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In our society, whenever people call for inclusion or equity for Black or Brown people, some White and other voices allege that these efforts are somehow harmful to White people. Making the United States a multiracial democracy is not being anti-White people; it’s being pro-all people. But looking back at Luke, I wonder how much of the Jewish bigotry toward Gentiles that we read in the gospels is really Greek-speaking Jesus followers seeking to paint their Jewish peers in the worst possible light to justify the distance they wanted between Christianity and Judaism.
It’s been quite effective. How do you disparage a community that you are bigoted against? Accuse them of murderous bigotry toward you instead. Though there were competing Jewish voices within Jesus’ own Jewish society with varied Jewish attitudes toward Gentiles (I think of the differences between the teachings of the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai, see Rabbi Harvey Falk’s Jesus the Pharisee: A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus), Judaism itself has always taught that there are those deemed “righteous” among all nations.
Unfortunately this anti-Jewish theme paved the way for the Roman empire, when it finally absorbed Christianity as Rome’s official state religion, to escape being held accountable for executing Jesus. Instead, Roman Christianity scapegoated the Jewish people and blamed them for Jesus’ execution. Christian anti-semitism continued to evolve. So much so that in certain eras, we find anti-semitic Christians opposed even to the reminder that Jesus himself was a Jew.
We can do better today. We don’t have to disparage Jewish people, Jewish wisdom, or Judaism to value Jesus and his ethical teachings. There is so much good in the Jesus story that can benefit our communities today as we live out the golden rule and shape our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone. That “everyone” genuinely means everyone, including Jewish people. And that means that we have to be honest about the harmful way Christian narratives have been told in the past and are still told today. We have to name those harmful story elements in our text. We must do better.
Some Christians today are doing better, and not just for our Jewish friends. They are raising consciousness of how Christianity has been used to harm Indigenous people, migrant populations, non-white and non-European people, women, the LGBTQ community, and so many more.
Jesus followers today have the responsibility to make sure our own house is in order. Before we can help anyone else with the speck that may be in their eye, we have to attend the beam that has been and still is in our own.