As Christians, we live under the burden of a sad and violent history of anti-Semitism, in the sobering shadow of the Holocaust of the last century. It is critical for us to be clear about what our scriptures mean when they make reference to “the Jews,” especially during Holy Week, when we contemplate Jesus’ death.
When the crucifixion narratives speak of “the chief priests and leaders of the people,” they are referring to officials who collaborated closely with the Roman systems of oppression, and were viewed with contempt by much of the Jewish community in their time. They should not be identified with the Jewish people of the past as a whole, and certainly not with Jews in the present.
It may be helpful to recall the cultural context of our Christian scriptures, emerging as they did from a small, originally Jewish community of believers in Jesus as the Messiah. All of the Gospels originated from Jewish communities. Jesus himself, was born, lived, and was crucified, a Jew. Any criticism of Jews from Gospel writers should be understood as the expression of differences of opinion among or about their fellow Jews. The gospels’ use of the term “the Jews” therefore, should not be read as a criticism of the Jewish religion, and especially not as a condemnation of an entire people, either then, or now.
It is one of the bitter ironies of history that our sacred texts have been used to justify the persecution of the covenant people, from whom our Saviour came, and who are created, as we all are, in the precious image of God.
by Rev. Mary Luti