Aired on December 27, 2010
Narration by Baben Grace Lumapas
What Did God Mean by Becoming a Jew?
Have you ever wondered why the God of the universe was born a Jew?
Unlike Hindu avatars who make fleeting appearances, the occurrence of which is shrouded in myths, God in Jesus appeared in history in concrete particularity. This God, we are told, came in human flesh – kicking and screaming like any newborn baby, wet with his mother’s blood and all messed up and tied up with her umbilical cord. You could pin his birth down on a calendar: roughly 4 BC. You could map his geography: a tiny strip of land at the western end of the Fertile Crescent, that great arc of well-watered lands stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Nile Delta. You can read his story in books written by eyewitnesses.
No other religion speaks of God in this way. He ‘dwelt among us’ said his friend John. He walked the dusty streets of Palestine with his small band of roughhewn fishermen and subversive zealots. He rubbed elbows with tax collectors who were considered collaborators, prostitutes, lepers, hated Roman soldiers and despised Gentiles. He was a practising Jew who went to the synagogue and made a pilgrimage yearly to Jerusalem on the Passover and other festivals.
In short, he spent thirty of his thirty-three years just planting his roots deep among his people. While he was a man for all times and all cultures, he was racially and historically a Jew.
What this tells us is that when God came to earth, he identified himself so deeply that his own townmates had difficulty believing that he could be something else. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” was the incredulous question.
God in Jesus so honored us that he became truly like us – a human being with a family, a history, rooted and embedded in a particular place in Middle Eastern geography.
It is fashionable these days to think that ethnicity and nationality are mere accidents of history. The Incarnation tells us that this is not so. We are not meant to be free-floating citizens of the world with no permanent address. We are meant to pitch our tents somewhere, to dig deep and make a difference where we are. No deep work happens without incarnation, without deep immersion, a deep identification with a particular people.
And yet, part of the wonder and the mystery of the Incarnation is that we are also most universal when we are most particular. Our National Artist in Literature, F. Sionil Jose, tells me that it was when he decided to simply write about his little town of Rosales in Pangasinan that his novels started getting translated in other languages.
It is when we are most truly ourselves, in our oddities and peculiarities as human beings, that we most tap and connect with that which is most human in all of us. As Jesus has shown us, it is in discovering our own unique identity that we experience human solidarity.
It is our prayer that as we celebrate this season of Advent, we shall all grow into what it means to be truly a people, with a deeper sense of who we are and to whom we belong and what we are called to be in the family of nations.
Written by Melba Padilla Maggay. Dr. Maggay is the president of ISACC.