My friend, Mark, sent me an article describing a newly published book on Passover, innocuously titled “Passover Family Pack: Everything You Need To Enjoy a Passover Seder Dinner.” Problem is: it’s a Christian book that “Christianizes” the various Passover symbols. (The wine represents the blood of Jesus; the matzo represents his body; the three matzos represent the Christian Holy Trinity. You get the idea.) Unsuspecting Jews, beware.
Mark, who is Jewish, sends articles like this occasionally as a way to assure me that he’s not a paranoid whack job when he speaks of being fearful of Christians targeting his faith tradition for take-over or annihilation, or when he says that the Easter season is his most dreaded time of year because “we’ll get blamed for killing Christ all over again.”
Mark is my soul brother. Though we come from different faiths, we share a faith nonetheless.
So I feel compelled during Christians’ Holy Week to state the obvious: Using the death of Jesus to fuel anti-Semitism is flat wrong, perhaps even evil. “The Jews,” as John’s gospel calls Jesus’ adversaries, refers to a certain segment of the religious leadership more worried about control than they were the ways of God. “The Jews” are not all Jews. Besides, Jesus (a Jew) made it clear that the mission of his followers was to love, forgive, reconcile. So to stir up anger against Jewish people today or to scapegoat all Jews in history is a bastardization of the central message of Christianity’s leader.
My visit several years ago to the magical city of Prague was tempered, almost ruined in fact, in seeing Jewish cemeteries jammed with markers stacked inches apart, representing graves buried upon graves, because the city’s medieval Christian majority refused to allow “the Jews” to buy any more property.
Same with the beautiful statues on either side of Prague’s Charles Bridge that links the old and new towns. The old bridge’s statuary includes a 17th century depiction of the crucifix accompanied by the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist. Across the dying Jesus are Hebrew words made of vivid gold, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.”
These words were added in 1696, paid for as punishment by a Jewish man from Prague who had been convicted of speaking ill of the Cross of Jesus.
Well, I guess they showed him.
Mark says I don’t have to apologize for the sins of Christians against Jews. Maybe I don’t. But I want to. I’m so very sorry for the hatred, the bigotry, the ignorance, the violence, the disrespect, the coercion forced upon Jews throughout history in the name of a religion that came from its roots.
My long-time earthy friend, Bob, when talking about fanaticism in religion will quietly say, “Joe, the Lord don’t need that much lovin’.” What he means (I think) is devotion that breeds fanaticism, bigotry and ugliness is not a love that honors God. “The Lord don’t need it.”
May this Passover and Easter bring peace, renewal, hope, love. May we plumb the depths of our faith so deeply that someday we are all able to say, together, with one heart and mind, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” and no one feel slighted, forgotten or shamed.
A minister in Louisville, Kentucky, for 21 years as pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Phelps is now Justice Coordinator for Earth and Spirit Center. He leads, along with Kevin Cosby, EmpowerWest, a black-white clergy coalition calling for recognition, repentance, and repair of injustices to black Louisvillians.