The Passion Week services bring a lot of anti-Jewish sentiments in to our mind. This is true of all the Christian churches. Those who spend a whole day in the Church on Good Friday come out with an attitude of vengeance towards the Jews, who are called as “Christ Killers”. During the Passion Week of a couple of years back I was going through the three chapters of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Chapters 9-11). These chapters deal with a variety of topics about the future of the Israelites as a people. St. Paul’s question is: Can Israelites still hope about their salvation? One who participates in the Passion Week services, let it be Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox, may usually say: No. But let us ask the question once again after reading Romans 11:1-35.

The Good Friday prayers in the context of Anti-Semitism:
The Passion Week services bring a lot of people to our churches. Even though Easter is considered to be the greatest feast of the Orthodox Church, the Indians prefer the Good Friday service to that of the Easter. Neither the length of the service nor the strict fasting on that day, which are otherwise stumbling blocks to the Orthodox service for many believers, is seen as a hurdle for the attendees. I think there are some psychological reasons for the increasing number of participants in Good Friday services.

Firstly, people like to sympathize with Jesus, whose troubles are explained in detail through the prayers and songs of that day. Along with this, there is a second and more important psychological factor which motivates the believers to come to the Church on Good Friday. Normally our worship services are occasions for recognizing our faults and making repentance for them. But what happens on Good Friday is not this; the Bible readings, prayers and songs of that day contain accusations against our common enemy, who is the Jews. To accuse or blame somebody for the mistakes of the world is a matter of satisfaction or even enjoyment for human beings. Perhaps we had inherited this tendency from our ancestors Adam and Eve. Instead of accepting their faults they had pointed their fingers on others for what had happened. Ultimately God Himself did become an object of Adam’s accusation, because He created the woman and the serpent.

It was a convenient theology that Jews should be eliminated so that God’s justice is done. As a result of this, Christians do not feel worried, if something bad happens to the Jewish world. This is the continuation of a long history of Anti-Semitism. Not only in the Gospels but also in the Epistles of the New Testament the crucifixion of Jesus is narrated with a description about the role of the Jews in that. Let us take for example St. Paul’s proclamation that the Jews "killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God's will and enemies of their fellow men..." (I Thessalonians 2:15-16). What we have to understand here is the objective of the apostle. Paul is not generalising the guilt of those who rejected the prophets and who were instrumental in killing Jesus. Unfortunately, the readers of the Bible ignored the fact that the evangelists, who narrated the passion of Christ, have themselves described the events like the feeding of the five thousand, who came from the Jewish world. The most important question we have to ask is: Shall God justify the Christians, who killed numerous Jews on behalf of Jesus?

Laws were passed throughout the Christian world to "protect" the "faithful" from Jewish "contamination" by forbidding them to eat with, do business with, or have sex with Jews, and by the sixth century, Jews were not allowed to hold public office, employ Christian servants, or even show themselves in the streets during Holy Week. The time of the Crusade was especially bloody. Entire communities of Jews were forced to choose between baptism or death, and since few Jews would renounce their faith, the First Crusade resulted in nearly 10,000 Jews being slaughtered during the first six months alone. Godfrey Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade, vowed "to leave no single member of the Jewish race alive," and ordered the synagogue in Jerusalem burned to the ground with its entire Jewish congregation trapped inside". Peter Abler, a twelfth century philosopher and priest wrote of the Jews: "Heaven is their only place of refuge. If they want to travel to the nearest town, they have to buy protection with huge sums of money from the Christian rulers who actually wish for the Jews' deaths so that the rulers can confiscate the possessions of the Jews. The Jews cannot own land or vineyards. Thus, all that is left to them as a means of livelihood is the business of money lending, and this in turn brings the hatred of Christians upon them even more."

When the Jews refused to convert, an angry Luther wrote: "First their synagogues... should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it. And this ought to be done for the honor of God and of Christianity in order that God may see that we are Christians... Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed... For, as has been said, God's rage is so great against them that they only become worse and worse through mild mercy, and not much better through severe mercy. Therefore away with them... To sum up, dear princes and nobles who have Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may be free of this insufferable devilish burden …the Jews."

Exhortations like the above got its impact fully during the II World War. Hitler mounted a powerful propaganda campaign designed and implemented by Joseph Goebbels, which blamed the Jews for Germany's many economic problems, as well as Bolshevism and the worldwide threat of Communism. Jews were put in Ghettos at first and then in concentration camps. Six million Jews were systematically tortured and massacred during the time of Hitler.

