Reverend George M. Smiga
2009-2010 Tuohy Chair Holder

Fr. Smiga is the pastor at St. Noel Catholic Church, Willoughby Hills, Ohio and is a member of the scripture and homiletic faculty of St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology, in Cleveland, Ohio. He received his B.A from Borromeo College, Cleveland, Ohio; M.Div. from St. Mary Seminary, Cleveland, Ohio; and his S.T.L. and S.T.D. from Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy.

“Tracing the Invisible God: A Shared Faith for Jews and Christians”

October 13—Faith Works: The Power and Poverty of Religious Language

Millions of people believe in God. They seldom reflect on the faith which supports them. Any description or claim concerning God is severely limited. Unable to be directly examined, God can only be conceived through comparisons drawn from human experience. When God is said to be Creator, Savior, Shepherd, or Father, believers have not captured who God is but only what God is like. All language concerning God is fragile, hiding more than it reveals. Believers may be frustrated to realize that all they can say about God is limited to a set of comparisons which not only limp but barely crawl. Yet, at the same time, faith works. It directs the lives of millions of people toward freedom and happiness.

October 20—Building a Portrait of God: The Jewish Achievement

The limited but effective images of God which support Christian faith are a gift from the Jews. Over a period of 1200 years Israel built a portrait of the invisible God. Although the accuracy of the portrait cannot be tested by scientific means, the emergence of the traits which describe God can be documented in history. Beginning with the Exodus from Egypt some 3200 years ago, Israel accumulated images which describe God as one who saves, creates, listens, expects, and restores. Each one of these aspects of God continues to support the faith of Jews and Christians. By the beginning of the Common Era Israel had built a persuasive portrait of the invisible God. It supported the faith of thousands of believers. It was this understanding of God which was embraced by Jesus of Nazareth.

October 27—Jesus the Messiah: The Christian Addition

Jesus divides Judaism and Christianity. Yet the early followers of Jesus were Jews. Their preaching proclaimed what the God of Israel had done through Jesus. Jesus was new but the plan was old. It did not change as to its originator (the God of Israel), its motivation (love for creation), or its purpose (to restore all things to God). With Jesus the way in which God acted had changed, but God had not changed. The portrait of God accumulated by Israel remained intact. To this day, even when we account for the unique role of Christ, the Jewish influence in Christianity remains overwhelming. When we examine how faith functions for Christians today, when we weigh the images which permit faith to work, a very high percentage is still Jewish.

November 3—Shifting the Context: Fault Lines in the New Testament

The enormous Jewish influence upon Christianity is seldom appreciated because of characteristics which became part of the New Testament. Fault lines were included in the writings of the New Testament which were largely innocuous at the time of their composition. These fault lines were created by three major factors: Paul wrote letters; the gospels were not just about Jesus; and Rome was dangerous. When the New Testament writings were taken up by later readers who knew little of the context and presumptions of their authors, the fault lines broke. Christians began to read the New Testament in ways which were contrary to their original meanings. They concluded that Paul was against the Jewish law, Jesus was opposed to Judaism, and that the Jewish people were responsible for Jesus death.

November 10—Marring the Portrait: The First Heretic and His Legacy

By the beginning of the second century Christianity had become a Gentile church which was professing a Jewish God and Messiah. It was a major discrepancy that the Christian message was being spurned by the very people through whom the message came. Marcion, a Gentile Christian of the second century, initiated a movement which resolved this problem by teaching that Jesus was not Jewish and that Jesus’ Father was not the God of Israel. Christian apologists fought strenuously against Marcion, embracing the Jewish God but constructing a history of Jewish sinfulness which would warrant God’s rejection of Israel. In addition to the lamentable harm which this teaching caused for Jews, it also damaged the Christian faith. By claiming that God had rejected the Jews, Christians compromised the faithfulness of God.

November 17—Restoring the Portrait: The Unconditional Faithfulness of God

It is a task for Christians today to restore full and unconditional faithfulness to their portrait of God. It is a central belief of Christianity that the salvation of all people comes through Christ. Therefore, it might seem contradictory to maintain that God remains faithful to Jews who do not accept Christ. Yet, unembarrassed by the seeming contradiction, Christians should boldly claim the universal role of Christ and God’s faithfulness to Israel. Our ability to tolerate this conceptual incongruity is woven into the very nature of belief. As much as we understand about God, there is more that we cannot understand. The weak images we must use to describe the God whom we cannot see demand that believers become partners with mystery. Ignorance is always at our side. Humility is the prerequisite of faith.

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