Just a day or two before the Iowa Caucus, Ted Cruz took note of Marco Rubio’s rise in the polls, and, in response, Cruz began to attack Rubio. Now, imagine yourself an alien (no not that kind), a space alien who has recently landed on Earth to study humanity. In particular, you have been tasked with studying and reporting back to your home world with regard to American culture. Your sampling of Americana, in this case, is the Republican, Presidential Candidates’ rhetoric; from this limited dialogue you must construct your picture of American and Americans. Continue to imagine yourself as this alien as you listen to Ted Cruz.
Ted Cruz called Rubio hypocritical because he promises and preaches one thing on immigration policy to get elected to the Senate, but then he preforms and does another thing regarding immigration once elected. Worse yet, Cruz accused Rubio of having the same position on immigration as that deeply unAmerican, Democrat, Hillary Clinton – because, of course, this is what the Republican primary rhetoric preaches, namely that there is nothing more unAmerican and dangerous as that of a Democrat in the White House. Additionally, Cruz tells us that Rubio is a liar; he is peddling falsehoods when he criticizes Cruz’s position on immigration. So, there is nothing more unAmerican and dangerous in the world than being a Democrat, Rubio is very much like the Democrats, Rubio is a hypocrite, and Rubio is a liar.
Most of us here know what is going on when Ted says these things. We know this language game. We are insiders. We are Americans. We expect this kind of dialogue, and we know how to interpret it. No one listens to Ted – well, that’s an overstatement I realize – and thinks that Rubio is unAmerican, a non-Republican. Yes, there are real underlying differences between these men on the issues or how to approach the issues, but none of us would at all be surprised to see Cruz win the nomination and then appoint Rubio to be his Vice-President. This is the game.
But, imagine the alien studying our country had left to report back to his home world just after the Iowa Caucuses. The alien would report that there is a very small group of Americans who are “real” Americans. The real ones appear to be within this subgroup called Republicans, but even among them there is danger lurking. Further imagine that this alien returns to Earth after Cruz is President and Rubio is Vice-President, and the alien finds them working together rather merely – yes, with some difference of opinion. Boom, mind blown.
So what does this have to do with Jesus?
It has often been said in the Church, if not explicitly anymore it remains an implicit message, that Jesus was against the Judaism of his day, he found Judaism, as a means to God, to be severely deficient, and Jesus came to start something radically new so that Judaism could now be simply set aside. Texts like Matthew 23 often serve as primers for this point of view. Read 23:29-33 and what Jesus says to the sub-group of Jews known as the Pharisees.
Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have participated with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ By saying this you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of your ancestors! You snakes, you offspring of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
As alien, 21st century Gentiles, we need to be very careful how we read this text. Just like the alien listening in on Cruz’s comments about Rubio, we are only reading one side of this conversation (as a friend of ours likes to remind us), and by only reading this text, or just the NT corpus, we have an incredibly small sampling size of data from which to sketch a picture.
Lest you think my point is overblown, read a fairly common sermon from the early Church about Jews and Judaism that takes a very alien approach to Jesus’ teaching.
But the synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater; it also is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts. Jeremiah said: “Your house has become for me the den of a hyena”. He does not simply say “of wild beast”, but “of a filthy wild beast”, and again: “I have abandoned my house, I have cast off my inheritance”. But when God forsakes a people, what hope of salvation is left? When God forsakes a place, that place becomes the dwelling of demons.
But at any rate the Jews say that they, too, adore God. God forbid that I say that. No Jew adores God! Who say so? The Son of God say so. For he said: “If you were to know my Father, you would also know me. But you neither know me nor do you know my Father”. Could I produce a witness more trustworthy than the Son of God?
Just as is seems incredibly foolish to read the words of Cruz as the alien did, so the Church as read the words of Jesus and Paul in similar fashion. Certainly, we are more polite, circumspect and gracious in our misreadings today; it is difficult to image such a sermon being preached today – perhaps I am naive. Nevertheless, we do great injustice to the Biblical text and Jesus’ teaching when we read without historical knowledge and an understanding of the breadth of the culture in which these things were said and written. Frankly, it becomes incredibly dangerous to you and others when such readings persist in the Church. Just ask the Jews of Germany.
So, rather than reading Paul or Jesus’ teaching as being against Judaism – which they most certainly were not – try reading them as one sub-group within Judaism speaking to other Jews about the best way to understanding and live the Jewish faith. And, understand that hyperbolic language about in and out will abound. I suspect this simple hermeneutic would go a long way to rectifying the latent, historic, anti-semitic attitude in the Church’s reading of scripture. BOOM, mind blown.