Just when she thought it was safe to be on the sidewalk, there I was again − that nuisance-for-Jesus. "She" was Marilyn, an elderly Jewish religion student whom I had not seen for more than a year. She masked her surprise at my remembering her name, but I had an advantage − the Holy Spirit of God. Just a few moments earlier, someone had made a comment that reminded me of the argument Marilyn had used in our first almost-civil conversation a year past. It had gotten me thinking about her before I had run into her. Amazingly, we picked up right where we had left off, but I didn’t want the same inconclusive ending as before. I had to build on the foundation laid last time or take an altogether different tack.
I remembered my director’s admonition: as long as my behavior as a missionary was consistent and godly, I must avoid the paralyzing fear of losing a person’s respect or understanding which had never been secured in the first place. Now, come what may, it was time for me to elude the convenient categories in which Marilyn hoped to trap me and dismiss my credibility. I decided to do this by helping her voice her own stereotyped thinking. My cooperation was unsettling to her and may have helped me gain a hearing as I presented alternatives to her quickly-derived conclusions:
First, was my broadsiding merely something psychological I was trying to work out publicly? That was an easy way for her to avoid the subject matter of the pamphlet I was distributing. I told her I felt that every word and statement was true. We could go over them one by one if necessary.
That certainly was not attractive to Marilyn. She felt that she had a duty to wrest my "false" confidence in such archaic and primitive writings as were found in the Jewish Scriptures. At that, I asked her if she was practicing.
"Practicing what?" she responded.
In my Goyim for Jesus T-shirt, I, the Gentile, explained to this Jewish lady that this term commonly used in the Jewish community usually referred to a person’s adherence to Judaism in observance of the Jewish Law of Moses.
Yes, as a matter of fact, she was practicing, she said, but not based on the Tenach (Hebrew Scriptures) alone, of course. One had to realize what the Scriptures meant to those people in that time and that culture so long ago.
"You’re Reform, then," I pursued.
She let me know that she was not neatly fitting into any existing group, but she was for Judaism.
I recounted the measure of humanity’s achievements and upward climb: "We’ve come a long way in our evolution since then, I suppose. Yeah, just look around. This (state of the world) is great, isn’t it?" I said with a touch of irony.
"The answer certainly isn’t to wriggle out of one’s responsibilities as a person by adopting some system that puts the whole thing on someone else, like an ostrich hiding his head in the sand!" she responded.
"A kind of Christian fatalism," I offered.
"Yes, that’s very good; I like that," Marilyn answered.
"Thanks. You may use it if you like," I said.
"Some people may need help from a system, but I don’t need that. I’m fully capable of owning responsibility for my actions and duties," she continued.
"But would you say that your lack of need for Jesus is an active or a passive one? That is, are you neutrally or hostilely free from needing Messiah?"
"I’m against people falsely putting their hope and trust in someone who’s not going to make any positive difference in the needs of the world and who may have never existed in the first place. For all we know, he’s a fictitious character created for the purpose of teaching certain principles," Marilyn said.
"Usually when someone doesn’t feel they need God or his Messiah, you would think it would be a neutral decision, arrived at flatly; but you seem to be passionate in your opinion that no one else should believe in him either. Maybe you’re trying to work out something personal in a public way," I said. Then I added, Jesus died in public. Why shouldn’t I do what he told me to do in public?"
"Everybody certainly has a free choice to believe whatever he wants to," Marilyn said. "I’m only saying that a person doesn’t have a right to spread harmful falsehoods that might cause someone else to hope falsely in something that’s never going to come through for them. Do you understand what I’m saying? Does that make sense to you?"
"Certainly!" I responded. "That’s why I’m out here, not hiding my head in the sand, so that people won’t trust falsely in themselves, the way Satan did. He said, ‘I don’t need you anymore, God. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll take your place for a while.’"
"But you can’t go by all this stuff about Satan and concepts that primitive people came up with!" Marilyn decided it was time for her to end our discussion. "Look, I’ve got to go; but I hope you’ll consider what I’ve said." She walked away.
She was probably nicer to me in her phrasing than I was to her − unless one counts the judgmental insults that were implicit throughout her remarks, usually stated in a third-person generic diatribe. I had not shouted or lost control; but I had jolted her just enough to deal personally with her rebellion. I didn’t mind losing the "Saint-Congeniality-of-the-Sidewalk" award as I tried to break the taboo of generality in pointing out Marilyn’s passionate disbelief from which she apparently drew her very identity.
Much of modern Judaism is defined negatively − by what one does not believe, with whom one will not associate, by what one will not practice. Anti-belief is good insurance against being nobody’s fool, except one’s own, I guess.
True Judaism is positive, not negative. It is to follow in the footsteps of Ezra, who refused to give up, and who, in discovering how very far he and his people had drifted, saw the only favor he could do for God was to exchange his grand human achievement for obedience.
And now for a little moment grace hath been shown from the Lord, our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage.
For we were slaves; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving to set up the house of our God, and repair the desolations of it, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.
− Ezra 9:8, 9
Alan Bond is a senior missionary at the San Francisco branch of Jews for Jesus. Alan has a master's degree in Missiology with an emphasis in Jewish Studies from Fuller School of World Mission. He led the Chicago branch work for many years before his move in 2014 to the San Francisco Bay Area. Alan and his wife, Lyn have two children: Asher and Bethany.