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The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008


I hate hearing the words “The Jews” in our liturgy, especially as used in John’s gospel and more especially during Holy week and the post Easter lections in Year A. A glance at the gospels in the King James Version beloved of conservatives, evangelicals, Pentecostalists, Mormons and purist language lovers reveals the shrill anti-Semitic sounding passages there.

I cringe when I hear the words “The Jews.” I always think not of Jesus betrayed by his Jewish friends, accused by his Jewish co-religionists and suffering and dying on the cross; I think of the holocaust, pogroms, and the inquisition. I think of my Jewish college roommate denied access to the fraternities on campus and the rampant discrimination against Jews in my family and in the United States, still in too many places.

Some people think the Jews killed Jesus and therefore Jews should be punished even today. According to the New Testament, a coalition of Jewish religious, leaders in the time of Jesus influenced the Roman authorities to crucify Jesus, the Jewish itinerant rabbi, preacher and prophet. What twisted reasoning still persists that because some Jews, two thousand years ago, in a culture, land and ethos so different from ours, still blame present - day Jews for Jesus’ death? It is appalling to others and me.

Our church perpetuates that prejudice by the regular use, in a derogatory way, the term “The Jews” in the Bible readings in Sunday and Holy Week readings.

We can certainly understand the fourth gospel’s use of the word. A friend wrote me the following: “(Scholar) Ray Brown's argument is that John's Gospel came from a Samaritan Christian community, so their perspective as outsiders to the community shapes the language.” They saw the Jews as oppressors, the people in power.

In the name of healthy teaching of the history of those times, we can change the liturgical and Biblical language, which perpetuates hate. We can substitute “ancient Hebrews,” “ancient people,” “religious authorities,” or “rulers of the people,” “the crowd” or “the mob” instead of the derogatory and possibly misunderstood use of “the Jews.” Since many churches print Sunday readings out for the pew sitters, the words can easily be changed.

We have no technical right to do this on our own. But if we wait for our Bishop’s permission and Prayer Book revision we will continue to sow prejudice when we use these inaccurate and hate filled anti-Semitic readings. Things change after people act.

Many of us are deeply critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians as well as the United States government’s uncritical support of Israel and the workings of the Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to defeat candidates for public office who are critical of Israeli politics.
That in no way excuses people for anti-Semitism. If you doubt there is rank anti-Semitism in this country, how come there are no Jews running for the president and vice-president of the U.S., and there has only been one for VP? The majority parties see a Jew as not electable.

The church in its liturgy must strive to lift people’s awareness and consciousness to worship God in Jesus –the Jew. The haranguing of Jews in John’s gospel may be seen in its historical context, but it should not be part of our liturgy, which is to bring us to our true loving humanity as found in Jesus Christ the Jew.

Other comments and suggestions:

Why not just "the people?" That is what I have always said.

Amen and Amen, Since 1975 I have not uttered a liturgical phrase, lesson or gospel reading with "the Jews" in it without clarification or better a substitution e.g. "for fear of the authorities" whom we should all fear; God bless them everyone.

I prefer changing "the Jews" to "the religious authorities" because that is who they were talking about and it challenges the priestly class today -- as it well should.


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