn’t wrap my brain around. After all, I was baptized and initiated into a religious organization and I understood that part of the process included the acceptance of certain established tenants as one’s own.By believing Himself to be the Messiah, wasn’t He going against the grain a little and running the risk of being excommunicated from the Jewish faith?

As for the other issue, the one about the garden, well…that one was even harder to figure out. Both Father Rick and my dad tried telling me that Jesus was talking to God the Father as if that explained everything, but I wasn’t satisfied.If God and Jesus were one in the same then the whole thing seemed like a pretty pointless conversation. Looking back on it, I guess I was seeking an explanation on the Holy Trinity, not a bunch of biblical mumbo jumbo.

It would be another two years before I “got it.” I saw Jesus Christ Superstar for the first time and fell in love with the song “Gethsemane” in which Jesus flatly says that He wants out. He doesn’t want to die. Though it doesn’t stray too far from the Biblical account, it is devoid of the Shakespearean language and showcases a guy scared out of His wits. This was God trying to talk Himself out of it, wondering if it would all be worth it, asking if submitting to an all-too-human and grisly death would be enough to save these people from themselves and what would happen if it wasn’t? Suddenly, I no longer wondered who Jesus was talking to. I just knew. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s show stopping number solved a mystery my priest and my father couldn’t  explain and gave me an answer that my way-too-human mind could get behind. Although it would not be the last time I would question the faith, it would prove that God will provide the answers in a way that speaks to you when you just “have to know, have to know, my Lord.”








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