Messianic Gentiles & Messianic Jews

Article excerpt

I am a Messianic Jew--a Jew who adheres to Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth as Israel's messiah and finds in him the realization and renewal of Judaism rather than its nullification. I am also a person who has benefited enormously from relations with Catholic teachers and friends. For all Jews, an excellent starting point for theological discussion with Catholics remains Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council, as supplemented by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

So what should a Messianic Jew like me make of Lumen Gentium and the Catechism in their treatment of the Church, Judaism, and the Jewish people? Lumen Gentium treats two biblical concepts as central to the identity of the Church: the body of Christ and the people of God. The first highlights the Church's union with the crucified and risen messiah and her identity as the continuing earthly embodiment of his presence: Because the Church is the body of Christ, it serves as a sacrament, mediating to the world the reality of the risen Lord. The second highlights the Church's identity as a humanly structured society with continuity through time: Because the Church is the people of God, it lives as a community that is in the world though not of it.

The first concept emphasizes the Church's union with God through Christ in the Spirit; the second concept emphasizes the Church's role as the communal expression in this world of a humanity renewed and transformed through the redemptive work of the messiah. By linking the two concepts, Lumen Gentium asserts that the Church is both a mystical reality and a fully human community, neither emphasized at the expense of the other.

In ascribing such importance to the Church's identity as the people of God, Lumen Gentium raises the ecclesiological question that is of greatest concern for Messianic Jews: What is the relation between the Church and the Jewish people? The document first speaks of the people of Israel at the beginning of its Trinitarian introduction, which considers the plan of God the Father. It presents "the history of the people of Israel" as a "foreshadowing of the Church," which is "constituted" through Christ's person, life, and work and "made manifest" by the outpouring of the Spirit.

This means the Church is an essentially new reality in the world. It shares some features in common with the people of Israel in the old covenant, but it is fundamentally discontinuous. The goal of the divine plan, conceived "before time began," is the establishment of the Church, and God's dealings with the people of Israel in the old covenant were all ordered to prepare for that goal.

This view of "old-covenant Israel" is reiterated and developed in section 9 of Lumen Gentium. The passage begins by describing God's corporate purpose for humanity and how that purpose leads to the election of the people of Israel and the establishment of God's covenant with them: "At all times and in every race God has given welcome to whosoever fears him and does what is right. God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased him to bring men together as one people, a people that acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness. He therefore chose the race of Israel as a people unto himself. With it he set up a covenant."

The purpose of this election and covenant, however, does not have to do with Israel as a particular community. It concerns, instead, the new universal reality that is the Church: "All these things, however, were done by way of preparation and as a figure of that new and perfect covenant, which was to be ratified in Christ.... Christ instituted this new covenant ... calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new people of God." The covenant with Israel, which establishes Israel as a nation, is a "preparation" and "figure" of a new and better covenant that will establish "the new people of God. …