The Relationship Between the Branch and the Graft

Last week at the Diplomat Wesleyan Churcgraftedh in Cape Coral. FL, R’Michael Schiffman of Tikvat Shalom discussed points regarding gentiles being grafted into the cultivated olive tree, and how [even with our differing expressions], Christians and Jews all worship the same G-d: the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It even created a lively conversation afterward that was fun to witness. I would like to continue the discussion. In order to bring us back in time to his sermon, here is an excerpt from the passage in Romans 11:

If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches[1]. But if some branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root, do not be arrogant toward the branches. It is not you who support the root, but the root supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off because of their unbelief,” but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if G-d did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note the kindness and the severity of G-d: severity toward those who have fallen, but G-d’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness, otherwise you too will be cut off. And if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for G-d has the power to graft them in again. If you were cut from a wild olive tree and grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will the natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree[2].

So often in our minds we see clearly: a cultivated olive tree. Some of her branches are cut off while wild branches or shoots are grafted onto plant to share in the nourishment of the rich root. Does that sum up the midrash, the parable, the allegory? No, it doesn’t. Another question must be asked: from where did the wild branch come? It was cut off a wild olive wild tree. Do you, if you are non-Jewish, feel cut off? Can you identify the scars of this surgery? Is the taste of the nourishment from the root of the cultivated olive tree different than what you remember before believing? I dare say most Christians living in pluralistic western nations have little to no sense of separation when they come to realize Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel, and that is not necessarily their fault.

Most Jewish people who come to faith in Yeshua suffer for their decision. Their families reject them, their synagogue and friends turn their backs on them. These new believers are rejected because millions of Jewish people have been harmed, robbed, raped, and murdered in the name of Jesus and under the banner of the cross, and accepting Yeshua as their Messiah is often seen as the actions of a turncoat, a recreant who has turned his or her back on the Jewish people. They have chosen the enemy over G-d and the people of Israel. This is a sad reality for most Jewish believers.

In a similar manner, some Christians feel as if they’ve lost something; in fact, ALL Christians should feel this loss because there is a cost associated with choosing to follow the G-d of Israel, and this is often felt as a loss of friendships and family unity, a sudden cessation of familiarity, an abrupt change of environment, and the abandonment of certain base habits and activities. This loss is [or should be] felt because they have been cut off what is by nature a wild olive tree and they are now grafted into a cultivated tree.

The book of Acts deals with this topic, and I would like to explore two of them.

  1. In Acts 10, we are given the narrative of a member of the Roman Guard named Cornelius. Of Cornelius, it says he is a devout man, one who feared G-d with all his house, who gave gifts generously to the people, and always prayed to G-d[3]. This is an incredible witness for a non-Jewish believer. Taken from a historical, Second-Temple period perspective, this means Cornelius was obedient to the commands of G-d as understood within its First-Century context, he was generous via tzedakah, and he prayed daily with the Jews in the Synagogue[4]. Cornelius was a righteous gentile; he was not a convert, yet he followed the obedient lifestyle of a Jew, except he did not have himself circumcised.
  2. Additionally, in Acts 11, the narrative explains a disagreement among the believing Jewish people: Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you can’t be saved.” …Paul and Barnabas had no small discord with them, [and] they appointed Paul and Barnabas, and some others… to go up to Jerusalem to the beit din[5] about this question to get a judgment on the matter. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders were gathered together to see about this matter. After much discussion, Peter rose and said, “Brothers, you know that a good while ago G-d chose, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. G-d, who knows the heart, testified about them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just like he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you tempt G-d, that you should put a yoke on the neck of the students which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Yeshua, just as they are.” Therefore, my judgment is that we don’t trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to G-d, but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.[6]

Many people already know what this passage from Acts 15 means, so I may not be able to add much to it, except [perhaps] a bit more historical context.

  • Some [but not all] of the Pharisees who believed were convinced the new gentile believers needed to be circumcised as a continuing sign of their belief, but Paul and the Apostles were in opposition because “circumcision” is indicative of “conversion to Judaism.” These Pharisees were stating that the gentiles needed to convert to Judaism in order to be fully grafted into the family of G-d. The elders of the followers of The Way disagreed. Paul, in Galatians, reinforces this thought by saying that whether one is circumcised[7] or is uncircumcised[8], we all have equal access to the grace and mercy of G-d.
  • Some of these Pharisees decided to double-down and suggest that not only are the gentiles to convert to Judaism, they must also be charged to keep the laws of Moses[9]. This phrase does not mean the gentiles are to keep some of the Torah[10]; these men were suggesting complete obedience was necessary. This removes the grace of G-d from the equation and places obedience as the marker whether or not one is a member of the Olam Haba[11]. The Apostles and the elders balked at this idea by stating, Why do you tempt G-d, that you should put a yoke on the neck of the students which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear[12]? In other words, the Apostles realized that one can be a follower of Messiah Yeshua without being perfect in obedience. At the end of the discussion, they made two statements.
    Firstly, they gave a few important rules to for gentiles to follow, and these rules allow interaction between the Jews and the gentiles not only in the synagogues but also in their homes.
    Lastly, they stated, For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath[13]. There is a custom dating to the time of Ezra where Genesis through Deuteronomy is split into 54 sections, and these sections are read in order beginning with the Sabbath after the fall holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot[14]. By mentioning this cycle of reading, the elders were stating the gentiles would learn a mouthful each week in the Synagogue, and can be applied and followed as one comes to understand.
    Obedience to G-d’s law is not the basis of our “salvation,” but is a sign of our gratitude to G-d, as it says in James, Be doers of the word, and not only hearers[15], and For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead[16]. James, in his reference to works is referring to the law, of which our Messiah says, Do not think I come to abolish the Torah; I did not come to abolish but to fill it full[17].

