Could two more different men than Peter and Paul possibly be found? Yes, they were both Jewish males, born in the same decade. But any similarity ends there.
Paul was bookish; Peter was a man of the sea. Paul was a city-slicker, cosmopolitan, a Roman citizen; Peter came from the quiet seaside hills. If it weren’t for Christ, Peter probably never in his life would have left the shores of the Sea of Galilee. If it weren’t for Christ, Paul probably would never in his life have spoken with a single Galilean.
How are we Catholics supposed to understand the existence of the modern state of Israel?Does the Old Testament teach us that the state of Israel is part of God’s plan for salvation?
In relations between nations here and now, in A.D. 2008, Israel is a state like any other.All nations are bound by international laws which express the demands of justice.If Israel acts as a nation (in war or diplomacy, or whatever way), and her cause is right, then we should be on her side.If her cause is not right, then we should deplore what she does and respond in a proportionate way.
I do not hold myself out as an expert on the contemporary politics of the Holy Land.Surely, though, a fair person could find himself sympathizing with Palestinians who are not terrorists and whose lives are made very difficult by Israel’s security measures (the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people), while at the same time sympathizing with Israelis who must live in constant fear of terrorism in their streets.
The modern state of Israel is the fruit of an international agreement in 1948.Again, I am no expert on the political situation that gave rise to this agreement.Was it an injustice to the Palestinian people?Perhaps it was, at least in some way.Neither am I knowledgeable enough to judge the justice of Israel’s expansion of its territory by force in 1967.I do not know if the Holy See took a position at the time.I leave judgments on these matters to others who know more.
I love the word Israel; I kiss the ground on which the Son of God walked. I love His countrymen, His blood relatives. I worship a Jewish man as Almighty God. I refuse, however, to be bound to prefer the policy of the Israeli government, or even to justify the existence of the modern state of Israel at all, on the grounds that it is part of God’s plan for salvation.
Evangelical defenders of Israel tend to cite passages from the Old Testament which clearly establish the territorial state of Israel by divine decree. They cite these passages to prove to skeptics that Christians must support Israel. It doesn’t take a whole lot of Scripture scholarship or historical knowledge to grasp that these citations prove nothing.
There was a stage in salvation history when God Himself established the territorial nation of Israel, the Promised Land for His Chosen People. To doubt that there was such a phase of the plan, that this phase was crucial for the unfolding of events that led to the Redemption—in other words, to doubt what Scripture says—would be to defect from the holy faith. But all of this happened a long time ago, and this phase of salvation history—the part during which the territorial state of Israel had to exist—has been over for almost two millennia.
The passages which evangelicals tend to cite in order to claim that Israel exists now by divine ordinance do refer to a contemporary “nation”: they refer to the Holy Church of God, the nation of priests which offers Him acceptable worship at the holy altar of Christ’s sacrifice. The significance of the Old Testament passages about Israel is primarily historical, referring to the era of the Old Covenant. Secondarily, the passages communicate a spiritual meaning, referring to the new People of God, the baptized. (In case you are wondering, I am not making any of this up: all of it can be found in the New Testament.)
Is it anti-Semitic to affirm these things? No. To say that the existence of the modern state of Israel has nothing to do with the prophetic words of the Old Testament in no way denies the possibility that the such a nation should have been established in 1948 (or perhaps it should have been established a lot earlier), or that it is necessary now, in order to guarantee a safe place for Jewish people to live. It would be anti-Semitic to say, “To hell with the Jews; let their enemies slaughter them all.” But to avoid anti-Semitism, it is not necessary to depart from the Christian faith and render null and void the teaching of the New Testament about the universal Covenant in Christ’s Precious Blood. (The Old Testament itself bears witness to the universality of the plan of God for the salvation of the human race; the prophets of Israel testified that the Old Covenant—with one nation among many—is provisional.)
There is only one God. He established the territorial state of Israel many millennia ago in order to further His plan. When His Son came into the world and lived, died, and rose again from the dead as an Israeli Jew, He established the New Covenant in His Blood for Jew and Gentile alike. This is our faith; we believe it because it is true; we proclaim it to Jew and Gentile. The New Covenant is not based on lineal descent, on bloodline, or place of origin; it is based on incorporation into Christ and His Church by faith and the reception of the sacraments. By being incorporated into the Church this way, individuals and whole nations can be filled with grace and holiness (though of course, the struggle with our inclination to sin is perennial). Therefore, there can be Christian nations. The People of God, however, is the Church, which transcends all particular individuals and nations.
Is it God’s will that some Jews persevere in the life of the Old Covenant until the end of time? It may very well be. Do I have the duty to invite them into the Catholic Church? There is no question that I do. If they do not accept the invitation, must I love them and try to help them as I am bound to love and try to help everyone on earth? Yes. Should I revere them as “elder brothers”, as relations of Christ, as a people possessed of unique gifts? Yes. Should I study everything they propose to me as being worthy of my attention? Yes.
Must I agree that the modern state of Israel must exist, or that it should do whatever it takes to protect itself, including unjust aggression? No.