At a time when White Supremacists have become emboldened and when hate crimes are on the rise, we need to be especially aware of the language we are using in our classrooms and places of worship. Is it language that promotes love and appreciation for those of differing faiths or do our words divide us and possibly lead to further intolerance?
During Holy Week, for example, the Passion Narrative we listened to on Good Friday definitely had an anti-Semitic flavor; here are two excerpts from John's Gospel:
The Jews answered,
"We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die,
because he made himself the Son of God" (Jn 19:7)
And he said to the Jews,
"Behold, your king!"
They cried out,
"Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!" (Jn 19:14-15)
Regardless of the author's intentions, such passages reinforce the idea that the Jews killed Jesus, an idea that led to 2,000 years of persecution that included punishment by the Inquisition, pogroms and, ultimately, the Holocaust.
On the Second Sunday of Easter, we heard that:
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,.. (Jn 20:19)
Then, in this Sunday's reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we get this message:
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy
and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said (Acts 13:45)
The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city (Jn 13:50)
Now while it is unlikely that John was indicting all Jews since both Jesus and most of his followers were themselves Jewish, his use of "the Jews" in a pejorative sense adds fuel to the fire when it comes to a White Supremacy agenda. Just as it is pastoral to use gender-inclusive language in certain liturgical and scriptural texts (e.g. "Jesus died for all" instead of "Jesus died for all men"), so it is forward-thinking to avoid negative language about other faiths. Different options for "the Jews" could be: "the people," "the crowd," "the religious authorities," "some of the Jews," "religious leaders," "the priests and scribes," "Jesus' enemies," "Jesus' opponents" etc. Minor changes in vocabulary will go a long way in breaking stereotypes; if you're not convinced, go back over the previous quotations and substitute some of my suggestions for "the Jews." Then ask yourself: 1) Has the core meaning of the text changed? ; 2) Does the text still convey negativity towards Judaism or merely towards some people who happen to be Jewish?
When does SBT come out?
When I can, I aim for the Monday or Tuesday of each week, but recently, student papers have piled up, along with free-lance commitments, and so it has been a challenge to find writing time! Thanks for understanding!
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
Today's very brief Gospel is an excerpt from
The Good Shepherd Discourse
in John 10:1-30; it is preceded by Jesus' encounter with the Pharisees who cast out the man born blind for testifying about his miraculous healing (Jn 9:34), and is followed by Jesus' enemies first trying to stone him and then attempting to arrest him for blasphemy (Jn 10:31-39). Seen in context, our text portrays a Shepherd who, unlike the Pharisees, invites the sheep into the fold rather than barring the gate against them-- or throwing them out! Moreover, those who oppose Jesus are not among his sheep and therefore fail to listen to him. On a spiritual level, his opponents are "blind" (in contrast to the man born blind who can now see) and "deaf" (in contrast to those who hear Jesus' voice and follow him). The imagery of Shepherd and sheepfold, then, is both a commentary on the hard-heartedness of the Pharisees and their adherents, as well as on Jesus' mission to lead God's "sheep" to everlasting life.
God's "breakthrough" takes place when someone who has previously been spiritually blind and spiritually deaf begins to see and hear. Think of Job whose suffering leads him to a much deeper understanding of who God is:
"I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you"
(Jb 42:5). Or think of the Samaritan townsfolk who tell the woman whom Jesus had encountered at the well:
"We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world"
(Jn 4:42). Then there is Thomas the Apostle who comes to believe when he sees the Risen Christ (Jn 20:24-29). Or Saul who, blinded by a heavenly light while on his way to Damascus, hears the words,
"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting"
(Acts 9:5). In each case -- and in so many other texts throughout the bible-- the "eyes of the blind" and the "ears of the deaf" open in response to Divine revelation. When this happens, life can never again be the same, because the moment of "seeing," the moment of "hearing," becomes an immediate call to discipleship. Called by name, we respond to the Shepherd's invitation to know and be known.
What stops us from seeing -- and from hearing? Why do we so often cling to our habitual ways of seeing and hearing instead of opening ourselves to the Divine perspective? Why is it easier to persist in "not seeing" and "not hearing" when the Truth presents itself so clearly? Prejudice, bias, vested interests and "crowd mentality" blind us to our personal faults and deafen us to the cries of the poor. We "whitewash" ourselves because it is painful to confront our shadow; we ignore the moral sickness that permeates every aspect of society. Instead of being prophets, we "turn a blind eye" to the signs of the times even as they pile up in a toxic heap around us; we close our ears rather than hear the Truth. How many mass shootings do we have to witness before we finally admit that "guns kill" and that adults and youth alike are existentially adrift, without purpose or meaning? How many suicides need to make the headlines before we acknowledge that bullying, addictions and despair have gripped our youth? How many more asylum seekers and their children must die in ICE custody before we finally recognize our need to be a "kinder, gentler nation"? And how many sleeping bags and make-shift tents need to line our viaducts before we admit that homelessness is a national crisis?
Of course, there are many more sights and sounds which we can filter out and ignore. However, once we have learned to recognize the Good Shepherd's voice, our hearts open to Truth and silence is no longer an option. Like the man born blind, we now feel compelled to speak
-- to demand justice and to proclaim God's saving power.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- How can you recognize the Good Shepherd's voice, distinguishing it from other voices?
- Have you ever heard God call you by name? If so, what was the experience like for you?
- What "blocks you" from listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd?
- In what ways have you responded to to the Good Shepherd's call?