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Fifth week of Lent: Solemn Reproach #10

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  At some point, humans have to admit that we don’t have everything figured out.  We don’t know all there is to know.  We don’t know why God does whatever God does, and that’s not for us to judge. 

 

But that’s not gonna stop us from guessing at and figuring out and judging God anyway.  It’s not wise, and we know this, but we’re probably going to keep doing it.  Even if we think we’re doing everything perfectly right, obeying every law and bestowing mercy upon everyone around us, we will always be in need of God’s mercy, and the blessing is that God’s mercy is always available to us.  That mercy is grace, a gift. 

 

The apostle Paul, a Jew and an early follower of Jesus Christ, tries to make sense of it all.  Paul was trained as a Pharisee and even persecuted other people who followed Jesus, but when Paul has a post-resurrection encounter with Jesus himself, Paul’s missionary zeal is reoriented toward the good news of Jesus.  He’s spreading the gospel but also trying to reconcile the Jewish people with the followers of Jesus. 

 

In this section of Romans, you can see him going back and forth, trying to reason how Christians can follow God in Jesus and how Jews can follow God through the Torah lifestyle.  If you’ve ever read much of Paul, you’ll learn quickly that he favors looooong sentences and complex arguments.  Part of the way he argues is by setting up one way of looking at things, and then changing the viewpoint and describing another way of looking at things. 

 

Even though it’s a bit of work, it’s worth it to read Paul in his own context because there’s great danger in taking his work out of context—then it looks like he’s saying things he’s not actually trying to say. 

 

In Preaching and Teaching with Respect for the Jewish People, there’s this summary:

“The decisive factor for Paul is not that everyone would share his belief about Jesus as the Messiah, but that Jews and gentiles alike recognize the good news of God: that a right relationship with God is the one that God creates by grace, through redemption. Some have experienced this in the Exodus, and some have experienced it in Jesus’ death and resurrection.”[1]

 

It’s important to realize there’s room at the table for Christians and Jews.  We can make space for each other’s theologies, philosophies, histories, and traditions, the way any family shows love for one another.  Paul might have only dreamed of such a relationship of mutual respect and understanding—we can commit ourselves to living it. 

 

The Preaching and Teaching resource names the principle by which Christians can understand Paul—he is not against Judaism.  It is explained this way:

“In general, the past half-century of study in Paul’s writings has increasingly shown that he thought and taught from within a personal perspective of Pharisaic Judaism with a specific focus on the inclusion of non-Jews as fully part of the people of God alongside Jews.

 

“Despite the complexities, this yields a fairly simple principle for our reading of Paul: Paul’s letters never set the Jesus community or its Christ-faith in opposition to Judaism in general. When we are tempted to frame Paul’s argument or proclamation in those terms, we must stop and ask again what he means.

 

“Recall that “faith” is the relationship that God creates with people – both Jews and gentiles. Recall that Paul is addressing the issue of including gentiles with Jews in the one people of God, albeit with different histories of being brought in and with different lifestyles. Resist the temptation to make “Jews” and “Jewish” the opposite of whatever benefit Jesus has brought to the world. Paul saw Jesus bringing to non-Jews exactly the benefits that Jews already knew in their Jewish life.”[2]

 

We must resist the temptation to make our siblings in faith into an “other,” to say they are “other” or “different” because that inevitably becomes a way to make ourselves feel elevated because we are stepping on someone else.  It is possible to show care and concern without “othering” people. 

 

We can live by these principles when we’re seeking understanding about things like the nation-state of Israel, or the relationships between nations, the occupied territories of Palestine and the Palestinian people—we can be caring and concerned without being anti-Semitic.  As this resource puts it:

“…the parties to that conflict all deserve to be represented as authentically as possible and heard in their integrity and legitimacy.”[3]

 

I’m not saying this stuff is easy, but it’s worth the effort to learn and to care—essentially to advocate for abundant life.  Through the centuries, the church has done plenty of things worthy of lament, deserving of repentance.  We are always in need of God’s mercy.  As we approach Holy Week and the last days of Jesus’s life, let us be humbled before God who was willing to embrace human life to the point of suffering and dying. 

 

In the Good Friday liturgy, we will sing these solemn reproaches, referencing the breadth of God’s mercy upon the people of Israel and our ancestors in the faith all the way through the cross of Jesus Christ—God is present in every step along the way.  We reject the ancient anti-Semitic versions of the solemn reproaches, and in the words of worship director Mark Mummert, “This last reproach calls the church to repentance of all earlier versions.”[4]

 

We will humble ourselves in the words of the bidding prayer, and I’ll close tonight with an updated petition for the Jewish people that avoids anti-Semitism and also seeks forgiveness for the wrongs committed—in the name of Christ—against the Jewish people. 

 

Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God,

and for ourselves, that we may reject hate

and be surrounded by your all-embracing love.

 

Almighty and eternal God, your promise to the Jewish people is rooted in our common scripture. We pray that you remember those promises this day and always. Grant us forgiveness for our own continued rejection of all people you claim as your own. Save us from violence done in your name. We ask this through Christ our Lord. 


Amen.

Pastor Cheryl 


[2] Ibid 27.

[3] Ibid 31.


 


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