Thursday, 30 April 2015

The value of dialogue – UCA Christian Jewish Dialogue 40th meeting

Matt JeremyBy Rev Dr Matthew Wilson, UCA Convenor, UCA-ECAJ Dialogue

The longstanding practice of contact and cooperation between the Uniting Church and Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) continued at the 40th meeting of the UCA Christian-Jewish Dialogue in Sydney on 28 April.

The Dialogue, which began during the Presidency of D’Arcy Wood in 1992, takes place twice a year, alternately in Sydney and Melbourne, hosted in turn at Uniting Church and Jewish venues.

Current Uniting Church membership of the dialogue group comes from the Synods of New South Wales/Act, Victoria-Tasmania and Queensland.

The day-long meeting provides the opportunity for members to get to know each other and share experiences or news from their own community and then enter into discussion of agreed topics.

During the previous two meetings, the dialogue has addressed ‘difficult questions’ - a range of issues that cause difficulties for each community in relating with the other. The topics have included questions of salvation, the divinity of Jesus, Jewish and Christian readings of ‘messianic’ passages, the doctrine of the Fall, attitudes to the Hebrew scriptures, Christian and social anti-Semitism, the theology of land and Israel, and critique of the policies of the government of Israel.

The ability to discuss such concerns with openness, honesty and a degree of vulnerability on both sides shows that nearly 24 years of building relationships has been of benefit to both the Jewish community and the church. The strength of the relationship developed and the willingness of both groups to listen to each other’s points of view, theology, practices, social and political opinions has helped significantly in allowing the two communities to work co-operatively when possible, and to maintain positive relationships at times when our statements, feelings and opinions differ and the relationship is strained.

The great benefit of continued dialogue has been the formation of relationships that can be maintained and called upon, even when events in our own communities or in the wider world cause tension and division between us.

One of the discussions at this meeting focused on the New Testament typology of Jesus as the ‘suffering servant’. An image found in Isaiah, but particularly drawn from Isaiah 53, and reflected on in this week’s Lectionary reading from Acts.

For Jewish readers this passage, like the preceding three servant ‘songs’ in Isaiah, is to be read as referring to ‘my servant Israel’ – the community of faith rather than an individual. For Jewish readers the passage refers to the ongoing rejection and oppression of the people of Israel by other nation states, and foreshadows a time when the kings of other nations will recognise the wrong they have perpetrated against the people of Israel and repent. For Jewish readers, it is not a messianic text, and it is not to be read as a prophecy speaking of a future individual. In contrast, long standing Christian interpretation and reading of the text, though many centuries removed, has included the recognition and validation of the Christian understanding of the nature, and particularly the passion, of Jesus.

We share much of our bible with the Jewish community. The roots of Christianity are firmly within the Jewish tradition. We often assume that the way we read scriptural text from the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament) is the same as a Jewish person would read that text. The ability to hold formal dialogue reminds us – and allows the wider church to be reminded – that this is not so. When we begin to appreciate the different ways we read and understand the same text we can come to understand better the similarities and differences between our faiths and communities, and we are better enabled to work together, and richer as human beings. This is the value of dialogue.


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