by Pr. Jason Chesnut
Note: This commentary was written before news broke of the tragedy at Tree Of Life Synagogue and was updated to address that tragedy.
This post has been updated as the last five paragraphs were missing when originally published.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?"
Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbor as oneself,' --this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."
When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.
It’s high time we in the Christian church stop peddling anti-Semitism. Yes, liberals and progressives: I’m talking to us, too.
I’m sure we don’t intend to do it. We don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “How can we rip into Jews using holy Christian texts?” We’re not resurrecting the Crusades of the Middle Ages. We’re not marching in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., shouting, “Jews will not replace us!” (Well…that’s “only” six percent of us, anyway.)
No, Christians, for the most part, are really good at naming the sin of anti-Semitism –– while at the same time actively participating in a system of Christian supremacy that, as one of its benchmarks, considers Jews to be less-than. In the same way that white supremacy flourishes primarily because all those who participate in it have some level of plausible deniability, so it is with the insidious anti-Semitism that pervades Christianity, even to today.
Of course, we have to talk about what happened in Pittsburgh at Tree of Life Synagogue. These eleven Jews were shot and killed with unholy words accompanying the killer’s unholy gunfire: “All Jews must die.” He was taken into custody alive, of course, because whiteness. Even so, his white supremacy –– which is aided and abetted by the most powerful person in the world openly calling himself a “nationalist” while decrying “globalist forces” –– has deep anti-Jewish roots in the Christian movement.
Christians, we have to be better than this.
The anti-Semitism that infects the Jesus Movement is on display even in ways we might gloss over. The virulent wording of John’s Gospel, especially as it relates to the Passion narrative that Christians the world over listen to every single year during Holy Week (way to be equally spreading out stories from all four Gospels, Revised Common Lectionary [sarcasm font]), is not the only way in which we can witness the millennia-old Christian tradition of disparaging Jews. (It’s no surprise that Holy Week, historically, has been the most violent week for Jews when coming into contact with Christians lusting for blood and so-called “Christ-killers.”)
It’s also in the small things. It’s the continued insistence to refer to the Hebrew Scriptures as the Old Testament, thus making our own Christian Scriptures bright, shiny, and, most importantly, new. It’s the refusal to remember that, in many Gospel scenes (including the one given us by the RCL this week), every single person is a Jew.
And it’s the idea in this story that Jesus is ridiculing the Law, the Torah — or, more-mildly-yet-still-in-that-style-of-ridicule, “perfecting” it — thoroughly ignoring the fact that Jesus was primarily looking to reform Judaism more than anything else.
And in this process of reformation, we see that Jesus is more similar to the scribes, the Pharisees, the legal experts –– all those words we often make shorthand for stupid, legalistic, and, ya know, Jewish –– than he is different.
If we take seriously interactions like this from the Gospel of Mark, we can rightly see that Jesus, according to some influential scholars, might well have been from the Pharisee tradition himself.
Jesus, a Pharisee? Maybe, maybe not. But the point remains: if we can at least entertain the notion that Jesus, in scenes like this week’s Gospel lesson, was much more with his fellow Jews than he was against them, perhaps we can start to fully repent from and thoroughly repudiate the violent strain of anti-Semitism that continues to infect and infest our modern-day Christianity.
I would argue that it’s about damn time we do exactly that.