"Generous Spirit" shown by Rabbi Jacob Neusner

Readers of Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” will find that the name of Rabbi Jacob Neusner has a familiar ring. He is, of course, the author of the book “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus”, with which Papa B. entered into dialogue in his aforementioned book about Jesus. You can read more about that fascinating relationship in this article from Haaretz, although it should be known that at least one Jewish writer has complained that Neusner in fact holds a position that is impossible for Jews, ie. rejecting his claim to be the divine Son of God and still maintaining real respect for him as an individual spiritual teacher.

Nevertheless, Neusner seems to be leading the way in demonstrating exactly what he calls for–that is, a “generous spirit”–in the debate about the Good Friday prayer. A Zenit article quotes him as saying:

Israel prays for the gentiles, so the other monotheists — the Catholic church included — have the right to do the same, and no one should feel offended. Any other policy toward the gentiles would deny gentiles access to the one God whom Israel knows in the Torah…

And the Catholic prayer expresses the same generous spirit that characterizes Judaism at worship. God’s kingdom opens its gates to all humanity and when at worship the Israelites ask for the speedy advent of God’s kingdom, they express the same liberality of spirit that characterizes the Pope’s text for the prayer for the Jews — better ‘holy Israel’ — on Good Friday…

Both ‘It is our duty’ and ‘Let us also pray for the Jews’ realize the logic of monotheism and its eschatological hope.

He may not speak for all Jews, or even a majority of Jews, but I must say that this “generous spirit” does indeed characterise the relationship between Christians and Jews of which I have been privileged to be a part.

The Zenit article also quotes Cardinal Kasper as saying that the prayer “leaves everything in the hands of God, not in ours” and that it “does not speak of missionary activity”. Quite.

However, we need to clarify that we do not simply pray for the spread of the gospel but do ourselves actively participate in this mission. The point to be made is that in this mission we do not target anyone according to race or creed (eg. “as Jews” or “as Buddhists” or as “Pakistanis” or as “Koreans”), but simply as human beings. For God’s salvation in Jesus Christ is for all races and tribes and nations and toungues, without distinction.

And from whom did we learn such a universal vision of salvation? That’s right, my friends. As Rabbi Neusner says (and John 4 confirms): “From the Jews”.

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2 Responses to "Generous Spirit" shown by Rabbi Jacob Neusner

  1. Christine says:

    A very generous spirit indeed and fine observations on your part, David.

  2. Past Elder says:

    Hey guess what? There’s a whole lot of Christans who would say you can’t reject Jesus’ claims to divinity and still find respect for him as a moral or spiitual teacher too.

    Which is what liberal “Christians” try to do. I was taught how to do it myself in my Catholic Scripture classes — the whole divinty thing as traditionally formulated really wasn’t so much Jesus as the believing community’s understanding of his significance to them expresed in terms of their time and culture, so the real Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount etc, and even that is gathered from a variety of sources.

    Anyway, the guy in First Things got it right, especially in the last paragraph, on which basis I would count Ratziner a friend too.

    FWIW, my Orthodox rabbi (pardon the redundancy, in my Jewish circles if you ain’t Orthodox you ain’t a rabbi but a clergyperson) didn’t have a problem with the Good Friday prayer either, on the same basis — we pray for the Gentiles all the time to know the one true God of Israel in the Messianic era that is for all Man, so why shouldn’t they pray for us?

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