Of Good Friday, Jews, and Christians
“Jews and Christians can walk together until Good Friday…” So says Pinchas Lapide, a remarkable Jewish theologian, in his book, Jewish Monotheism and Christian Trinitarian Doctrine.
Now, Lapide has much more to say following these words, thoughts that bear upon Easter Day, so stay tuned for what Lapide does with this notion.
But I believe that I would be remiss, as a Christian theologian, were I not to make mention of the Jews on Good Friday, and Lapide is as good a place to begin as any.
A dark backdrop to the Christian remembrance of Good Friday is a long-standing tradition–tradition beginning even in Christian Scripture–of anti-Semitism, of hate for the Jewish people.
How many of us have been told–and retell–that the Jews killed Jesus?
It’s not that simple. Nor is this assertion true.
Stephen Wylen has written a helpful book entitled The Jews in the Time of Jesus. In it, he lingers over the history of what occurred to Jesus vis a vis the Jewish trial.
In his chapter, “The Trial of Jesus,” he breaks down the timeline of the betrayal through until the crucifixion. I’d like to highlight just a few to offer you some mental mulling nuggets over the course of these three most holy days in the Christian calendar.
Wylen presents some pretty convincing evidence disputing not whether Jesus died, but by whom and why. In the end, he presents the possibility that Jesus was tried not by a full court of the Sanhedrin (a word meaning ‘council,’) but rather by a “kangaroo court,” a sham judicial trial led by the Jewish high priest Caiphas–himself a puppet of the Roman government.
Jesus was by all accounts a political troublemaker. He preached justice, and had a following, and people were beginning to call him ‘king.’
Those in power who like being there don’t particularly like others who threaten that state of affairs. This was true not only of some possible Jewish leaders, but more particularly for the Romans.
It is not newsy to state that those who challenge power–not to protect their own, but to redistribute it–tend to end up on a cross of one sort or another.
Now it is true that scripture makes mention of crowds of Jewish people clamoring “crucify him!” I’ve always been bothered by the weird juxtaposition of the Palm Sunday crowds and the Good Friday crowds. “That’s awfully fickle,” I’ve thought.
Some say that that’s the point, that one minute we assert our faith and joy in Jesus, and the next we wish he’d go away.
So there’s meat there to chew on, but Wylen thinks that there might be something more to it than just that.
He wonders whether they serve the same sort of purpose as the Greek chorus in plays, props to make a point and a counterpoint. That is, “all the Jews” were not at either event, but that the purpose of the crowds in the text was to reaffirm the main point of the immediate plot.
Unfortunately, points out Wylen, both the presence of this Good Friday crowd and the oddity of the Jews purportedly crying out “his blood be upon us and our children” (a reference that is itself in question–why would anyone request to be guilty of murder and have the same conviction be leveled against innocent children?) has made for a world of hurt in the history of the Jewish people.
So the questions for today concern the impact of history, and are posed particularly to the Christian readers of the day:
When we go to our Good Friday services, are we aware of the implicit anti-semitism in our own texts? When we are asked “Who killed Jesus?” is our first answer “the Jews?” Are we aware that the texts on this holy of holy days have led to vats of bloodshed against our Jewish sisters and brothers?
And how do we incorporate that truth into our Good Friday reflections?
More tomorrow on the implications of Jesus’ death in Christian theology, and why feminist theologians sometimes get a bit uppity about God the Father’s Son ending up on a cross.
And as an aside, I’ve gotten some fantastic questions which have been submitted on the website. My most wonderful twirplets are off from school until Monday. Come Tuesday, I’m on it.
It is history that makes us deal with this question… a history of Christian anti-Semitism that spans many centuries. Clearly we have to address the issue of texts that are used to support such views. However, it has always seemed ridiculous to me that such an argument… “the Jews killed Jesus” would ever be made by Christians.
Although there is much about the crucifixion I don’t understand, my view of what is happening there is reflected in the 2nd verse of one of our hymns tonight (and echoed in many others): “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee. “Twas I Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.”
Jesus was rejected by his own and crucified by the prevailing powers that be. As American Christians, we are in that picture… twice!
I agree…there is a schizophrenia to the assertions that “I it was denied thee; I crucified thee…” and the accusations that “they killed our Lord!” But there it is; both real elements of Christian history.
Terribly troubling is that the seeds for this disdain and hate toward the Jews are found in Christian Scriptures. To extricate persisting anti-Semitism, I can’t help but wonder with those who question whether we’d first have to extricate these spiteful texts. Given that the chances for that are slim (and that an argument can be made that these texts belong in scripture as something to be preached against), I think that much can be said in favor of making Good Friday an opportunity for congregations to remind ourselves that Jesus was Jewish, that our roots are therefore Jewish, and that the Jews as a group did not kill Jesus.
Even if anti-Semitism is not prevalent in our own communities, it is prevalent in the Christian tradition, and one can’t help but wonder if the continued habit of evangelizing to the Jews and fearing for their post-death salvation isn’t in part bound up with intransigent antipathy for the Jewish community.
What do you think?