The Jewish Walk

Judaism may be recognized as one of the world's great religions, but its numbers have always been few. Outside of Israel, its believers and practitioners form a distinctive community within a community, and their proportion of the population is generally extremely low. Sometimes, Jews appear rich and powerful, and they make their share of appearances in the media, but just like other ethnic minorities, they still experience marginalization, and their culture remains outside the main stream.

Go to Meijer or Whole Foods sometime, and look for ethnic foods. Stereotyped as a place for finding kimchee, sushi-nori, German chocolate and taco shells, this aisle is also a place for finding matzot, gefilte fish, and sometimes even challah (what one check-out clerk in my native Texas once called "chihuahua bread"). In this respect, I, too, represent a minority, even though my skin is as white as the majority of typical Americans.

The Jewish walk within Christianity is also different, as appears even in the text of the gospels. Jesus, his disciples, Paul and the later Church fathers spared few pains to distinguish between Jew and gentile, suggesting that the Jewish people remained a distinct class, even after the coming of Christ. As the disciples discussed the laws that pertained to gentiles in the middle of the book of Acts, never in their minds was there a dispute that Jewish laws remained in place. And what we see from Paul, in particular, is a clear indication that gentiles need not become Jews in order to enjoy Christ's blessings and ultimate promise.

So, as I approach the altar and the baptismal in my own right, I do so knowing that I will remain unique among Christians. I will remain subject to more rules, more laws, and a continuation of the culture of my birth. Much though that culture can contribute to spreading God's kingdom on Earth, I am all too aware of my separation, not only from my parents and other Jews, but also from my Christian brothers and sisters, who were not inheritors of the Jewish law. This is not a point of superiority by any means, as the Church fathers made clear, repeatedly, throughout gospels and epistles, and early church councils, but it does remain a point of difference.

Here, however, the differences cease. I share with my brothers and sisters in baptism the challenge of reconciling the old and the new. In my case, it is Jewish culture, but a Korean who gets baptised is no less subject to Korean culture after coming out of the water than before she went in. She still has to deal with her family and her culture, and with fellow Christians who may not share her particular contact with the Faith.

Although the church fathers condemned idolatry, by no means did they condemn the continuation of cultural distinctiveness. In fact, they embraced it. Bunnies and eggs have little to do with Jesus' death and resurrection, but if they remind the faithful of God's life-giving power, then they are sufficient for their task, whether among the Celts from whom we take the rabbits, or the Egyptians whose custom it was to revere the egg as a symbol of life. So too, I can bring my Judaism into the Christian community, as so many of my friends of Asian descent bring their cultures and customs into their worship of Christ.

Here, then, I see the Jewish walk not merely as distinctive, but also as a cultural bridge that connects me to so many. However white my skin may be, however blue my eyes and however fluent my English, I remain a minority, and among those who feel like they too are minorities, in America and in Christ's kingdom, the Jewish walk is not so different from your walk, and your journey is my journey, however different it may appear on the surface.