Published on The Tennessee Journalist on June 8, 2009
“His blood be on us, and on our children.”
These chilling words are well known from the account of Jesus’ trial recorded in Matthew 27:25. Throughout history, they have been used (completely out of context) to justify horrendous persecution of Jews all around the world. In spite of the fact that an angry mob can hardly claim the authority to call down a curse upon an entire race of people, this gross distortion of the Scriptures has resulted in unspeakable atrocities which have cast a black shadow over the history of Christianity.
To say that “THE Jews killed Jesus” is comparable to saying that “THE Caucasians killed Martin Luther King, Jr.” While it is true that Jesus’ crucifixion was the result of His conflict with the Jewish leadership of the day, the fact remains that Gentiles were just as much involved in Jesus’ death as were Jews. Keep in mind that the actual death sentence was passed down by a cowardly Roman governor, and carried out at the hands of Roman soldiers.
Furthermore, we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus Himself was Jewish, as were all of His original disciples. Both the Old and New Testaments (with the possible exception of Luke), were written by Jewish believers. In fact, for the first 70 years of its existence, Christianity was seen as a sect of Judaism known as “The Way.” It was only after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans that the two faiths separated.
The tensions grew as Christianity spread through Europe. Gradually, the impression of Jesus evolved from that of a Jewish figure to that of a Greco-Roman figure. The image of a rugged, Mediterranean carpenter was replaced by one of an effeminate blue-eyed blond. Consequentially, this new, Eurocentric Jesus was seen as having little regard for His own people, and His professed followers were happy to do likewise.
Perhaps the most infamous examples of this are the venomous tirades of Martin Luther, who denounced Jewish people as “…(a) base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.”
It is also a matter of historic record that, in spite of his atrocities, Adolf Hitler was never formally excommunicated from the Catholic Church of his day. Even the universally revered Billy Graham was not above indulging in Jew-baiting, famously agreeing with then-president Richard Nixon’s conspiracies about Jews controlling the media.
Thankfully, recent decades have seen much vital progress in Jewish-Christian relations. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council declared that “The Church decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” This principle was seen in action during Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 visit to New York City, where he became the first Pope in history to visit an American synagogue.
Furthermore, Martin Luther’s modern followers have taken great care to distance themselves from their founder’s dark side. To this end, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has issued the following statement: “(W)hile, on the one hand, we are deeply indebted to Luther for his rediscovery and enunciation of the Gospel, on the other hand, we deplore and disassociate ourselves from Luther’s negative statements about the Jewish people…”
This is echoed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, whose statement reads: “(W)e who bear (Luther’s) name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther’s anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews…We recognize in anti-Semitism a contradiction and an affront to the Gospel, a violation of our hope and calling, and we pledge this church to oppose the deadly working of such bigotry.”
Philosopher Blaise Pascal was once asked by King Louis XIV about the primary evidence for the existence of God. Pascal’s response? “The Jews, your Majesty.“
Those of us who are Christians are called to honor the Jewish people as those “first entrusted with the Oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). To those of you who are Jewish, please forgive us for our failure to life up to this ideal.