Monday, 11 April 2011

And So It Begins

I have been reading a considerable amount regarding Christian antisemitism. For those of you who, like me, were appalled at the very suggestion - it is the sad fact that antisemitism has permeated Christian thinking for almost all of its existence. [My reason for this inquiry is a paper that I am writing]. 

For those of you still unconvinced, I would invite you to look at the work of St. John Chrysostom, Martin Luther or Ambrose of Milan - and a pattern develops. Why? In short, the basis of this antisemitism is the Christians' charge that the Jews were (and for some, still are) guilty of deicide. However uncomfortable I may be about that, it is a fact born out by the writings of our most loved Christian thinkers. 

For those of us of a more liturgical bent, we will have marked yesterday as Passion Sunday (as distinct from the Fifth Sunday of Lent, which is also the label for yesterday). Passion Sunday brings with it the behemothic Gospel account of the raising of Lazarus. We hear not just of a death, but of a rotting corpse, putrefaction. We are encouraged, in this account, not simply to engage with our spiritual senses but also our physical senses. Why? The simple message is that God can raise us to new life, that death is nothing - merely sleep; that faith in God is more potent that life itself, more powerful and more life giving than life. But how easy that is for us a couple of millenia later when the raising of Lazarus is no more a miracle to us than me getting up before 6am! We are used to the story, accustomed to it, desensitised. This applies to the account of the Passion too - hey ho, they just hammered a nail into Jesus' hand; what's the next hymn?!

Might we enter the mindset of a first-century Jew and consider these events, without our modern abilities to achieve so many more miracles, without our prior knowledge of the end of the story - and actually empathise with how they may have responded to a rotten corpse emerging from its tomb. Little wonder this is a tipping point. No wonder the crowd were split in two - those who believed and followed and those who believed and hated Jesus (through fear, probably). If some beardy-wierdy magicked my dad back to life, I would surely regard it as some vile hocus-pocus and reject it - because reason demands that. Same for the Jews, I think. If  something is too abnormal that we cannot assimilate it into our schema of thought - then I think the next thing we do is reject it, and the person promulgating it. 

I have long held that the Jews, and indeed Judas Iscariot (who made the ultimate sacrifice for his 'calling'), had to do what they did for our salvation. Take them out of the equation, and the Passion would not have happened and the whole shebang would have been for nothing. As I said to the kids at school - the seed has to die before the first flower and then the fruit can be born. Do we then blame the gardener? Of course not - we celebrate their horticultural prowess. 

The story that will unfold before us in our worshipping life over the next two weeks will invite so much judgement of people. The Jews, Judas, Pilate, Caiphas, Peter, Barabbas the Centurion - and the faceless nameless mocking crowds. In our judging we judge their judging. The Prophecy had to fulfilled and fulfilled it was - with every detail perfectly played out. Judge not ... 

(The essence of my sermon preached yesterday)


  1. I used to wrestle with tis whenever I had to prepare sermons and addresses for Passiontide. Not sure if I got the balance right, but hope so.

    I can remember being shocked when I first read the detective stories of Dorothy L. Sayers to see her casually anti-semitic references to any Jewish characters. I doubt she realised she was doing it, which is in itself symptomatic of the pervasiveness of a generalised anti-semitism in our culture then.

  2. I confess that I only read some of her books when I was younger, so missed that completely. Sadly, in many ways, much of what is written in the New Testament is, by definition, anti-semitic, more especially when it contends with pharisees and the like.

  3. Once you see it once, you notice all the other instances, sadly.

    I agree that it's very difficult to try to explain away the anti-Jewish aspects of the NT, but that doesn't excuse us from trying to at least put them properly in context and understand the motivation behind both the ant-semitism and what the Jews actually did.

  4. Of the NT writings, John's gospel is the one that apparently gives us the impression of blanket condemnation of "the Jews", although it is Matthew, the most "Jewish" of the Gospels that gives us those blood-curdling words, "His blood be upon us and upon our children." However, a careful reading of John's Gospel also suggest that the author may have had "Judeans" (ie Jewish residents of the area around Jerusalem) in mind when he uses the word.

    One of the encouraging things about recent NT studies of both Jesus and Paul is the recovery of them as Jews in a Jewish context, and the emergence of Christianity within Judaism. Most of the NT writings can then be seen as part of an intra-Jewish debate, especially immediately pre- and post-Temple destruction in 70CE.

    Much of this scholarship has,of course arisen in the context of recognising that more traditional Gentile Christian views made their contribution to the context of the Holocaust/Shoah. It is tragic that it has only been in this context that the Churches have reviewed their theology of Jews and Judaism in a more positive light. My worry is that much of this, as in with other areas of Jewish-Christian relations, has being sidelined since 9/11. Since then both sides have re-directed the focus of their attentions to relations with the Islamic world.



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