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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Christians and Jews

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day.

Among my great delights during the years I was stationed at our friaries in Boston was the opportunity to work with Protestants, Muslims and Jews, among others, inside of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Together we worked as community organizers in the areas of health insurance, youth violence, and elder care. Getting to know people of different faiths through joint action for justice is a powerful way to challenge the assumptions and prejudices we sometimes harbor, and while the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Jews has been rocky to say the least, advocating and organizing together for the good of all is not only a bromide, it can actually heal broken relationships, and there is much to heal. As Pope John Paul II reminds us: "In the Christian world--I do not say on the part of the Church as such--erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability (for the death of Christ) have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people" 1

In the first centuries after Christ, the interpretations of which John Paul II writes were much worse, so much so that the theology which emerged was often called Adversus Judaeos, (Against the Jews) Unfortunately, one of its main proponents was St. John Chrysostom, doctor of the church. St John, suggesting that he is a like any good physician who wants to ward off disease before it advances to the point that there is no cure, writes, “Do not be surprised that I called the Jews pitiable. They really are pitiable and miserable. ...Indeed the synagogue is less deserving of honor than any inn. It is not merely a lodging place for robbers and cheats but also for demons. This is true not only of the synagogues but also of the souls of the Jews, as I shall try to prove at the end of my homily.” 2 This is only one small sampling of St. John’s writing, and while some might suggest that he was not really against the Jews, but against the Judaizers within the Christian community, his homilies are difficult to defend. That is why it is so good to return to the texts of New Testament, as Pope John Paul II did so often, for insight and understanding about our relationship with the Jews.

In 1993, the Pope wrote: “As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world (cf. Gen. 12:2 ff.). This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another (L'Osservatore Romano, August 17, 1993). Clearly, Christians and Jews together follow the faith of Abraham and John Paul II further reminds us that Jews are our “elder brothers,” and that the first Covenant was “never revoked by God [cf. Rom. 11:29].”3

Thinking of our Jewish brothers and sisters as our “elder brothers” and sisters can change everything. While families struggle and even separate at times over perceived or real slights, when they remember their unity as a family they can find the impetus to be united again for the good of all. Separations between us as communities of belief are natural, but unnatural fissures built on prejudice and anti-Semitism must be faced and overcome.

Today, take a moment to be grateful for the faith of Abraham that allowed the Patriarch to leave everything to follow God’s will and ask God for the same grace in your life.

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