As we enter the week before Holy Week the long history of Christian antisemitism looms large. Good Friday has for centuries been the worst day of the year for our Jewish brothers and sisters, the day of wanton massacre in misguided retaliation for the death of Jesus.
Readings like today’s from the Gospel of John have fueled Christian outrage. Look at how the Jews in this story hound Jesus. Look how they want to stone him for saying he is the Son of God! He escapes them for the moment, but, as we all know, they get him in the end. Horrible Christ-killers!
But wait a minute. Even were we to take John’s Gospel as the absolute, concrete truth about what happened – and there is reason to believe that the story has been altered a bit to put the Romans in a better light – but even were it exactly what happened, how is what the Jewish elders do any different from what you and I do when our cherished beliefs are challenged?
Project yourself into today’s reading and take the part of “the Jews”. There’s a heretic walking in the portico of your cathedral. It’s some homeless guy who is very charismatic, who has drawn a crowd, some of whom are real unsavory people: terrorists and drug lords, prostitutes and hustlers. They are keeping the real worshipers from being able to come to Sunday services.
You don’t trust anything about the low-life people he surrounds himself with – and you trust him even less. What is his real purpose? Is he about to start a riot? Will he and his followers destroy the sanctuary? What’s he up to?
You try to get his followers to see through his facade by challenging what he says. Is he really the Messiah, you ask? Well, why is he still hanging around the cathedral, then? Why isn’t he politicking against the Romans? But, like all con artists, he speaks with a silver tongue. He jerks his followers’ heartstrings with all this talk of belonging. They are his sheep, he says. And they buy it hook, line, and sinker.
He makes you SO mad that you grab the nearest blunt object. But his followers bristle and put their bodies between him and you. You let him go, thinking that at least you’ve gotten your church back: worship can go on as usual.
He will have to be dealt with, though, or he’ll be back. If his followers cannot be convinced he’s a charlatan, you will have to wait for a time when he is not protected by them. Doesn’t he go off alone sometimes to “pray”? Well, then, maybe you can recruit a spy and set a trap.
And so the story unfolds. Come back to yourselves now, and let’s think together about what all of this means.
Where are we failing to hear the message of Jesus? Where are we NOT his sheep?
Who are the latest carriers of our Shadow projections? If it isn’t “the Jews”, is it “the Muslims”, “the terrorists”, “the wealthy Republicans (or Democrats)”?
How can we embrace our own need for repentance and let the dualism within us die, instead of seeing evil in others and making them pay? How can we follow Jesus?