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Speaking to the Soul: Good Friday Questions

Speaking to the Soul: Good Friday Questions

by Maria Evans

 

Readings for Good Friday

A good friend of mine changed the way I feel about the Passion Gospel forever, particularly John’s version, the one we’ve come to expect to hear if we attend a Good Friday service.

 

The man, now of blessed memory, but for over two decades he was my mentor, colleague, and trusted friend…and he was also very, very Jewish.  Thanks to him, I probably have a way more comprehensive Yiddish vocabulary than any country girl from northeast Missouri ought to have.  Yet, what he brought to my Christian theology was the sense of hearing fingernails on a chalkboard every time I hear “the Jews” when the Gospel is read.

 

My friend had more than a passing relationship with my home church–in his retirement, he often liked to attend with me as he loved good food, and good conversation.  He was happy to “put up with church” for the prospect of hearing good music, watching the liturgy as a performance, and spending quality coffee hour time with people who loved him and considered him “family” despite the clear religious difference.  He had lived much of his life married to a Christian, so he was a great sport when it came to Christianity.  We used to joke about his “membership” in “Trinity Beth Shalom.”  He loved Episcopalians because he thought we were smart and engaging and maybe even a little intellectual…and he was definitely an intellectual himself.

 

In short, even as a regular visitor from another religious tradition, he brought things to our little community that were worth cherishing.  It did, on occasion, though, make for occasionally uncomfortable car rides when church was over, depending on where we were in the liturgical year.

 

“You know, Evans, I love your people, but Christianity is still very anti-Semitic.”

 

I would stammer and valiantly try to defend the faith.  “Aw, come on,  Jesus was Jewish.  Y’all are like our ancestor tribe.”

 

“Yes, you are. But the Christian Bible is still full of “the Jews, the Jews.”  And when you say “the Jews” in your New Testament, it doesn’t sound any different than when the mamzers in white sheets and pointy hats say it.  And for that matter, you’ve stolen our liturgy in lots of places.  You say part of the shema sometimes.  You often read from Torah.  Your priest uses the Aaronic blessing sometimes.  That’s our script, and you all act sometimes like you invented it  I love your church friends to death, don’t get me wrong.  But sometimes that stuff just smarts, and I am sure you don’t mean to be anti-Semitic, but it IS anti-Semitic.”

 

I still cringe that I never had much of an answer for him.  “I get what you’re saying, , but I don’t have a good answer for you about the Gospels.  They are translations from the Aramaic and Greek.  People put a fair amount of stock in being true to the original meaning.  You know I’m not a literalist, but I guess I’m not sure how to solve that one.  I only know not to call Jewish folks “Jews” myself in conversation.  I am not sure how to fix the Bible.”

 

Years later, I still don’t know how to solve that one.  I’ve heard it said that substituting “Judeans” might work…but is that just swapping one J-word for another?  One could say “The Jewish authorities” or “some Jewish authorities,” I suppose. I play around with other forms…”The Levitic priests.”  “The leaders of the synagogue.”  I am never quite sure what is the best thing to do.  It’s hard not to sacrifice historicity if we go too generic in our description–yet, on the other hand, that historicity clearly includes racism.  We in the Episcopal Church have acknowledged our complicity in other forms of racism in our history.  Is this one that all of Christianity needs to acknowledge?

 

I am grateful to God that I had a friend like this man, who changed the way I heard words that I took for granted.  Yet it still doesn’t address the larger issue.  Where do we go from here?  I invite your thoughts and respectful comments.

 


 

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.

 

Image: Stations of the Cross XII by Ann Fontaine

 

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Philip B. Spivey

Thank you, Maria Evans. This is a most welcome reflection at time in our society when it behooves Christians to deal with some of the origins of racism and our place in it.

I also listened to John's version of the Passion today, and I winced at "the Jews." I always do. That's because this attribution has been a cornerstone of Christian racism or more specifically, Christian scapegoating. Unlike the Americans or the Irish or the English, the Jew or a Jew has come to signify "undesirable outsider". Linguistically (and emotionally) identifying someone as a noun 'the-Jew or a-Jew' connotes that the only thing significant about this person is his Jewishness; Jewishness is the only thing that defines him, On the other hand, referring to him as a Jewish person (adjective) suggests that his Jewishness is just one, of many, attributes...and this is how stereotypes coalesce and become "reality".

