Tuesday in Holy Week
The thirty-sixth day of Lent
Anti-Semitism is one of the great scandals of the Church. That there would have been conflict between the old guard and the new movement in first century Judaism is not altogether surprising. The Jewish establishment felt threatened both politically and religiously. Just as they had opposed previous groups of zealots whom they regarded as dangerous, they wanted to suppress the Christian Way before it became a bigger problem. The new Christians, on the other hand, were full of the enthusiasm of converts. They felt compelled to share their faith and were unwilling to accept the strictures imposed by the establishment. It was a classic clash of old and new in an age of absolutes. Nor was the conflict limited to verbal debate. Sometimes, it became physically violent. In the early days, the Jewish establishment held the upper hand, but as Christianity spread and became established as an entirely separate religion, sadly, the conflict did not abate, but seems to have hardened. Indeed, the liturgical observance of Holy Week played a part in promoting Christian prejudice against the Jewish people as the people who killed Jesus. This charge, laid at the door of all Jews as descendants of the first century residents of Jerusalem, has been used as justification for discrimination and violence against Jews for centuries: from medieval mobs terrorizing Jews on Good Friday to the horrors of the Holocaust in World War II.
As zealous as Saint Paul was for his new faith, and in spite of the fact that he was himself subjected to persecution and attempts on his life by some Jews, his Letter to the Romans expresses sorrow for the fact that his fellow Jews have not all embraced the Christian faith, but he does not condemn them. In fact, he insists that God's covenant with the Jewish people still stands. He does offer a new interpretation of the way that covenant is supposed to work, but he insists on the continuity between God's covenant with ancient Israel and what God has now done in Christ. And he maintains his personal solidarity with the Jewish people as a Jew himself, for he sees Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of God's ancient covenant.
The seeds of conflict, prejudice, fear, and distrust are deeply rooted in both Christians and Jews. In this week, of all weeks, as Jews and Christians alike celebrate the great feasts of redemption, the Jewish Passover and the Christian Pascha, surely one of our goals should be the realization of reconciliation between our two ancient communities and, ultimately, reconciliation also with the people of Islam, the other great Abrahamic faith. Reconciliation will not mean the conversion of the adherents of one faith to another, but it must mean more than mere toleration. Reconciliation begins, as everything in Lent does, with a letting go and giving up of the prejudices, misunderstandings, and fears that for so long poisoned these relationships. These things really are deeply rooted and it will take a genuine effort to begin to let them go. And this will begin with the simple act of making friends. Friends are people who are able to express their thoughts and feelings honestly to one another. Often, we choose to avoid the difficult topics in the mistaken notion that this is the way to establish friendships. Certainly friendships do not begin with the issues that might cause contention, but a relationship that perpetually avoids those issues is not a true friendship. True friendship is not afraid of the proverbial "elephant in the room" but acknowledges it honestly and works at dealing with it.
In his Incarnation and Passion, our Lord did something unheard of: he reconciled total opposites--divinity and humanity. Nothing could be more different, but God invited sinful humanity to be his friends. As we attempt to live into this mystery in the coming days, we must let it take us over in ways that we will not entirely understand, for God is Wholly Other than us, and yet he has chosen to be one of us and one with us. Likewise, our relationships with others, and particularly those who are most different from us, must endeavor to live up to that standard, seeking peace with all people, through understanding and unrestrained friendship.
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