The pastor had a tough assignment. While on sabbatical he’d received word from his fellow elders that a group of Jewish families in the church were beginning to cause a bit of trouble. They were threatening to abandon their Christian confession and return to the Jewish community they’d left. What was causing the contemplated action was the same issue that had caused a similar secession only a year earlier. It was all about Jesus of Nazareth and, specifically, whether or not what the Christians claimed about his relation to the Jewish Scriptures, what some were beginning to call the Old Testament, was true. The distant pastor didn’t need the other elders to tell him who was instigating all this. He knew who had the ear of these families—and others in the city. After all, Rabbi Aaron ben Levi, a local synagogue leader, had made his intentions rather clear, both personally—over the course of a half-dozen or so private meetings—and publicly—through his well-publicized campaign against the Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. The pastor also knew that the recent tax bill wasn’t helping matters much either, considering it restricted all but practicing Jews from exempting themselves from the onerous public works tax that supported, among other things, the dozen or so temple-projects currently in progress around the city. The tax had made a bad economic situation worse for his congregation. Many of the church’s Jewish members had lost family-jobs when they’d converted. (Religion, it seemed, had run thicker than blood.) Most had been able to find alternative work, thanks be to God, but not a few were still severely underemployed and, thus, would have a difficult time paying the new tax. All this, of course, reminded the pastor—and surely, he thought, many within his community—of the similar storm they’d weathered a few years back. In that case, a handful of rabble-rousers, including the then graduate student Aaron ben Levi, provoked some otherwise well-meaning Jewish landlords to evict their Jewish-Christian tenants for supposedly violating the terms of their leases. Most in both the Christian and Jewish community still couldn’t see how the Jewish-Christian’s house meetings transgressed policy or, for that matter, why some were temporarily-detained by a local, non-sympathetic magistrate when they’d simply asked for a bit more time to comply. Still, to their credit, the Christians had borne the difficulty bravely and, in most cases, joyfully. Things, however, just seemed to be different this time. The constant pressure the last couple years had exercised upon these young Christians, especially by family and former friends, had begun to exact its toll. The chronic shame had, at last, begun to dull their zeal for their Christian confession. As a result, formerly useful rebuttals to the arguments raised by Rabbi Levi and his disciples had become less helpful. Present doubts, therefore, remained and the church’s elders were at a lost to know what to do. They’d promised to leave their dear friend alone to his writing, but the problem, they rightly-judged, was simply too urgent. The pastor received their letter early one morning, delivered by the hand of a trusted assistant. By the time the sun had set, he’d completed his response, what he called in his letter’s final lines, a brief word of encouragement. He prayed his friends would bear with it . . . .
8 Jul 2013