ιουδαιω τε πρωτον

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Dawn Eden, who is Jewish and a Roman Catholic Christian, wrote recently about a botched attempt by an evangelist to convert her over the phone when she was a college student. His blunt and presumptuous answer regarding the eternal destiny of her saintly Jewish grandmother put her off the Christian faith for another decade.

The entry spawned an interesting intra-Catholic debate in the comments thread about whether it's necessary or appropriate to proclaim the Gospel to Jewish people, or if it is only for Gentiles. This comment, by a reader called Kate B., kicked off the debate:

The Jews have their own covenant with the Lord, and don't need to be worried about being saved by any other covenant.

My first thought was, "I didn't know there were dispensationalist Catholics."

My second thought was that, while you could delve into deep theological debates about how salvation was applied with respect to the faithful of the Old Testament, the question about whether the Gospel is for Jews as well as Gentiles is simple to answer. You only need to look at the first sermon delivered by the apostle that Catholics regard as their first pope.

It happened on the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), one of three obligatory pilgrimages, when all male Israelites were commanded to appear before the Lord. While those assembled spoke many languages and came from many places throughout the Roman Empire, they were Jews, either by birth or proselytes. Here are Simon Peter's words:

"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

"'I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'

"Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

"'The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.'

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Not only was Peter's first sermon delivered to Jews ("Men of Israel," as he began), whom he charged to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, it took some direct and special revelation to convince him that the Gospel was also for Gentiles.

In the introduction to his letter to the Church at Rome, Paul writes:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

"To the Jew first" -- that's the phrase that appears in Greek as the title of this entry. They, God's chosen people, were the first to receive the Gospel and the first to proclaim the Gospel. The Greeks -- the Gentiles -- are secondary.

In his letter to the churches in the region of Galatia, Paul refers to the proclamation of the Gospel to the Jewish people as Peter's special mission:

On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

When Dawn challenged the evangelist about her grandmother's salvation, the truthful (and tactful) answer would have been something like this: "It is not my place to sit in judgment over your dear grandmother. That belongs to God, who is utterly good and merciful and just. I can only repeat the words which Jesus spoke to the Jewish men who were his closest followers. Jesus said, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"

RELATED: Paul Greenberg has a beautiful, moving column for Easter Sunday. Taking his text from John 20, he imagines Mary Magdalene remembering that first Easter many years later:

I was perfectly prepared for how bad Good Friday would be, but Easter Sunday? My dear, that was quite beyond me. How could I have understood? You might as well have tried to describe sight to the blind, music to the deaf, belief to the cynical. My reality was limited to the evidence of things seen, the substance of things feared.

The empty tomb should have been proof of hope; I saw it only as cause for despair.

So when I saw the gardener -- for who else could he be? -- I wept and wailed and pleaded. I wanted to wallow in my grief; that was one thing I thought no one could take from me. I held on to it like a treasure.

Then I heard my name. How puzzling: How could the gardener have known me? That's when I turned. And I realized who had spoken to me, and who The Gardener was, and the whole, fake world was gone, the curtain lifted, the night shattered forever as the sun rose Easter morning. He had risen.

Funny how all you need is to be called by your right name and turn. You have to turn, you know. So you can really see. Only then does everything fall into place.

AND DON'T MISS: Christine, who writes, produces, stars in, and edits the wonderful "Happy Slip" videos, has a special video for Easter, a song of praise that she wrote and performs. Video here, lyrics here. This is the first explicitly Christian thing I've seen on her website, but as one commenter wrote, "I knew there was something 'right' with [her]"

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Pamela said:

I have no problem with Christians that believe the OT promises to the Jews about their land are still in effect. I do not see where they bit the dust. However to ignore the horrible price Jesus paid for all our sins, including the Jews, is dangerous. Jesus fulfilled the law. It is clear the law as it stood before Christ paid the price for sin is no longer in effect. The only way to walk according to the standard of the law is to accept Christ and be reborn/transformed from the inside out.

The move to support Israel has been hijacked by people that refuse to mention what Christ said about the matter. These leaders refuse to even mention Christ in referring to the Jews. Then they accuse us of not loving the Jews if we do not support the two covenants madness.

Your example for the evangelist is a good one. Unfortunately I have found that many do not accept the word of God as the truth. I responded to a post on Pastor Tom's blog called "Who Is Lord?". I quoted verses in an attempt to say that the Holy Spirit will teach us and show us what is right and wrong. I also stated that sin was defined in the law. I was beat up pretty bad by a couple of fellows that say they are Christians. One of them on his blog says that he is a minister. Basically by just quoting 'selected' verses I was giving my interpretion of the word of God. One accused me of being arrogant and judgmental. At the same time he claims that he so desires to have unity in the body of Christ.

What an interesting post to reflect on the price that Christ paid to redeem us.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 8, 2007 12:10 AM.

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