SIRACH 27:30, 28:7 ROMANS 14:7-9 MATTHEW 18:21-35
Because I was just a young boy at the time, I did not understand at all what we were saying when we Catholics prayed during Holy Week for the “perfidious” Jews. Years later I looked the word up and found that it meant disloyal, treacherous, deceitful, dishonest, untrue and lying. No surprise, of course, since we had been taught that it was the Jews who rejected and killed Jesus. One doesn’t easily forget or grow out of such impressions. As the song from “South Pacific” cleverly reminds us, prejudice is not natural; it must be taught in one way or another and then passed on.
As I was growing through and out of childhood, I was left with confusion, especially because my father’s business associates and lawyers were mostly Jews, with whom he enjoyed friendship and mutual respect. And my mother warmly greeted old Mr. Abramson two or three times a week with his horse-drawn wagon of fresh vegetables and fruit.
How was I to reconcile the decency of these good men with the image of “badness” that I was hearing in my church? Our education in what is called Salvation History contained another notion that escaped the critical analysis of most of us adults; I accepted it without question until not too many years ago.
It was that the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, presents only a God of justice, a God of anger and retribution, while the New Testament, the Christian Bible, reveals God instead as loving and compassionate. Can anyone read the passage from the Book of Sirach in today’s first scripture selection and fail to find in it loving concern? You may agree that it sounds something like the Lord’s Prayer.
You and I should have no difficulty understanding the deep-rooted prejudices that have kept contemporary Israelis and Palestinians at one another’s throats for so long a time when we consider that many of us Christians have held on to negative biases against Jews for virtually all our lives. It’s been a love/hate relationship with our spiritual siblings, a bittersweet kinship.
No matter how long they have been in the making, or how solidly entrenched they are, will we at last demand of ourselves that we put aside any prejudices we may harbor that are based on whatever nationality or color or religion and instead take a chance on meeting in an open and sincere way any person who comes from that background or bears that color or practices that religion?
Jesus has assured us that eventually we shall all be one in a vast community of mutual love and respect. Then, just as surely we have the moral obligation to anticipate that blessed day now by acting as if we were indeed all sisters and brothers living in peace and harmony.
It’s so easy to slip into discouragement, to give up trying. It’s a great challenge to us followers of Jesus to forgive those who don’t seem to deserve our forgiveness and to accept those we have been rejecting for whatever reason. If the best we can do at the moment is to be open to change as the gift of the Holy Spirit, let’s ask for that gift in spite of any fear.