Lenten Meditation: Friday, March 31, 2023
This passage from John, like so many passages from John, begins with a most unfortunate implication. “The Jews took up stones again to stone him.” John uses the phrase, “the Jews,” over and over to refer to those who opposed Jesus. John’s story of Jesus’ crucifixion, which we read every year on Good Friday, not only speaks of “the Jews” having a role in Jesus’ execution, but also makes it seems as if the Roman authorities were desperate to free Jesus but “the Jews” would not give up.
There can be no doubt that “some Jews” wanted to be rid of Jesus, just as “some Romans” wanted to be rid of him. That does not mean that “the Jews,” which is to say, “all Jews” were complicit any more than “all Romans.” Still, the Passion Narratives, especially John’s, have allowed people, not only to blame all the Jews of Jesus’ time, but all Jews ever since. Today, antisemitism is again on the rise, and John’s use of the term, “the Jews,” is often the justification.
Why did John speak so badly of “the Jews?” Scholars have some ideas. For one, this Gospel was written after Rome had sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Being a Jew was not advantageous, and John may have wanted to distance his community from “the Jews.”
But John was a Jew, and his Christian community was Jewish. By the time he wrote, 90-100 CE, Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah were not welcome in some synagogues. Imagine a group of Jews-for-Jesus showing up at a Hassidic shul today. How would that go over? So, in writing, “the Jews,” John may have meant, “those nasty relatives who have rejected us.” Whatever the case, one thing is certain; The Gospel of John does not suggest that all the Jews of Jesus’ time were responsible for his death, and it certainly does not mean that any Jews of latter years are to blame.
Today is Trans Day of Visibility. Many of you will receive a letter I wrote about the rights and the dignity of trans people. In that letter, I say that trans people have become the scapegoats of our time. People of a particular political bent want to blame trans people — a tiny, tiny group — for all our ills. Scapegoating is evil. Jewish people for far too long have suffered the scapegoating that trans people are facing today. Scapegoating is not of the God revealed in Jesus. As he hung upon the cross, Jesus did not blame anyone. In fact, he prayed God to forgive those who had done him such an unimaginable wrong. “Father, forgive them,” he prayed. “They know not what they do.” In other words: this is not their fault. Jesus Crucified, our Jewish Lord and Savior, models the antithesis of scapegoating.
Today, give thanks for God’s Chosen People, and if you live in New York City, give thanks that you have been blessed to live among the largest groups of Jews in the world outside Israel.