Saturday, November 29, 2014

BREAKOUT! by Linden Malki

The walls were broken by  70AD. There are mentions in several of the Old Testament prophets that the calling of Israel was to bring the knowledge of God to the world, but the original followers of Jesus were still Jews.  Jesus' last message to his followers was to take the message beyond the incubator, to the whole world.  In the book of Acts we see the response to Peter's sermon at Pentecost among local Jews, and Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism from the wider Greek-speaking world.  With persecution from the traditional Jewish authorities in Jerusalem and the travelers and traders in this amazingly mobile society, the Word spread into the wider Greek and Roman world.  We see patterns of rejection and acceptance--followers of the strict historical Jewish law rejecting those who were "outsiders", and those who wanted to follow Jesus but rejected the narrowness and limitations of the traditional law as it had developed in first-century Judea.

Outside of Judea, another acceptance/rejection pattern was developing--the relationship with the Roman government, which demanded a ritual offering to Caesar as a god.  Following Jesus meant rejecting the demands of Roman idolatry; both the official demands and the pervasive pagan culture. The Christian message was itself often rejected in the name of the older Roman or Jewish traditions.

This three-cornered situation came to a head in Jerusalem in 65 AD, when rebellion against the Roman occupation broke out in Judea.  The political Messianic hopes that Jesus faced and refused, as well as other failed attempts, were energized by the hope that God would step in if the Jews took the initiative in faith.  At the same time, the Temple authorities continued to try to suppress the other threat to their dream: they had the head of the Jerusalem Church,  Jesus' brother "James the Just", tried and assassinated. Church tradition tells that the church community saw in this maelstrom a fulfillment of Jesus' warnings in Matthew 24 and fled to Pella, a Greek city on the east side of the Jordan Valley.  Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army in 70AD, and the surviving Jews scattered or were taken as slaves by the Romans.  It was later rebuilt as a Roman city, called Aelia Capitolina, forbidden to Jews and eventually became a Byzantine Christian city under Constantine in the 300's.  That church has since been through controversies in the Eastern Greek  churches of the 5th & 6th Centuries, and conquest by Moslems,  Crusaders, Turks, British, and Israelis. 

My father-in-law grew up Syrian Orthodox, and I recall going to a wedding in Los Angeles of a couple from his home village.  This church describes their services as following the original St James liturgy from that first-century Jerusalem church.  The home territory of this church is now in the area threatened by the radical political situation in northern Syria; despite persecution, rejections, and conquests but like its ancestors, it  has broken out into the wider world. 

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