Roots of Our FaithApril 28, 2011 - 5:00 am
“You, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” —Romans 11:17–18
Several years ago a book was published covering a subject near and dear to my heart – bridge-building between Christians and Jews. “The Sistine Secrets – Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican” shows how 500 years ago the renowned artist Michelangelo embedded images that appeal for Jewish-Christian understanding in one of his greatest works – the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
Pope Julius II in 1508 commissioned Michelangelo to paint the crumbling chapel ceiling in a very simple fashion – a demeaning job for such a great artist, particularly one who considered himself primarily a sculptor. Instead, Michelangelo threw his full creative energies into the task. The result is a masterpiece adorned primarily with images of heroes and heroines of the Hebrew Bible, and full of subtle reminders of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith – a stunning visual appeal for a revolutionary change in the relationship between Christians and Jews.
Indeed, the apostle Paul in his letter to the emerging church in Rome made it very clear that Gentiles, “branches from a wild olive tree,” had been grafted in to Abraham’s tree, and therefore “now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children. . . . But you must be careful not to brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. Remember, you are just a branch, not the root” (Romans 11:17-18, NLT).
This verse is one of the reasons why I love the imagery of the olive tree so much — it points to the very heart of The Fellowship’s mission: to build bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews, and to help Christians understand the very roots of their faith.
Only when we begin to understand each other — what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a Jew — can we truly love each other as God has intended. God calls us to lead a life of imitation dei, imitating Him and loving real people. While it is much harder to love real people than to love the idea, or even ideal, God calls each one of us to do precisely that.
We cannot change what is past. But we can, and must, reverse the history of Christian-Jewish encounters. We can, and must, bridge the deep chasm existing between our faith communities by living out the doctrine that serves as cornerstones of both our faiths: love. True love is the gift of our faiths to the world; it is both the process through which we achieve the goal of God’s love and the goal itself. Living a life of love is how we can achieve a proper relationship with God.
My prayer for both faith communities, Christians and Jews, is that we nurture that life of love today, enabling it to grow abundantly in the future.