Salvation and the Jews

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David Neuhaus, SJ

 David Neuhaus, SJ / Church Life / 6 May 2021


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In Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of John, he tells her: “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). The Church affirms that Christ’s rootedness in the Jewish people signifies that salvation indeed has come from the Jews. The teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the Jewish people and the successive teaching in article 4 of the Declaration Nostra Aetate (NA)[1] insists that the relationship with the Jewish people, the constant reference to the Scriptures of Israel (the Old Testament) and familiarity with Israel’s traditions are essential elements in getting to know Jesus of Nazareth, proclaimed by Christians as Messiah, Son of God and Savior of the world. The Church indeed affirms with Jesus that salvation is from the Jews. A much more sensitive question concerns from where  does the salvation of the Jews come?

The stance of the Church toward the Jews

The Declaration Nostra Aetate affirmed that the Church must proclaim Jesus as Messiah, Son of God and Savior in its first paragraph: “Indeed, (the Church) proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.”

The document, published by the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, reaffirmed this principle of Christian mission but recognized the complexity of this task within the relationship with the Jews. “Another focus for Catholics must continue to be the highly complex theological question of how Christian belief in the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ can be combined in a coherent way with the equally clear statement of faith in the never-revoked covenant of God with Israel. It is the belief of the Church that Christ is the Savior for all. There cannot be two ways of salvation.”[2]

The affirmation that Christ is the unique Savior makes many Jews uncomfortable, so uncomfortable sometimes that the great 20th century Jewish thinker, Abraham Joshua Heschel, commented “If I were asked either to convert or to die in Auschwitz, I’d rather go to Auschwitz.”[3] Christians as disciples of Christ, who, according to their belief, was sent “to the Jew first and to the Greek also” (Rom 1:16), are called therefore to reflect on the apparent tension between a Christian commitment to preaching Christ as Savior of all and the engagement in respect for the Jews, dialogue and collaboration with them.

 

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