I have a very close Jewish acquaintance, let’s call her Sarah, who lives deep in the Bible belt. We talk by phone often and she has shared some pretty amazing stories of what it feels like to be the only Jew in her neighborhood in what seems to her to be a very Christian culture. It irritates her to no end when everyone she speaks to assumes she is a Christian. She definitely doesn’t look like one, so she just finds this to be the height of arrogance. I suggested perhaps those she finds so presumptuous are evangelizing, which would be logical. She, however, feels they just think the whole world is Christian.
Sarah recently said she can’t believe how much these people work Jesus into practically every sentence. So I asked her to give me an example. She went on to describe that her contractor said he and his wife started the day reading Scripture, or that he thanked God for blessing his work, or that he left being a lawyer to do work that would better serve Him. In listening to her it was interesting that it wasn’t really saying the name Jesus that offended her. Rather, these Christians led God-centered lives so speaking in these ways was just naturally how they looked at life, and therefore, formed the perspective from which they spoke.
Most likely this manner of speaking feels irritating to Sarah not because of what is actually said, but rather, because of emotional baggage in her. As a Jewish child growing up after the Holocaust, many if not most Jews of her age, and mine, feared Christians and assumed they were anti-Semitic. After all, we had heard from some of them that we killed their God. An us vs. them mentality is hard to overcome. So when even the suggestion of Jesus/Yeshua is intimated in these otherwise normal conversations, and with such frequency, it’s only natural Sarah reacts as she does.
We are all wired this way. When we have a past hurt, a new situation often triggers a painful similar memory and drudges up all the old hurt which intensifies our reaction in the present. My first husband had a rage disorder, so when Sid gets a bit angry, I have to check myself not to overreact based on all the old baggage. Self awareness is key and working on this natural human tendency is a lifelong journey.
So too, when we as believers in Yeshua speak to our fellow Jewish brothers and sisters, it is good to remember the framework from which they hear our words. By putting ourselves in their shoes, as Yeshua would have us do, we can feel their past pains, millennia of persecution, baggage filled with years of tears and suffering. When we live in that space with them with compassion and understanding, perhaps we are bringing Yeshua to them more meaningfully, more profoundly, than we, or they, can even understand.