As we all know the primary focus of the Christian scriptures is to tell us about the unconditional love that God has for His people. However, throughout our history our scriptures telling the story of the death of Jesus have been used as a pretext to persecute Jews.
Many Jewish families in Winnipeg retain vivid memories of their experience of Good Friday – it was a day to hide. It was (and is) on Good Friday that the story of the death of Jesus is told in Catholic and other Christian churches through the Gospel of John. Listeners in their pews hear the Jews asking for the release of Barabbas (a “bandit”) rather than Jesus; they hear the Jews screaming ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’; and they hear the Jews screaming that they have “no king but the emperor”. Indeed, in Matthew’s account of the death of Jesus, listeners hear the Jews declare “His blood be on us and on our children!” Once the story was read, sermons were often preached in which Jews were vilified and the charge of “Christ Killers” was made. After Good Friday services worshippers would often leave their churches and conduct a pogrom seeking out Jews to beat and on many occasions to kill.
With this troubling history in mind, it is important to listen to these stories presented in the complex scriptures for Palm Sunday and Good Friday very carefully. At this most sacred time of the year we ask that everyone remember God’s love for all His children and to keep in mind the words of Nostra Aetate proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in 1965:
“True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ;(13) still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time by anyone.”
~Greg Barrett. Archdiocese of St. Boniface, Coordinator Interchurch and Interfaith Learning