My last post, Notes for future Holy Week doings....Never again blame the Jewish people, provoked a range of comments.
Some questioned if I still held to my ordination vows. The answer is, yes, and I'm sticking to them.
Some asked if I had problems with the bible. My answer is, yes and no. No problem with the bible as containing all things necessary for salvation. Lots of problems with confusing "The Word" for "the words," and the suggestion that every word in the bible is equally necessary for salvation. (I suppose if salvation is a really complicated thing in which the nuances of every word written is central there may be a case for complete equality of all words of Scripture... but salvation is not all that complicated.)
Some suggested that I didn't really get why the flow of Holy Week is the way it is. Actually I do. The suggestion that the Passion Gospel be read at the end has to do with the idea that ending with the Crucifixion and then...silence is of some interest liturgically.
Some reported the experience of knowing that we are all caught up in the effort to crucify Jesus because all of us are part of the "crowd" that can not bear the reality of God's presence in Jesus. Got it. Me too.
But there is still this: The Gospel of John makes reference to the fear of an unqualified "lump" of people, the Jews, and directly points to them as intending to kill Jesus.
The word "The Jews" ( οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι) appears
5 times in Matthew
6 times in Mark
4 times in Luke
68 times in John
NONE of the references in Matthew, Mark and Luke make charges against the Jews concerning killing Jesus. Matthew 27:25 "let his blood be upon us an our children" is usually understood to be the "whole" people gathered before Pilate, and by extension, the whole people of Israel, i.e. the Jews. But Matthew refers to "people" not "Jews." John carries the full weight here in terms of specific reference to the Jews.
The Gospel of John moves in steps into a "fear of the Jews" motif: John 3:1 has Nicodemus a ruler of the Jews coming by night to see Jesus. Preachers often suggest that this is because of a fear of what might be said about him by other Jews. In John 5:16 it becomes clear, the Jews want to kill Jesus because he acts outside Jewish law and claims to be God's Son. By John 7:1 Jesus doesn't travel among the Jews because the Jews sought to kill him. In John 9:22 the fear of the Jews is offered as an explanation for the odd testimony of the blind man's parents. In 10:31 the Jews attempt to stone Jesus, and in 11:54 Jesus no longer went out in the open among the Jews. All of these passages build the case for fearing the Jews.
And then "the Jews" become integral to John's telling of the Crucifixion (chapters 18-19). Some sort of collective use of the term "the Jews" is used repeatedly, often as clearly adversarial, the Jews seeking Jesus' death. About one third of all references to "the Jews" in John are found in the crucifixion narrative.
At the close of John's Gospel there is a return to the theme of the fear of the Jews, the fear having been realized in his death.
So John's Gospel is the written source for two ideas that then make it into the mainstream of Christian consciousness: that the Jews are to be feared, and that the Jews wanted Jesus killed and caused it to happen. From there it seeps out into our understandings of readings from the other Gospels. For example, as mentioned before, Matthew has the passage in which the people shout, "let his blood be upon us and our children" (Matt 27:25) but it is "the people" not "the Jews" there. Yet several commentaries take that and expand on this being the whole of "the Jews."
In John's Gospel, the Crucifixion is couched in the context of the fear of the Jews, that they are out to kill Jesus and put to death, discredit or shun his followers. Whether or not John's intention in this was really to reference the leadership of the Temple, the Temple police, or the leaders of the state, the shorthand "the Jews" became very quickly a reference to the Jewish people as a whole. The notion that the Jews are to be feared and the accusation that they as a people killed Jesus became core to the anti-Semitic horrors that have been a plague rampant in Christian communities and nations ever since.
So it is perfectly in order to raise the question as to what to do with the texts as they are written. They say what they say, and what they say has been terribly misused.
It is argued that one could go through and use Judaean instead. But that is unsatisfactory because that does not seem to be what John was writing about. By the time John is writing the church was beginning to be separated out form the synagogue. That separation was accompanied by some rancor on both sides, and perhaps some of the stress on the Jews in John's Gospel reflect this. But whatever the situation, it seems to me that John is not referring to Judaeans, as the inhabitants of a particular geography, but the Jews, as a people of belief and practice.
What then are we to do with these texts? If we continue to use them as they are many people will use them precisely to support or confirm their own anti-Semitic attitudes. Many, of course, will not. But I believe that there are enough bible thumpers in the world who are only too glad to reintroduce an anit-Jewish agenda at a moment's notice.
On the other hand if we cut and paste our way through John's Gospel how will we agree to do so?
My sense as I stated before.
this is the last time I will participate in Holy Week Services that
intimate otherwise. I will not read, "may his blood be upon us and our
children," and I won't read "for fear of the Jews" and I won't say
"crucify him" with the weasel out that after all I am playing the part
of a Jewish crowd.
will perhaps be unemployed next Holy Week. That's OK. There are better
things to do. We can push the Church to get beyond the early skirmishes
with the community out of which we came. Just because the memories of
that struggle make it into the writings doesn't mean they have merit as
I have another thought... perhaps in an act of contrition for the many centuries of shameful misuse of these texts we ought to revise them or drop them.
Revision seems difficult, since we have developed a canon of scripture and then made these scriptures sacred and unchangeable. The shout "where will it stop" would suddenly spring from many noble lips. "Where will it stop?" indeed. And of course I would be accused of having tossed my ordination vows for sure.
So what about dropping them? Do the Synoptic Gospels tell the story well enough? What does John's crucifixion narrative tell us that is central and yet different from what is given in the Synoptic Gospels? We could retain the text, but not use it liturgically. And we would make this change as part of a determined effort at contrition concerning the misuse of the text to support shameful policies, prejudices and social actions.