Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Recently, I had lunch with a person in my community who is a known proselytizer. Over the course of our meal, he attempted to show me the errors of my ways in not believing in Jesus as a Christ figure or as my personal Lord and Savior. Finally, toward the end of our encounter, he said, “What would it take for you to believe in Jesus?” I leaned in closer across the table, looked him in the eye and said quietly “…Nothing…He’s just not my guy.” He sat back, seemingly disappointed and asked, “If Jesus appeared to you in a vision, would that change your mind?” I told him that if such an event occurred I might rethink my position but it would depend on the nature of the encounter.
This got me thinking. I am very committed to being Jewish. As a rabbi, my commitment to Jewishness a necessary part of my life’s work. I’m all in. What if Jesus came to me? Is it possible that there is something out there in the universe that COULD convince me to give up my Judaism?
A week or so later, I had lunch with some of my minister friends. As we caught up about our various life happenings, I mentioned that my daughter, nearing 3 years old, has learned through her Presbyterian preschool that Jesus loves her. To which I tell her, yes and Mommy loves you and Grandma loves you and Grandpa loves you….and so on. In response to this anecdote, one friend leaned in and said, “That’s good, because He does.” Huh, I thought. What an interesting idea.
Shortly after this conversation, a few colleagues told me they had heard a Jewish speaker share that they had visions of the Mother Mary. Yup, THE Mother Mary. And now I am thinking back to my conversations with the proselytizer and my minister friend. Does Jesus love my daughter? Can a Jew have visions of Mother Mary and still BE Jewish? How does all of this multifaith stuff really work on a cosmic level anyhow?
For Jesus to love my very Jewish daughter, or for Mary to appear to the very Jewish Rabbi Shapiro then, even though I do not believe in Jesus as Jesus or Mary as Mary, they must still exist as such even if they only exist in someone else’s universe. I’ve always embraced warmly the idea that we all believe differently-one mountain many paths-but it is only now that I am considering not only the idea of multiple truths but also of multiple realities. Maybe Heaven and Hell exist even though I do not believe in Heaven and Hell. This does not have to mean that those who believe in Jesus, Mary, and Heaven and Hell are right while those of us who do not are wrong. Because it is also possible that Jesus, Mary, Heaven, and Hell equally do not exist. Both these realities, though in direct contradiction with one another, may be simultaneously true.
Now, if you are reading this and thinking I may be completely bonkers, let me ask you, Why not? Is it possible that God in God’s infiniteness can hold multiple realities even if our brains cannot? I am not sure of the mechanics of all this. There are some real practical implications for who is or is not populating the Heaven and Hell that both do and do not exist!
In the meantime, I am comforted by the idea that Jesus could appear to me in a vision or love my daughter. Initially, just exploring those ideas frightened me a bit. But, when I free myself from the reality that must be either Jesus exists, OR Jewish exists, when I let go of the binary, then the infinite possibilities which open before me are exciting and even awe-inspiring. No, I am not suggesting I am entertaining the idea of Jesus being my Lord and Savior. What I am opening myself to-and maybe you to as well- is somehow Jesus might be out there functioning as some people’s Lord and Savior and that entity might love all creatures; even my daughter, even me, even if simultaneously that entity does not exist. Just like I think God believes in us even when God does not exist.
If Jesus were to one day appeared to me, I think it would be akin to a crossover episode of some ’80s sitcom. For a moment, the walls which separate the worlds of existence and non-existence would disappear and these disparate, contradictory realities might momentarily touch allowing me to peer into some alternate plane of existence, connect in some brief yet hopefully meaningful way, and then continue forward as an enhanced version of the person that I already am.