Summary: We must always remember that the Church's first mission was to the Jews, the brothers and sisters of Jesus.

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Thursday in the Octave of Easter

Joy of the Gospel

As we bask in the warm light of the Resurrection, we hear again the stories of the reaction given by various Jewish groups to the Passion, death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. We do this for another forty days, and actually fifty up until Pentecost. The Gospel was not preached to anyone but Jews in the early days of the Church. Surely the Gentiles in and around Jerusalem knew that something strange was happening in this season after Passover, and the authorities, despite their precautions posting guards at Jesus’s tomb, were in a state of confusion over the disappearance of Christ’s body. But, by and large, they considered it just another Jewish sectarian dispute which would either blow over in a few weeks or require a bloody intervention by the troops. Nothing long-lasting, they thought.

The Apostles had to come to terms with the apparitions. Jesus was not there, and then suddenly He was. Was He just a spirit, like Moses and Elijah on the mountain? No, they could touch Him and He would eat with them, so He had a corporeal existence. He was truly the Jesus Messiah they had expected, but one who had suffered and died. They searched the scriptures and found the parts of Isaiah we call the Servant Songs, that sing of the One who would be persecuted and bear the sins of the people. That was the kind of Messiah God had sent. And He had given these nobody apostles the power to forgive sins, just as Zechariah had prophesied. So they went out after Pentecost and did what He had done, and the Church grew explosively and eventually took in even the hated Gentiles. But first, the mission to the Jews.

The Church has always had a longing for the conversion of the Jewish people to their Messiah, the Jew Jesus, who is our Messiah as well. The Pope writes of dialogue with Jews: ‘We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.

‘Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.

‘God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism. While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.’

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