A Suffering Branch

This weekend, you likely heard the horrific news that 11 people were killed, and nine injured, in a shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation. Weekly Saturday morning services were being held at the time of the shooting. The incident goes down as the single most deadly attack on the Jewish community in United States history. According to witnesses, the shooter yelled “All Jews must die!” as he began firing.

Of course, any event of suffering or violence is worthy of prayer. We pray for those injured or killed, for their families and friends, for witnesses who emerged physically unscathed but are nonetheless traumatized, and for justice to be served. But for Christians, this particular event ought to have a unique significance. Those suffering at Tree of Life aren’t inherently more valuable than those who have suffered in other shootings and natural disasters we hear about on the news (not to mention the countless sufferings we never hear about from all over this fallen world). However, if Christians like us read our Bibles, we quickly find that we share a common heritage with our Jewish friends, neighbors, coworkers, and classmates that we don’t share with everyone in this world. We also find that God has used the Jewish people throughout history to bring about our own salvation.

Judaism and Christianity are both considered “Abrahamic” religions – meaning God’s relationship with Abraham in the Book of Genesis serves as a massive foundation to our respective faiths. The entire Old Testament is the story of God’s covenant relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s offspring: the Jewish people. The significance of the Jewish people carries over into the New Testament, where nearly every single author of a New Testament book was a Jew. Jesus himself was born to a Jewish mother, circumcised on the eighth day according to the custom of Moses, hailed as the “Son of David” during his earthly ministry, and mockingly labeled the “King of the Jews” at his crucifixion.

In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul agonizes over the relationship Gentile Christians (non-Jews who believe in Jesus) have with Jews who do not believe in Jesus. Paul argues that if not for the Jewish people’s rejection of Jesus, Gentiles would not have been welcomed into God’s family by His grace, through faith in Jesus. This was all part of God’s plan to enact his old promise to Abraham – that in him “all families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

Paul also starkly warns Gentile Christians not to look down upon their unbelieving Jewish neighbors. He compares Gentile Christians to “wild olive shoots” that have been “grafted in” to a pre-existent olive tree, and unbelieving Jews to “natural branches” that have been “cut off” through unbelief. In no uncertain terms, Paul gives a practical warning to Gentile Christians not to be “arrogant” toward non-believing Jews. Even though those Jews may not believe in Jesus right now, Gentile Christians like those back in Rome (and like us at here at PVCC) should never forget the essential role the Jewish people played in God’s sovereign plan to rescue and redeem sinners like us.

What does all this have to do with the suffering at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh? It’s really quite simple: If we take Jesus’s example of caring for the suffering seriously, regardless of who they are or from where they come – how much more so should we care for suffering Jews with whom we are so tightly linked? We mourn with our Jewish friends, neighbors, coworkers, and classmates who are suffering. We reject what is sadly just the most recent iteration of hatred against the Jewish people. And we pray to God that His kingdom come, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven – as our Jewish Lord and Savior taught us.

Benjamin Halliburton
Benjamin Halliburton
Senior Minister at Prairie View Christian Church