The Christian New Testament includes some language that quite frankly, irritates me to no end. Take today’s lectionary reading from John, the beginning of the “Doubting Thomas” story. Jn 20:19-29.
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you”
The house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.
Wait a second. All the disciples were Jews. Jesus was a Jew. Yet, “the Jews” are portrayed as the outsiders, as people to be feared; as those who killed Jesus. But time out. It was the Roman Empire that executed Jesus. It was the Roman empire and its temple collaborators that pushed for his execution, for challenging the Roman power structure. It wasn’t “the Jews.” But as early as the late first century, when the Gospels were bring written, the religion that became Christianity, was already separating and distinguishing itself from “the Jews.”
Yet, this language — and it is sprinkled heavily in John, and in Matthew, Luke, and Acts as well, (but not Mark), really sows the seeds of two thousand years of anti-semitism. I was particularly struck by this language when I realized that today is the day that Jewish synagogues, and the Jewish people around the world commemorate Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day.
I wonder, if words were chosen differently, almost two millennia ago, if there would not be the need for such a memorial remembrance.
And if we are going to read these words, it is incumbent to acknowledge that words have consequences. We need to be aware of the words used. It is not ok to simply perpetuate such language, no matter if there is no conscious effort to promote hatred or anti-semitism.