Good Friday in Jerusalem

On Good Friday we take part in the Passion of Jesus, according to John.  We may notice that John’s account is strikingly different from that of Luke, which we heard on Palm Sunday.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is brought before the Jerusalem crowd and the Chief Priests, who call for his crucifixion.  But in John’s Gospel, the people who call for his crucifixion are identified as ‘the Jews’.

Now it is difficult for me as a European Christian to hear the words without a sense of shame.  Centuries of misinterpretation of this text from John’s Gospel and others like it, has given some Christians excuses to justify a climate of anti-semitism, the very climate that in Nazi Germany contributed to making the horror of the holocaust possible.

Yet when we look deeply at John’s Gospel, we see Jesus on the cross completing his work of rescuing a world loved by God.  His death is an act of love for all humanity, breaking the power of sin and violence and liberating us from our death and inhumanity.  So it is a terrible travesty of Christian belief that the false interpretation of this redeeming moment in human history has so often led to the marginalisation and persecution of Jesus’ own people.

John Paul II was conscious of this failure in the Church from his experience growing up in Poland and apologised publicly on its behalf for the centuries of persecution of the Jewish people.  Benedict XVI who was a child in Germany during the Nazi period had close links when a bishop with the movement of ‘integrated communities’ in Germany, which work for reconciliation and understanding between Jews and Christians.  As pope he continued the fruitful dialogues with Jewish leaders and encouraged Catholics to understand better the ancient Jewish culture of which Jesus was a part.  Francis too as Archbishop of Buenos Aires has been committed to dialogue, conversation and friendship with Christianity’s ‘older brothers’.

Indeed over the last decade he has held a series of conversations with the Rector of the Rabbinic Seminary in the same city.  Rabbi Skorka, in an act of friendship and mutual respect wrote the foreword to the only biography about Bergoglio ‘The Jesuit’.  There he writes how they had freely and honestly acknowledged differences and explored common ground.  At the heart of their conversations was the shared insight into the central commandment to love: to love God, to love neighbour, to love the stranger.  This love allows human beings, in all their diversity, to work in harmony for mutual growth.

Rabbi Skorka wrote:  ‘We walk together with our truth, with the shared conviction that the vicious circles that degrade the human condition can be broken.  With the faith that the course of history can and should be changed, that the biblical vision of a world redeemed, as envisioned by the prophets, is not simply a utopia, but is a reality we can achieve.  All that is lacking is enough people committed to making it happen.’

When we take part in the Gospel on Friday, we recognize that we ourselves belong among the crowd of Judaeans, the people of Jerusalem.   We too cannot see in this beaten-up Galilean before us the hope of the world.  Swayed by the voices of self-serving political powers it is not Jews, or Muslims, or Atheists or Hindus who cry out ‘crucify him!’  It is us.  Yet mysteriously Jesus in these moments fulfils his mission and opens the way to a new humanity.  His self-gift sets us free to live in the love of God, to change history and make real the vision of a world redeemed.

Fr John Moffatt SJ
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