In 2001 I spent three days roaming around New York City with my oldest son. In this tour of my home town we made sure to include a visit to the house where I grew up which was also the house where my mother grew up. It is a three story storefront. Think Sesame Street.
We took the IRT subway from Manhattan to the Winthrop Street stop near my childhood home in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and then walked the few blocks to my address. The neighborhood had changed from my Italian and Jewish and somewhat Irish memories to what it is today: entirely West Indian and Haitian. The front of the house was now covered with what to me was a gaudy metal facade, not the bricks rubbed smooth with the fingers of childhood memory. And even looking at the address, I couldn’t recognize the buiding. If not for the number, I would have walked past it. If it is true that “there’s no place like home,” it is also true that this place was nothing like what I used to call home.
The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) uses as its missional tag line, “Welcoming Messiah Home.” This is the Union’s way of epitomizing its broader mission of “Raising up congregations for Yeshua within the House of Israel,” a noble goal. The leaders of the Union are to be commended for their hard work in distilling what they are about. But here’s the problem: When the Messianic Jewish Movement welcomes Messiah home, will he recognize it? Or will he need an address in hand, as I did, to keep from walking by?
Yeshua’s home is with the Jewish people: “He came unto his own . . .” but let’s not mistakenly think of this as mere tribalism. His home is among the Jews as a religious communal reality, a rich tapestry of existential transgenerational human covenantal context, stained with tears, with sweat, with blood, and with the wine of celebration.
In order to welcome Messiah home, we Jews who believe in Yeshua should be living Jewish lives. In fact, the Bible reminds us that one of Messiah’s goals is to renovate our community, so that we return to the blue print given to our people by the God of Sinai: “My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes,” that is, his chukkim and mishpatim, the nuts and bolts of halachic living (Ezekiel 37:24).
But looking around in many neighborhoods of the Messianic Jewish movement, isn’t it clear that we have remodeled his home so that it is no longer built around Jewish life and community but rather on a modified or even substitute floor plan, furnished with somebody else’s furniture?
By all means, let’s welcome Messiah home. But let’s also make sure we haven’t remodeled it beyond his ability to recognize it for what it has always been meant to be: a truly Jewish home, filled with the furniture of Jewish life and laid out according to an all too often forgotten blue print.