If you look around your home, you may have a cherished object that once belonged to a parent or a grandparent. Perhaps it has even been passed along through several generations of your family Whether it is a chair, a vase, or the family silver, such objects come to us associated with the persons who once used them, and we treasure them.
This week, we will be hearing again the story of Jesus’ passion. It is a story that has been cherished by each generation, and handed from one to the next. Along the way however, the story has been interpreted and used, and at times abused, to bring harm to others.
The gospel stories themselves, written decades after Jesus death, already reflect growing tensions between the emerging Christian community and the Jewish faith from which it sprang. In Matthew’s gospel, which we will hear tomorrow, at one point the crowd in Jerusalem is heard shouting to Pilate, calling for Jesus’ death in these words: “His blood be upon us and on our children.”
Tragically, words such as these and the portrayal of the Jewish community in the Passion narratives contributed to a destructive strain of anti-Semitism in the Christian Church, resulting in persecution, discrimination, and oppression against Jews in centuries to come. Jesus’ death came at the hands of the Roman authorities, not the Jewish people.
We receive and proclaim a cherished story this week. With it, we also inherit a tradition which must be examined and rejected, accompanied by our own repentance. The tragic mistakes of the past serve as a warning for us about the demonization of any group of persons or of any faith. We do indeed receive a cherished “family treasure” in this coming week. Even as we receive it with gratitude, let us hold it and use it with care, that in it we will hear only the liberating and life giving message it was meant to convey.