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.