If you could have coffee with the most influential Jewish person who ever lived — would you?
Who would you choose? Maybe Jerry Seinfeld? He's definitely put smiles on millions of faces. How about Steven Spielberg? His movies have undoubtedly left an indelible impression upon the imagination and conscience of our generation. How about Howard Shultz?
"Who's Howard Shultz?" you ask. No, he's not your uncle, but I think I can make a pretty good case for him. Howard Shultz was a Jewish kid who grew up in the projects of Brooklyn and eventually became the chairman of Starbucks.
Howard Schultz had an idea. He wanted people to experience freshly brewed coffee from the world's finest roasted coffee beans in an environment that stimulated more than just their taste buds. Hence, the establishment of the first Starbucks. The rest, as they say, is history.
Thousands of Starbucks are quickly spreading to the four corners of the world. In fact, Israel recently became home to the first Starbucks store in the Middle East. L'Chaim for Cappuccino! For Howard Schultz, it was nothing more than reinventing the wheel and taking it places no one had yet dreamed it could go.
Truth and Coffee
The coffeehouse is not a new idea. For decades, Jewish people met in coffeehouses in the major cities of Europe to argue politics and pursue truth. Some of the greatest writers and thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries hatched their theories over cups of French roast or espresso. Some of them went on to fame on the world stage, while others sank back into obscurity.
One thing that has not changed is our thirst for meaning. We want to exchange ideas — hear something new, perhaps, that will change our lives. We long for a spiritual transformation and look high and low for someone to supply it.
Who knows? Perhaps your Starbucks companion at the sugar dispenser will be the next Seinfeld or Spielberg. It's hard to tell beforehand who will be the next great mover and shaker. Appearances are not everything.
An Unlikely Candidate?
According to an anonymous writer, the life of the most influential Jewish person who ever lived does not fit a description that we would necessarily associate with fame:
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter's shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He did not go to college. He never visited a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he remains the central figure of the human race, and the leader of mankind's progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this planet so much as that one solitary life.
It's apparent that this "one solitary life" is that of Jesus — a man who doesn't make it on most people's "Rendezvous@Starbucks" list. Evidently the prophet Isaiah knew this would be the case concerning the coming Messiah: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted" (Isaiah, chapter 53 — written approximately 800 years BCE).
Smell the Coffee and Wake Up
Howard Schultz put his finger on a need and made millions. His vision taught him that in an increasingly impersonal world, people need a place to share the warmth of human companionship. A cup of coffee and a conversation can still lead to some surprising places. The quest for truth can be even more thrilling than that first caffeine rush of the day.
If you want to meet an influential Jew, don't overlook Jesus. Maybe you haven't yet taken the time to "esteem" Him. Maybe you've pegged Him as just another spiritual guru. Maybe you've acquiesced to the tide of peer or familial opinion without giving Jesus a fair shake. Maybe He longs to rendezvous with you — just as He did with the poor, the prostitutes and the professionals of His generation.
Isn't it about time to consider having a "Starbucks" encounter with Jesus today? Don't worry about which location. If you look for Him, He'll be there waiting.
Justin Kron is a Jewish follower of Jesus. His passion is to acquaint Christians with the Jewish roots and heritage of their faith, and become better equipped and engaged in sharing God's Story of grace, truth, and love with the Jewish people.
Since 1998 Justin has been serving with Chosen People Ministries, an international Jewish ministry dedicated to sharing the love of the Messiah with the Jewish people and helping others to do the same. He leads eXperience Israel, a short-term ministry and spiritual pilgrimage program for young adults, and regularly assists Christian organizations, campus ministries, and churches in developing their outreach within the Jewish community.
Justin and his wife Judy, their daughters, Mackenzie and Madeline, and son Joshua, live in the suburbs of Chicago. Justin is near completion of his Masters of Divinity at the Moody Graduate School and serves as an elder at the North Shore campus of Willow Creek Community Church in Northfield, IL.