15 July 2010

Excerpts from David Patterson's 2009 May Smith Lecture on Redemption, Anti-Semitism & the Messiah

On Sunday morning, while ellipticalling, I read David Patterson's lecture "Though the Messiah May Tarry: A Reflection on Redemption in Our Time,"1 and I wanted to select a few interesting passages from it: one on belief, one on anti-semitism/anti-messianism, one on redemption, and one on time and the Messiah. The selection of his regarding anti-semitism is, I believe, the most novel of these quotes (although time and the Messiah is also neat).
Here is an interesting quote regarding
belief (17-18):
The word faith appears in the Christian Scriptures one hundred times more frequently than in the Hebrew Bible, and the Hebrew Bible is about six times longer than the Christian Scriptures. Because of this accent on the faith of the individual, Christians generally view redemption in terms of a personal salvation, so that salvation belongs to the individual believer. And it rests at least as much upon the content of belief - on accepting Jesus as the Savior in accordance with John 3:16 - as it does upon the actions of the believer. This is not to say that from a Christian standpoint actions are meaningless; rather, it is to say that belief is essential.

In Judaism, belief is not so essential, at least not in the same way. Hence, in Judaism, we have the concept of the Righteous among the Nations, people who are near to God, even though they are not followers of Judaism. Because the Jewish accent is on living in such a way as to assume responsibility even for the actions of others, redemption is a matter that concerns the community. Because redemption is not about me - because it means serving others in spite of myself - it require getting rid of the one thing most precious to me: my ego. Perhaps here lies the key to waiting and working for redemption, both for Christians and for Jews. Here, too, lies one key to the animosity that both face in the effort to bring about the redemption of humanity, from left-wing intellectualism to Islamic Jihadism.
One on anti-semitism/anti-messianism (pp. 18-19):
...in the contexts of the Jewish wait for the Messiah, we discover the essence of anti-Semitism: it is an anti-messianism. The "wandering" Jew turns out to be the waiting Jew and, therefore, the hated Jew, for the Jew's wait unsettles those who would have things settled through the totalitarian rule of one worldview. The presence of the Jew is a constant reminder that we are forever in debt and that no payment will do, because payment is always due. And so, among the anti-Semites, it is a truism that the Jews control the ledgers of the world. The hatred of the Jews is the oldest hatred, because the challenge from the Jews is the oldest challenge to the ego that would curl up in the comfort of looking out for Number One. Both the religious and the ideological forms of anti-Semitism seek a final solution in matter of redemption. In their totalitarian appropriation of the other, both would either assimilate or annihilate the Jew, whose very existence disturbs their sleep with the insistence that the wait for the Messiah is an interminable service to the other person.
One on redemption (p. 20):
...the Jew waits not for the world to adopt a certain creed, but for the world to take on a certain character. One thing is clear, at least from a Jewish standpoint: the matter of redemption is not settled. What is clear to Judaism, however, may create some confusion in Christianity, where, according to traditional understanding, the redemption was accomplished with the Resurrection. Where redemption is concerned, most Christians believe there is nothing to wait for.
And, finally, one on time and the Messiah (pp. 20-21):
...in the Talmud, it is written that there will be no Messiah for Israel, because those days have already passed, in the time of Hezekiah (Sanhedrin 99a); the point is not to put an end to the wait and the expectation, but to underscore its endless duration. The Talmud also maintains that all the dates for the ultimate redemption have passed (Sanhedrin 97b). Once again, the teaching is not that we should leave off with waiting; rather, it is that now only we can bring the Messiah, for only we can wait infinitely, through the continual effort to meet an infinite responsibility to and for the other person. Only we can wait, and not God, because only we operate within the narrow confines of time. Time is the tarrying of the Messiah; that the Messiah tarries is what gives meaning to life, for the dimension of meaning is the dimension of time.
1 - Delivered on 26 January 2009 as the May Smith Lecture on Post-Holocaust Christian/Jewish Dialogue (published as a booklet in 2009, with an introduction by Alan L. Berger, Administrator for the May Smith Lecture Series at Florida Atlantic University)

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