Jewish-Christian Sacred Scriptures

The full title, The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, doesn’t fit nicely in the subject line. So I improvised. This deceptively little book caught my eye when I visited Rome, at the same time my Jewish boyfriend traversed Israel. Being an intimidating subject to tackle, the book sat on my “to read” shelf since. But I finally picked it up.

It’s divided into three parts: The Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish People are a Fundamental Part of the Christian Bible; Fundamental Themes in the Jewish Scriptures and their Reception into Faith in Christ; Jews in the New Testament. Part I is mostly introduction, sharing information that I hope is already understood when picking up this book—that the Old Testament is still true and relevant. So the meat of it is Part II, which digs into Scripture itself.

I like the format: it explores a specific theme, discussing its appearance in both the Old and New Testaments. We hear about such things as the goodness and wickedness of humanity; God as Savior; prayer; and the Law. Perhaps needless to say, we mostly only differ on the last one. (It’s a big one, but Jewish-Christian differences aren’t as much as we tend to think.)

The New Testament never says that Israel has been rejected… [The Church] understands her own existence as a participation in the election of Israel and in a vocation that belongs, in the first place, to Israel.

The salvation of the Jews comes up frequently, even across topics. I’ve been meaning to delve more into the subject, and took notes to help further my understanding of how this works (a future blog post, perhaps). But it always piqued my interest—God made a promise that His chosen people be saved, but you also need Jesus Christ to be saved. How does that work? The more I think about it, the more my mind boggles.

Part III explores Judaism within the New Testament itself, pointing out the distinctly Jewish parts of the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Paul talks a lot of Judaism, being a Pharisee himself, so is a great reference for both sides of the argument. But the apostles were also Jews, which is easy to forget in their travels with Jesus. The book takes each New Testament writer and picks out the parts relevant to the Hebrew Scriptures, helping to create each of their Jewish identities. It doesn’t shy away from Revelation, either.

Though I’ve finished this book, I’m not quite done with it. It’s a good reference while reading the Bible, especially the New Testament. It explores the depths of Judaism in all of Scripture, a theme we shouldn’t forget even through Jesus’s ministry.

St. Joan of Arc

I was amazed when I first learned the famed Joan of Arc is a saint. And now, learning she’s also one of the patronesses of the Columbiettes, I dug in for more info.

It’s the midst of the Hundred Years’ War, and Joan is peasant girl living in occupied France. At this time, she experiences a divine vision—Michael the Archangel, with a number of saints (including St. Catharine, patron of my very own parish), instructs her to go defend her country. She seeks an audience with the king, who I don’t imagine is pleased with the idea of sending a young girl to war. But it’s said she reveals information to him that “only a messenger of God” could know. We don’t know what that was, but it convinces him to send her to the Siege of Orléans.

This battle ended up being a turning point in the seemingly endless war. Joan of Arc helped turn it around in favor of the French, which boosted country morale. Then she kept going, achieving victory after victory in battle.

Joan of Arc at the Siege of Orléans, Jules Eugène Lenepveu

But these victories aren’t the end of her story. During her final battle, she was thrown off her horse and left outside the town’s gates, thus captured by traitorous French. The occupying English, none too pleased with her power and strength, put her on trial. Joan was charged and found guilty of numerous charges, including witchcraft, heresy, and cross-dressing. As a result, she renounced her men’s attire and claimed she hadn’t heard those divine voice. But nothing silences the Divine—within days she was back in pants, again guided by the saints. Very obviously guilty then, she was burned at the stake for her crimes.

In the years and decades following her death, the public didn’t see her in the same way the English had. She became a hero, a mythical figure of French victory. She’d often had to hide her femininity in battle, disguising herself as a boy and wearing men’s armor (there was undoubtedly no ladies’ alternative). She was an illiterate, uneducated peasant who answered her divine calling, becoming perhaps France’s most famous and admirable solider.

It wasn’t long after her death that the Church called for a retrial, seeking to clear her name of heretical charges. Not only was Joan cleared, she was also declared a martyr and later canonized. She has become not only a patroness of the Columbiettes but also patron saint of France, soldiers, and women in the military.

References: Wikipedia; Franciscan Media;

Gleam of Heaven

If you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him… Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.
—C.S. Lewis

At the root of it, most (or all, I would hope) Christian teaching, regardless of denomination, says the same thing: Love God. Do good. Get your Heavenly reward.

When I was “between” churches—after Evangelicalism, but before Catholicism—I couldn’t quite explain the difference between each church’s teachings. When trying to explain how Catholicism is different, I’d end up saying the same things I’d just rejected in the old church. I tried to write down the difference before, but that still doesn’t get my point across. So I’m trying again.

C.S. Lewis says it better I could.

The entirety of the Old Testament is proof enough that we can’t save ourselves. We make mistakes; we get prideful and angry; we outright deny God (even if we don’t mean to). I think we all understand this. But what irks me about a prayer of salvation, this “sinner’s prayer,” is that it’s entirely self-centered. When taught how to street evangelize, it was a challenge to encounter a Catholic. We marveled that they didn’t know the answer to “Do you know where you’ll spend eternity?” But as I learned later, it’s not that Catholics don’t know. It’s just a weird question. Because the point of worship isn’t to decide where I spend the afterlife. We don’t do good deeds for a mere reward.

But I’ll play both sides of the argument for now, because neither is necessarily wrong.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
—Ephesians 2:8–9

So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
—James 2:17

Any good Evangelical has heard that Ephesians verse over and over again. Our works don’t save us; that’s why Jesus came to Earth. As proven by the Israelites, we’re incapable of being wholly good. We’re flawed beings who need God’s grace. Only by faithful belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus can we even hope to have that gleam of Heaven.

If that’s true, why does James claim faith without works is dead?

Because what’s the point of God’s saving power if we don’t do anything with it? Our Earthly duty isn’t to save ourselves from the fiery pit of hell. We’re to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” (Mark 16:15) We’re to help the needy and teach of Jesus’s power. Like C.S. Lewis says, we don’t do these things for the reward. We do them instinctively, because He’s working through us.

It’s tough to explain. In the end, we’re saying the same thing: we can’t save ourselves, and we’re to do God’s work. But it’s more about the primary focus—is your worship focused around saving yourself, or on worshipping God?

I didn’t have a bad experience in my old church. I’m still friends with them, and attend service with Mom on occasion. It’s a high-energy, familial group. But there are teachings I don’t agree with. There’s a great push to accept Jesus’s love, because that’s how we’re saved. It’s not technically wrong, but the priority is skewed. When they ask “Do you know where you’ll spend eternity?” you answer “Yes!”, because you said the prayer of salvation. But take a moment to consider, What am I accepting? What does it mean?

My core beliefs aren’t any different than before, but I shifted to a more logical perspective. I followed the guidance of the Our Father and focused first on God, and then on forgiveness. We all need saving. But we have to first understand what we need saving from.

An aside: Confession. When I converted, people asked, “So you tell a priest all the bad things you’ve done?” Yeah. Or, I should (once I admit them to myself). The sinner’s prayer would have more punch if there was a sense of personal confession. Think about your specific human faults—against others, yourself, and God. Then, “I’m a sinner” means something. It’s no secret that humanity is flawed. But facing the Confessional helps you understand why. Not for the whole of humanity, but for yourself.

So, love God. Do good. Get your Heavenly reward. But loving God comes first. If you love God, the rest will easily follow. Your works don’t save you, but if you’re not doing works for God, then are you really saved?