I didn’t intend to discuss observance of the Law, but this was a necessary foundation to discuss how the Jewish people and the believing gentiles should relate to each other. When G-d liberated us from our slavery and our defilement, we were not the only ones who came out of Egypt. We’re told we emerged from Egypt with a mixed multitudes of other peoples and nations. We brought others who wanted to attach themselves to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

A mixed multitude went up also with them, with flocks, herds, and even very much cattle[18].

Throughout the rest of the narrative found in the Torah, we are repeatedly told that the stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself[19].

Additionally, the text says, There shall me one law for him who is home-grown or native, and to the stranger who lives as a foreigner among you[20]. Each time the Torah uses this phraseology, it is speaking of access to G-d through communal and personal avodah[21]. Here, we have evidence that whether you are Jewish or non-Jewish, G-d listens to our worship’ he hears tour prayers, and if He hears your prayers, He will answer them.

During the Second-Temple period, we used to meet together daily for prayer at the Synagogue and in the Temple and we’d visit each other in our homes. Nowadays, since the Jews and Christians are separated, the Messianic Jews hear a common complaint from our Christian brothers: we concentrate too much on the Torah. Heaven forbid we complain our Christian brothers concentrate too much on Yeshua – and [sadly] some do! Interestingly, these complaints are one and the same. However, before I can fully explain that, I have four words to define as they are used in the Bible.

  • WORD is often synonymous with the Law. Especially in reference to the phrase, “The word of G-d.” Luke 8:21 ends with, My mother and my brother are those who hear the Word of G-d and do it.
  • LIGHT is synonymous with the Law. Proverbs 6:23 says, For the commandment is a lamp, and the Torah is light. In an interesting twist, Yeshua says of those who trust in him: You are the light of the world[22]… Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see the good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven[23].
  • TRUTH is synonymous with the Torah. Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness and your Torah is truth[24].
  • FREEDOM is synonymous with Torah. I run in the paths of your commands, for you have set my heart free[25] but one who looks intently at the perfect Law, the law of liberty and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer, but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does[26].

Word, Light, Truth, Freedom. These are beautiful words to express why the Jewish people love the Torah.. the Law of Moses, but how does this affect our Christian siblings? To explain that, I have four words to define as they are used in the Bible.

  • The WORD became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth[27].
  • Yeshua spoke to them, saying, “I am the LIGHT of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life[28].”
  • Yeshua said to him, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me[29].”
  • If therefore the Son makes you FREE, you will be free indeed[30].

Word, Light, Truth, Freedom. These are beautiful words to express why Christians love Jesus Christ. But look again: the words used to describe them are the same. Torah and Messiah are one and the same.

My parents divorced when I was very young, and my mother quickly married the man who would be my stepfather for the remainder of his life. Once my sisters were born, whatever relationship we had deteriorated into something neither good nor healthy. Once they entered the home, there became two different sets of rules for the house: the rules for his natural-born children, and a set of rules for the wife’s kids. I grew up resenting the favoritism even though I understood it. My stepfather became “that guy” I do not want to become.

God’s Plan A for His people was that all of mankind would be One, worshipping together. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. Therefore, Plan B was implemented. Before you ignore or write-off the idea of a Plan B, please know that plan Bs exist in the past:

  • One such “change in plans” occurred in Gan Eden. Had we not eaten the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil[31], history would have been far different. Ergo: Plan B
  • Another Plan B happened at the foot of the Mountain, when during Moshe’s first 40-day excursion to Sinai, we built a golden calf and listened to the spies’ bad report, and that caused a 38-year delay for the conquest of the Promised Land.

In like manner, we have a Plan B – we have different expressions in our worship of G-d, yet we can learn to accept this fact and love each other through these differences.

The Jewish love for Torah is a reflection of our love for Messiah. In the end, all of us, Jew and non-Jew need to live a life that is connected to the rich root of the cultivated olive tree. We all need to live a life of truth, light, and freedom that will allow the world to see Messiah in us, because that’s the only real witness we have.

[1] This goes back to Peter’s dream in Acts 10:9-16 where a sheet came down from the Heavens containing all kinds of unclean animals, and Peter interprets the dream in verse 28: if G-d considers a person holy and clean, we are not to call him or her unholy or unclean; this provides the tools necessary for these diverse groups to build strong relationships

[2] Romans 11:16-24

[3] Acts 10:2

[4] Most of these prayers survive in today’s synagogue service, though there was a certain amount of redaction and additions throughout the millennia

[5] The “Halls of Justice,” if you will, who were the apostles and elders

[6] Acts 15:1-21

[7] One who is born Jewish or a convert

[8] One who is born non-Jewish

[9] Acts 15:5

[10] Torah: The Law of Moses, the Books of Moses.

[11] The Kingdom, i.e., the World to Come

[12] Acts 15:10

[13] Acts 15:21

[14] aka: the holidays of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles

[15] James 1:22

[16] James 1:26

[17] Matthew 5:17

[18] Exodus 12:38

[19] Exodus 12:49, Leviticus 19:33′ Numbers 15:15-16, Numbers 15:29

[20] Exodus 12:49, Leviticus 24:22 [re: blasphemy, or the opposite of avodah], Numbers 9:14, 15:15-16, 15:29,

[21] worship

[22] You are the revelation of G-d’s Torah and G-d’s grace in the world

[23] Matthew 5:14-16

[24] Psalm 119:142

[25] Psalm 119:32

[26] James 1:25

[27] John 1:14

[28] John 8:12

[29] John 14:6

[30] John 8:36

[31] Heb. trans: Etz hadat tov vera


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