We've already acknowledged that The Christian Canon is replete anti-Semitic references; these references have been taken to mean that Jewish folks are "Christ killers". "The Jews" and "Christ killers" have merged in the societal consciousness.

On this most solemn day , I would like to reflect on the possibility that followers of Jesus are guilty of an 'original sin': While Jesus is crucified today to expiate our sins, his tribe and his family of origin would someday be identified by his followers as "the Jews"; they are Christianity's first "outsiders".

I'm not sure how we can address scripture. Scripture is scripture but the variety of translations today suggests not even scripture is carved in stone.

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David Allen

I’m not sure how we can address scripture. Scripture is scripture but the variety of translations today suggests not even scripture is carved in stone.

Oh yes Philip, we know how many translators of scripture bring their unquestioned biases into their "translation." Until there were LGBTQ scholars to look at the clobber passages in the original languages, we were left to the predetermined homophobia of translators of those passages into English.

Thanks be to God, no more.

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Maria L Evans

Thanks for the continuing discussion y'all. In particular, what keeps coming back to me time and time again is, as our Presiding Bishop likes to say, "It's about the relationship," and I believe part of who we're called to be as Jesus followers is to be in relationship with different sorts of followers as well as people who don't follow anyone. What I have learned from so many friends who don't share my beliefs on a whole host of topics is that what feels innocuous to me, may not be to others who are in the minority, and it's not my place to explain their feelings to them. Hard as it is, I am grateful for the times they were brave enough to tell me their truth. We so frequently shy away from the "3rd rails of discourse" (Religion, race, gender, politics) in the name of politeness, we forget there is power in leaning into good relationships between differing views and beliefs now and then. Yet, how do we create the safe space for those learning opportunities?

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Dayna Jewson

Maria,
I am grateful you had this Jewish friend. Your writing certainly poses some powerful questions for those of us who do not yet understand (or believe!) the existence of our own anti-Semitism. This is certainly food for thought and brings me to the place where I pray for forgiveness, especially today.

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leslie marshall

The Old Testament is all about a people's story of Faith in the Almighty God of the bible; Jews, Israelites, Hebrews, & pagan converts.

The New Testament continues the faith story, with the same God and the same people; Jews, Israelites, Hebrews, & pagan converts (now called Christians).

It took me years of reading and studying the bible before I could say the word 'Jews' without being self-conscious that it was somehow offensive. Sorry, to say, I sometimes feel self-conscious about saying, 'She's Mexican'. (but I don't give it any merit because it doesn't deserve any.) I think your friend may be in the same category when he reads/hears, 'The Jews'.

Believers know (from the OT/NT) that some of the Jews rejected Christ Jesus the Messiah, and some put their faith in Him. Believers know that all of mankind's sin (past, present, future) is what 'killed' Jesus, not just the sin of the rejecting Jews. [However, it was particularly painful to Jesus/God that his own people largely rejected him.] God was gracious, and gave us a heads up through his prophecy, that that was going to be the case.

I think your Jewish friend would enjoy a copy of a Messianic Bible. He would see the very appealing Jewishness of it from 'Matthew' to 'Revelation'. He may also be curious to hear Rabbi K. Schneider's teachings. www.discoveringthejewishjesus.com

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Ann Fontaine

What the Episcopal Church Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has to say:
https://standingcommissiononliturgyandmusic.org/?s=anti+semitism

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Philip B. Spivey

Thank you for making this report available, Ann. I would add a specific recommendation that when they begin the process of revising the 1982 Hymnal, they begin by eliminating the setting of #522, by Franz Joseph Haydn.

The Nazi's "Deutschland" was set to this melody. Every time I hear it played in church, I wince. I neither sing or stand for #522.

#523 is a better choice.

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JC Fisher

Funny, what you remember--

When I was growing up Episcopalian w/ the 1940 Hymnal, my late mother told me "when I was young, we sang 'Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken' to [her beloved] Haydn, but this hymnal [1940, ie WW2 time] took it out---just because the Germans used it for 'Deutschland Uber Alles".

She was so happy when the 1982 Hymnal put it back in! [FWIW, her love of it naturally passed onto me.]

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