We had the same schedule today that we did yesterday, with part two of our Introduction to Judaism lecture. I really enjoyed hearing what this woman had to say to us. You can only learn so much about another religion by reading about it or hearing what other people say. We’ve had such great opportunities here to really get to know the people of the Holy Land and learn what they believe and why. In my attempt to learn more about the Jewish mindset today, I asked a couple questions of our speaker and I will share them here because I think the answers really help to understand the beliefs that Jews hold today.
My first question was about the Messiah and her expectation of his coming. I mentioned how at the time of Jesus everyone was expecting the Messiah because many prophecies pointed to that time. I wondered how the Jews today deal with the fact that they believe the Messiah did not come when he was supposed to and that there are no more prophets or prophecies that indicate the coming of a Messiah. What is their expectation of the Messiah like today? What she told me first of all was that Jews at the time of Jesus did not accept him as the Messiah because he didn’t fulfill the mission of the Messiah. I had to quickly ask her what that mission was in her understanding. “To redeem the world,” she said. “The Messiah can’t die without completing his mission.” I posed the question, “What if he redeemed the world by dying?” She said she recognized this as the Christian position, but it was clear that, even to this day, the Jews are looking for a political Messiah, if they care about the Messiah at all. Many of the Jews are merely secular I am finding. The expectation of a political Messiah seems to have remained unchanged from the time of Jesus. I found myself wondering though, if all the Messiah is going to do is perfect the temporal world, then so what? What if Jesus had kicked out the Romans, restored the kingdom of Israel, and made Israel the most powerful nation on earth? No matter how good that might seem, the bottom line is that it’s only temporary. You still die. What good is the restored kingdom of Israel on earth when you are dead? What good is an earthly kingdom that is passing away? Shouldn’t we expect more of the Messiah?
This led me to my next question which is basically, what is the “meaning of life” for Jews? What’s the purpose or end goal that they are hoping for? As an example, I said that as Christians we strive to build a relationship with God here on earth, so that when we die we will be able to reach the perfect fulfillment of that relationship in heaven. Everything we do on earth is pointed toward a future heavenly expectation and this is what gives meaning to our struggles and joys here on earth. What is it that gives meaning to the life of a Jew? To put it plainly, she said the most important thing is to make this world the best place she can and to live as well as she can. She said that she doesn’t really think much about life after death. Maybe there is; maybe there isn’t. It didn’t matter to her. Literally, she said that it could be possible that there is life after death but she really didn’t want to have to find out for a long time.
If you think about it, her answer to my question about the Messiah makes perfect sense when you consider her answer to this second question. If there is no life after death, then of course the Messiah must be a political savior. If there is no heaven, then the salvation of the temporal realm is all that matters. Therefore, the death of the Messiah is impossible, an oxymoron. As Christians, we live in the light of the Resurrection so easily that we sometimes forget what an incredible gift this truth is. Jesus didn’t come just to save or restore the temporal order. He came to bring us eternal salvation, not just temporal happiness. I couldn’t help wondering just how this woman found sufficient motivation to go on each day thinking that this world is all there is. As good as life can be here, if this is all there is then you can shoot me now. How can you find motivation to work through the incredible struggles in life, “trying to make the world a better place”, when it’s all going to turn to dust and amount to nothing anyway? As I have found in my prayer at the Holy Sepulcher and again talking to this Jewish woman, THE RESURRECTION MEANS EVERTHING! Whether we consciously think about it or not, this is what gives us hope and this is what gives us the strength to get out of bed each day. This is the meaning for our life. We believe that there is much more at stake than merely what we see and do here in the world. We were made for an eternal relationship with God. This is why we say in the liturgy that when Jesus destroyed death, he restored our life. It is truly the greatest gift ever given. THE RESURRECTION MEANS EVERTHING!