The People of the Holy Week

Excerpted from a sermon by Pastor John T Galloway

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Pontius Pilate appeared before the crowd and wondered what they wanted, and the crowd cried out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ When Pilate tried to absolve himself of it the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children.” If one studies this very explosive subject, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that 2,000 years of anti-Semitism have to a great extent been borne of our misreading of our own Scripture. And not only misreading our own Scripture, but to a great extent losing the sub-stance of Jesus of Nazareth in the process.

Jesus was a Jew. The only bible that Jesus knew about was what we call the Old Testament. He never heard of a New Testament. He never heard the word “Christian.” The New Testament begins with Matthew tracing a genealogy of Jesus back to father Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. This is the lineage from which He came. In my lifetime, in the United States, Jesus, because he was Jewish, would have found it very difficult to land a job in certain American corporations. In my lifetime, Jesus of Nazareth would have found it very difficult to purchase a home in certain American neighborhoods. Even today, Jesus of Nazareth would find it almost impossible to gain membership in certain clubs.

One of the great heresies of Christianity across the years has been to deny the full humanity of Jesus. We are taught in our tradition, the right doctrine, that Jesus was fully God and fully man. If we deny the humanity of Jesus, we deny his Jewishness. But you lose the Jewishness of Jesus, you lose the humanity of Jesus, and when you lose the humanity of Jesus, you lose Jesus. Jesus breathed the air of Israel. Jesus thought in the categories of the Jewish tradition. He was psychologically and emotionally molded by a small, Jewish town, raised by a Jewish mother. One might have been given pause a half century or more ago. When a million and a half Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust, the Jewish mothers wept. We are reminded on Good Friday a Jewish mother wept at the death of her Jewish son. Someone has written, “Anti- Semitism of any kind is an act of violence against Jesus and against His people and an outright denial of everything he stood for, said and was.” And for us to take Jesus as our Lord and Savior is to have a Lord and Savior who was Jewish.

Though branded Christ-killers across the centuries, the Jews did not kill Jesus and the Bible does not say that they did. The Romans killed Jesus. Now you cannot, as some recent writers are trying to, say that the Jews had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it; some Jews did conspire and contribute to trying to influence the Romans to do what the Romans did. But understand that crucifixion was the Roman method of execution, carried out under Roman authority. Pontius Pilate could try to wash his hands of it and to declare his innocence, but he could not because it was ultimately his decision. And by deciding to step back and make no decision, Pontius Pilate was making a decision.

We need to understand that the language of the New Testament was written by Jews who had decided to follow Jesus. Written by Jews, sometimes writing about Jews who decided not to follow Jesus. Written at a time when it would be death to come out in print and blast the Romans. So, not unlike the Book of Revelation, there are certain things understood: You don’t write about how the Romans killed Jesus. That would be the end of you. But, really what you have in the New Testament is a family feud, when Jewish Christian writers write about the non-Christian Jews. You have Jews arguing with Jews. It’s tough for Gentiles, 2,000 years later, to appreciate the context out of which this comes. So in a pluralistic culture we have a rather prejudicial reading when we read that the Jewish leaders conspired against Jesus. You don’t need to say “the Jewish leaders”, you just say “the leaders,” because the Jews were all they had in the beginning. Now, there wasn’t a problem with that when it was written because the Jews, whether Christian or non-Christian, didn’t have any money, didn’t have any power, didn’t have any influence, didn’t have any muscle, so you’ve got a family feud among poor folks. Then around the third century some interesting things happened. Some of the Christians began to fear that the Jewish Christians might lapse back into Judaism, so then they began to say some rather harsh things about Judaism and about Jews. And at about that time, the Christian religion went uptown. It became the religion of the empire and suddenly the Christians began to get the swords and the spears and the money and the influence. We have misread our own Scripture, we have misused it and we have abused it. But you cannot read the New Testament without understanding that once we were a family. What you have here is a Jewish document of Jews talking about Jews.

Luke tells when Jesus was led out to be crucified, the Jewish people, many of them, particularly women, cried out in protest and grief and mourning. Many of the Jewish people were very supportive of Jesus. You cannot generalize about the people as a whole, because the people were not all there at one spot.

If it is Matthew’s intent that there is some curse that the Jewish people have brought on themselves, he was undoubtedly thinking of the way in which the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. If there is ever any kind of cursing or punishment, it is a short duration thing. But the Scripture’s message is crystal clear. The mercy of the Lord endures forever! The steadfast love of God endures forever. If you want the word from the Lord on this subject, He was crystal clear. And He spoke it from the cross. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) If, indeed, one harbors anti-Semitism and if one lives out the notion of vengeance against the Jewish people, one isn’t listening to Jesus. Anti-Semitism has been a terrible, terrible fact for the last 2,000 years. It may well be that one of the most important things the Christian church can be doing in a post-Holocaust world is ridding Anti-Semitism from its pulpits, from its teachings and from its life.

May the Lord have mercy upon us. I sometimes wonder what we’ve done. Amen

Dr. John T. Galloway, Pastor
Wayne Presbyterian Church
Wayne, Pennsylvania

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