Anti-anti-Semitism

A man with a gun entered the Tree of Life synagogue, Pittsburgh, PA, today and, shouting, spewing anti-Semitic hate-speech, shot and killed eleven people, eleven innocents who gathered in worship of God.

As a Christian who cherishes my Jewish historical and theological roots – for, as Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, without Judaism, there is no Christianity – I, in sorrowing prayer for the dead and for all death-dealing hatred, reflected on a centuries-old Good Friday tradition of reading the passion narrative, the account of the suffering and death of Jesus, from the Gospel according to John.

Of the four biblical gospel accounts, John, writing at the end of the first century of the Common Era, by which time the Jesus-movement had distinguished itself from Judaism, strikes the most polemical stance against Judaism. Verily, John, not always, but often uses the term, “the Jews,” to refer to religious authorities who were hostile to Jesus…

“The Jews” rejected Jesus’ message that he was God’s Messiah.

“The Jews” shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

“The Jews,” at the hint of Pilate’s equivocation regarding Jesus’ fate, blackmailed him with threats against his good standing with Rome, shouting, “If you release him, you are no friend of Caesar!”

For many years, in the public recitation of John’s passion narrative, I have replaced the words, “the Jews,” with “the people.”

I have not done this for the sake of that shallow sentimentality known as “political correctness.”

I have done this in an effort to rectify a centuries-old mischaracterization of the Jews, based on a misunderstanding and misapplication of the gospel narrative.

I have done this as my expression of deep sensitivity for our Jewish sisters and brothers, who, in many places, continually bear the onerous and outrageous title, “Christ-killer.”

I have done this as a conscious refutation of any and all anti-Semitism.

Most especially, most honestly, I have changed the words, “the Jews,” so to point to the truest perpetrators of the death of Jesus, “the people,” which includes me.

Whenever I hear that spiritual’s haunting question: “We’re you there when they crucified my Lord?”, my most immediate and truest answer is, “Yes.”

And my answer, sorrowfully, must remain “Yes” whenever I crucify Jesus anew by speaking not and acting not, in the Name of God’s unconditional and impartial love for all, to rebuke anti-Semitism and all other forms of hatred.

2 thoughts on “Anti-anti-Semitism

  1. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for your clear and unequivocal reflection about today’s shameful massacre of eleven people at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. As much as we keep thinking that the depths of the human capability for evil have been plumbed, new territory in that dark realm becomes visible with each new horror perpetrated out of the fear and hatred that grip and petrify the hearts of some of our fellow human beings.

    Thank you for elucidating the power of familiar words and ideas long accepted and unquestioned still to feed the flames that deliberately destroy life and hope, that attack human connection, that drive suspicion and contempt, and that seek to undermine fellowship, justice, mercy, and common purpose among people.

    May it be so that people of good learn that we must absorb and use the grim and terrible scenes and prospects of evil run amok in this age to craft a new covenant and a fresh conviction that such evil will not be allowed to rule in this nation. May we once and for all wed ourselves to understanding one another, speaking reasonably and compassionately to each other, guarding each other’s welfare, pledging ourselves to unity and wholeness together, and bringing about a future in keeping with, as you aptly describe it, “God’s unconditional and impartial love for all.”

    Thank you for your heart, dear Paul, that feels and expresses so well what so many of us are experiencing in days such as this.

    With much love and gratitude,

    Karen

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  2. My dear Karen, as I read and reflect on your words, they strike my heart with the resonance of prayer, most especially: “May it be so that people of good learn that we must absorb and use the grim and terrible scenes and prospects of evil run amok in this age to craft a new covenant and a fresh conviction that such evil will not be allowed to rule in this nation. May we once and for all wed ourselves to understanding one another, speaking reasonably and compassionately to each other, guarding each other’s welfare, pledging ourselves to unity and wholeness together, and bringing about a future in keeping with…God’s unconditional and impartial love for all.” Amen, aye, again I say, amen!

    Now, my dear sister, I share a deep fear that the “dark realm” you describe “of the human capability for evil” abides, ever-present, ever-ready to take form and shape in human behaviors of fear and suspicion of “the other” and the inner call (doubtless, I believe, buttressed by angry voices in the public square, which includes a vast and uncontrollable cyber-media space where contempt for others is spawned, nurtured, and thrives) to dominant, aye, to eradicate all “others.”

    Though it is my fear, I do not believe that I am alone in my wonderment, my worry about those who act, oft, it seems, as lone-combatants of whatever and whoever they name as “enemies.”

    And, as it is my fear, I am compelled by faith, which, I pray, is greater than my fear, to continue to walk the walk of whatever I believe to be the core witness of the gospel of Jesus, which is the doing, the being of God’s unconditional and impartial love and justice for all, always, and in all ways.

    In this, I contemplate the calls of some uber-well-intentioned folk to wipe out hatred. Sadly, I do not believe that to be a possibility, for hatred, as is the case of all human ill, is part and parcel of this life in this world (which, I digress, is why I believe that Jesus’ radical call of the kingdom of God – “Take up your cross and follow me,” “you want to be great, then be a servant and slave of all,” “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” – remains, as long as this world exists, counter-cultural). Thus, the resistance against hatred is and must be, I think, as vigorously active and as long-lasting as hatred itself.

    Love, always and in all ways,
    Paul

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