We have to go through the prayers of the Passion Week services in this context. The majority, who attends the services, asks God to take a revenge against Jews and at the same time they ask for mercy towards their own children. How can we justify these prayers? Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount that, when you call somebody “fool” or “idiot” you enter into the process of killing your enemy (Matthew 5:21-22). What Jesus wants from us is the love for the enemies (Matthew 5:44). He himself did not curse his enemies: rather he prayed for those who betrayed him and handed him over to the Romans for crucifixion (Luke 23,34). When he saw the women who were weeping over his struggles he said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23,28). We also should repent and pray for ourselves and for our family instead of cursing the opponents of Jesus. The prayer that is pleasing for God is not that of self-justification and of accusation of your neighbor, but that of repentance. This is made clear in Jesus’ narration of the prayers of the Pharisee and the Tax collector also (Luke 18:9-14).

St. Paul’s theology of the salvation of the Jews:
Let us think for a moment and ask earnestly: Do the Jews have no chance in the Kingdom of God? Or are they rejected by God once and for ever? Many Christians think and wish “yes” to these questions. This had happened in every part of the world. The holocaust stories of Nazi Germany are the most popular examples for it. When six million people were tortured and killed systematically there were not many theologians who showed a sympathetic attitude towards the Jews. Theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer belonged to a rare group. On the contrary, majority of Christians found in the holocaust a divine acknowledgement of the punishment for those who betrayed and crucified Jesus. Hitler was using this as a good background for his agenda of eliminating Jews from this planet. However, today theologians of all confessions underline the fact that what happened in Europe six decades back should not be repeated in the world again. Only a perverted theology can interpret the brutal measures of the concentration camps as means of God’s justice.

Two questions, which need our reflection, are: a) Is it right to say that all the Jews were participating in the killing of Jesus? b) Will a person who happened to be born to Jewish parents centuries after the event be punished by God for what his ancestors did? Is it the divine justice? If we read the Gospels carefully, we can learn the fact that those who were instrumental in the death of Jesus were the Jewish leadership of that day. Both the Pharisees and Sadducees, who possessed the political as well as religious powers in those days, can be called as the real criminals. But the common people were innocent; of course they cried aloud “crucify him”. But this was just because of the pressure from the leadership. Even today common people can be misled if a leader is corrupt. For example, we can not blame all the people of Afghanistan or Iraq for what happened in their country in the last decades. So only a perverted theologian can curse Israelites, I mean the common people, for what happened two thousand years ago. The source for such a thought is nobody other than St. Paul. In the three chapters of his epistle to Romans (Chapters. 9-11) Paul asks a series of questions regarding the role of Israelites in the economy of salvation. Following are the reasons for his conclusions:

  1. Paul is of the opinion that the call and election of Israel as the People of God are not null and void after the crucifixion of Jesus. It is true that Israelites could not accept the Gospel of Christ (Romans 10:14-21). But Paul is convinced about the fact that “God has not cast away his people whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:2). What make them special are their adoption, covenants, Law etc. Moreover, God can not forget the faith of their fathers (Romans 11:28) and punish their children. However, by Israelites Paul doesn’t mean all who have got racial or biological association to the folk of Israel (Romans 9:6-13); rather true Israelites are the ones who share the faith of their fathers.

  2. The second reason for Paul’s positive attitude towards the Jews is special character of God’s justice. According to human justice Jews should be cast away once and for all. But God’s Grace and Mercy are immeasurable and he can justify Jews with these (Romans 9:14-29). Paul uses a series of Old Testament quotations to substantiate this point and he concludes: “All day long I (God) have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:21).

  3. The fact that Jesus himself was a Jew gives also new hopes to the Israelites (Romans 11:26). He will turn away all kinds of unbelief from his nation. It was the covenant of God that the deliverer would come out of Zion. The faith in God and His beloved Son Jesus Christ can bring an Israelite to the fulfillment of his election.

  4. Paul sees even a divine plan in the rejection of Christ by the Jews; it gave an opening to the gentiles of the world (Romans 11:11-18). Paul uses the parable of the farmer here. God was grafting the branch of gentiles to the root of the tree of salvation. Otherwise Israel would have been the only nation of the world loved by God. Since Israel disobeyed God, the gentiles got an entry in to the Kingdom of God.

As Indians we should be thankful to Paul for his insights. Especially the last mentioned is very important for us. Therefore the Christ event should not lead us to a theology of hate and revenge. The world promotes always the hatred between the people. But God does not want His children to quarrel on behalf of him. Let us not assume the role of God and say what we do is a realization of God’s justice. We should not protect God. He is able to protect Himself. We should rather agree with Paul in saying: God will not cast away His people (Romans 11:2), because “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). All the apostles of our Lord were Jews and those who accepted Jesus during his ministry included committed Jews. We should not forget this reality. According to Paul the rejection of Israel is neither total nor final. Whoever from the Jewish folk wants to be saved has got a chance for salvation. The “remnant”, who follows the faith of the ancestors and who believes in Jesus will inherit the Kingdom of God. The duty of us Indians, who do not belong to the race of Israelites biologically, is not to condemn Jews for their disobedience and wish for their devastation. Instead of that we should strive for getting an entry in to the community of the People of God.


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