Did Jesus really mean this?


The Eternal Flame at Yad VaShem

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in which we remember those, particularly Jewish people, whose lives were most brutally cut short by the Nazi regime. In recent years we recall also those other victims of that regime – the Roma, gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses and who were also caught up in the concentration cmaps, as well as victims of other genocides in Rwanda and Burundi, Bosnia and Croatia and so on.

It is a sad fact that, for most of its history, the Christian church has been implicated in antisemitism. In it early days, the increasingly Gentile church found itself in dispute with Jewish communities around the Mediterranean. Gradually, these disputes became more and more physical, while the power balance bewteen the two communites shifted in favour of the (now almot exclusively gentile) Christians.

Since then, the tide of antisemitismin the church has ebbed and flowed, but it is an inconvenient truth that the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, did their bit to foster the atmosphere that found its ultimate expression in the Nazi death camps. The “teachings of contempt”, which used the New Testament writings to “prove” that God had not only abandoned but has now cursed the Jewish people, may have initially been an abstract theological point. But it didn’t take too long for those teachings to translate in the popular imagination into a justification for all kinds of atrocities.

This goes to demonstrate the importance of the language we use, especially those of us with a teaching ministry within the church. We may understand the nuances of what we say, but how will others perceive it? How does a gospel of love and forgiveness, that teaches us to treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves, that commands us not only to pray for enemies but actively to do good for them, become perverted into antisemitism?

We have a lot to be forgiven. Lord, have mercy.


3 thoughts on “Did Jesus really mean this?

  1. As Simon, knows, I stood before this Flame, and also the life-shatteringly devastatingly haunting memorial to the children – and yes, anti-Semitism is an almost exclusively Christian invention. Sadly, we must not ignore that Martin Luther shared these thoughts, and was chief among the inspirations of a former German Chancellor of the 1930s.

    The Early Fathers were just as bad!

    I have pondered this. Do we need to apologise in our day for the anti-Semitism of yesterday? Partly, yes, but mostly no – I think. I accept that the anti-Semitism of the early church was born of a fresh wound to their spiritual awareness. But like Judas, often the bad man of the piece, the Jews needed to do what they did to Jesus in order for the prophecies to be fulfilled. Perhaps one could go so far as to say that they had no choice.

    Yad Vashem and other places remind me that we are in an age of reparation. Jews are our brothers and sisters in faith, and now is the time to let the past be a fact of history not a factor of the future. The only way there are any ‘winners’ in some of the worst atrocities ever known (I speak of the Shoah) is that tolerance should be fresh green shoot that emerges from so many ashes.

  2. Fr. David: Yes, Yad VaShem is a powerful place. I don’t think we need to keep apologising for our forebears antisemitism, but we do need both to acknowledge the past and do what we can to make sure we aren’t following the same path – which to me is what repentance is all about. I for one welcome the degree of rapprochement between Christians and Jews over the past 65 years, but it is something we need to keep working at. I look forward to hearing how your own opportunities for this work out.

  3. Pingback: And did God really mean this? « A Tree in the Forest

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