This past Sunday at Grace North Church, Rev. John Maybry mentioned in his sermon that the Messiah was a “proprietary” part of Judaism. This is one of the reasons why it was so odd that the Gentiles were proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah. Why would those who were not Jews be so invested in a figure that was so important to the Jewish religious culture?
But another question that springs to mind, especially after three semesters at a seminary where social justice figures prominently into the curriculum, is one of cultural appropriation. If the Messiah was a figure that was proprietary to Judaism, and the Gentiles were not only external to the Jewish religion but their culture as well, doesn’t this mean that the Gentiles appropriated the Messiah from the Jews? And some centuries later when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and this became the official religion of the Roman Empire, wasn’t an extreme act of cultural appropriation? The very empire that destroyed the Temple and subjugated the Jews had taken a figure that was essential to their religion and culture and claimed that figure for the Empire.
With this in mind, it would seem that Christianity in general is a religion that was founded on cultural appropriation. This has long been an assertion by various Pagan and Neopagan groups, as many saints are appropriations of local gods and goddesses. And while the statement, “Christ is for everyone,” is one that is offered in the spirit of inclusion, it’s still taking a proprietary figure from one religious culture and offering it to the world, just as the old deities were repurposed as saints and offered to the world.
Being a Christo-Pagan, I’m not new to the idea of appropriation of important religious figures by Christianity. I find it all but impossible to study contemporary Pagan religions without encountering gods and goddesses who have been appropriated as saints. But I must admit, I’m ashamed to not have made this connection regarding the Messiah before now. It seems to me that this could be an example of institutional antisemitism in Christianity.
What can I, as a would-be Christian minister, do about this?