Saturday, April 23, 2011

A lethal family feud

This tired crucified Jesus sits at a side altar in the Cathedral in Mexico City.

On Good Friday, the annual Christian day marking the crucifixion of Jesus, we hear read to us some version of the story. This year the reading was from the Gospel according to John. Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor with jurisdiction over Jerusalem, is presented as puzzling over what to do with a Galilean agitator. He tells the guy:

“Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me ..."

We know the rest of the story.

We don't usually know that this presentation of Pilate as some kind of thoughtful gentleman is improbable. Other histories record that he was recalled to Rome for intemperately misgoverning the province so severely as to provoke local revolts. Think a Mubarak-type figure.

I wonder how many of us realize that in the readings we are listening to the echoes of a first century faction fight between two sets of Jews. After all, Jesus and his wandering band were Jews. The community that clung to his story after the trauma of the crucifixion were Jews (at least most of them were until later when that indefatigable community organizer Paul got to running all over the known world bringing on board all sorts of gentiles).

The proto-Christian Jews and the other Jews were all traumatized by the savage destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in the year 70. The place where G-D resided was gone. Like a lot of people suffering from surplus pain and surplus powerlessness, the Jewish factions attacked their weaker enemies -- each other -- viciously. The four Gospels blaming the Jews for Jesus' execution are the detritus of that family fight, written in the thirty years after the Romans wiped out the Jewish homeland. There's no one we're so ready to denounce as people we are close with whom we have disagreements. When the faction that became Christians got state power in the empire two centuries later, their propaganda in the family feud became the official story.

This obscure controversy wouldn't matter if it hadn't led to 2000 years of persecution of Jews by Christians, the Holocaust, and the rebound effect that sanctions Israeli oppression of Palestinians -- but it did.

If Christians took our own teachings seriously, we'd know that humans killed Jesus because that's what humans do to God among us -- except on those occasions when, by whatever grace, we don't.

That will have to do for my Holy Week meditation.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

Thank you!!
I always fall back on Gandhi:
"I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians -- they are so unlike your Christ."

Do you think Gandhi knew John Boehner et al?

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