With Lent come the long narratives of the passion and death of Jesus. The Passion story is meant to be a story of hope and transformation, a story of the restoration of humanity to right relationship with the Loving God who created us all to be in God’s image. The ugly secret is that too often, these same narratives are the source and support for a long history of anti-Semitic attitudes and behaviors in church and in society.
As we enter into the sacred mysteries of Lent and the Triduum, how will we handle this ugly secret with our catechumens, candidates, and parishioners? How will we prepare ourselves to hear the narratives, especially from the Gospel of John, whose refrains blame “the Jews” for the death of Jesus? Are we willing to take time to deal directly with what will be proclaimed and heard in our sacred assemblies and address these issues?
Truth be told, there is ongoing research and scholarship exploring the development of these biblical narratives and why there is so much emphasis on blaming the Jews. Recall that, in the early Christian communities, there was no significant division between Christians and Jews; they were one community, gradually divided over their acceptance of Jesus. Each group claimed its own identity—those who held firm to their Jewish roots, tradition and practice and those who identified as Christians. They maintained their own integrity and truth as they struggled with the crises of fidelity in their midst.
Mary Boys, scholar, theologian, and expert in Jewish-Christian relations, asks the question (which is also the title of her book) “Has God Only One Blessing?” Certainly not! To declare so would be to limit God, God’s revelation, and the invitation to faithful relationship with God that is extended freely to all. As we celebrate the amazing mysteries of our faith this Lent and Easter, let us acknowledge the painful truth of the sins of anti-Semitism. Let us do our own due diligence as preachers, catechists, and initiation ministers. Let us be pro-active in assuring that, through our proclamation and catechesis on the gospel and particularly the passion narratives, we will never be complicit—even unwittingly—in the sin of anti-Semitism.