This post is part of the l’Chaim! series on topics related to the Jewishness of the Messiah Jesus and how this can further our understanding and the living under the power of Holy Spirit in this generation.
My Jewish father used to bring us kids to Brooklyn to visit his mother. Grandma Wolfe-Cole stood at 4’11. Having escaped Hitler’s armies by emigrating to NYC, she kept a kosher household. As soon as we crossed the threshold of her modest Flatbush apartment, she would place her hands on we children’s heads and mutter in Hebrew and Yiddish, a mixture of Hebrew and German often spoke by immigrant Jews in New York. My father stopped to allow this, just as anyone else in the house fell silent, honoring, observing and agreeing. “What did she say, Daddy?” I asked and in response to my query, he would translate the beautiful prayers my grandmother had declared, ordaining blessings and peace. The effect on me was a profound sense of Adonai’s Presence.
Interestingly, speaking blessings over the children is very much alive in today’s Jewish households. A Jew may or may not choose to extend their faith in other ways, but blessing the children is one tradition seen everywhere, from orthodox to non-practicing.
Another cultural attribute is to encourage PDAs. Jews hug, men hug men and they also hug women, everybody hugs everybody. They express their feelings. Jewish men are not afraid to cry. There is good evidence that this makes people stronger and healthier, as long as it is kept positive.
Another thing which is often practiced among Jews, including my Dad, is to catch someone being good. When there may be a need to correct, it is done in a way that is not shaming.
Jesus often displays these hallmarks of Jewish culture. He was kind yet no wimp, He could express affection. He understood the ramifications of His authority, not for oppression but for service. He was a teacher par excellence, a counselor to all. His Jewishness clothed Him like a coat of many colors and sometimes we can catch a glimpse of it in the nuances of the written gospels. Here’s one example from Matthew, also a Jew:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He questioned His disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
As many will know, “bar” is Aramaic for son. “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah,” there is such warmth and brotherly, even fatherly, affection conveyed in this phrase. Imagine a tutor or an elder calling you by your full name and calling you blessed at the same time. This is Jesus gushing, it goes way beyond approval, it’s love and pride mixed together, it’s joy because here, Jesus is “catching” Simon Peter being good. He’s ecstatic to see the fruition of what He knew was in Peter. The Savior then prophesies over him, bestowing upon him almost inconceivable honor and one of the most powerful calls anyone has ever received.
I’m not saying that Jesus was only a warm and fuzzy Jewish guy. He did a lot of rebuking and correcting, name calling and even whipped a few people at least a couple of times. He hated sickness and spiritual blindness, but lowest on His list were those who took advantage of others through religious belief. Highest were those who showed the qualities of recognizing God’s righteousness and love, faith in Him, and living out their radical faith. Actually, this is one of a few times I know of that Jesus ever gushed. The others were when He praised the woman who had given her last two mites in the offering, when the woman touched Him and was healed, and when the centurion (a non-Jew mind you) told Him not to take the time to come to his house but rather that if He simply said the word, his servant would be healed. Much as here with Peter, Jesus “marveled” at this man’s faith. (Mt 8:13). The recorded memoirs of the apostles tell us that He took greatest delight in people believing God was God. It wasn’t just that Peter’s answer was correct but that his heart was open to hearing from God, as radical as what he heard might be, which made Jesus so so happy.
Jesus was not a humanist. Every action of His short time on earth was pinned upon the axis of delivering and teaching supernatural faith which pulls us out of our self-absorption. Unlike Maslow, He didn’t put self actualization at the epitome of human achievement. He honored laying one’s life down for the revealed will of God.
That’s a very very different emphasis. He said only by Me can you find access to heaven, to God, to eternal life. And while the by product would often be many earthly joys, those should not be the focus.
What if the Son of God had put His own “happiness” first. Would anything have stopped Him from achieving earthly fame and fortune? If He had decided to use His immense talents, gifts and power to become a general and take over the known world, He could have. His riches and His harem could have far exceeded those of Solomon. Jesus told us clearly, My kingdom is not of this world. The King of love and peace also knew what it would cost to achieve it. And every generation of believers since Him have the overarching purpose of enforcing the kingdom of God. How pitiful to reduce the purpose of life to nothing more than self actualization or achievement for it’s own sake.
We are here to serve God according to how we are called. In Christ our lives are hid. This is why it’s so important to connect with God through the Holy Spirit after one is saved, to seek Him about one’s individual purpose and to hear from Him about every action, every decision. And it’s why Jesus honored this level of faith above all others.