Palm Sunday Reflection 2017

How Bias Slips In

Today is Palm Sunday and it begins with a fantastic scene. It’s the beginning of Holy Week and different than our usual experience as Catholics, we receive palm branches and have a sense of jubilation as we recall Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.

That energy quickly shifts as we read out loud the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

But I want to hit the pause button for just a second and ask a quick question. Who killed Jesus?

Hold in your mind your knee-jerk reaction to that question. That will give me a chance to forewarn you that I’m about to get a little geeked out on biblical scholarship in this article, so read on at your own peril.

Did you say “The Jews killed Jesus.”? If you did, then pay attention to the Gospel reading today as it is read and ask yourself “Where does it say that the Jews killed Jesus?”

Today, we are reading from the Gospel according to Matthew and you’ll find his words stands in contrast to the prevailing bias many of us assume. In his Gospel, Matthew never blames the Jews for the death of Jesus.

From the point of view of scripture scholarship, it makes good sense. The Gospel of Matthew was written for a Jewish community. Therefore, when writing, if Matthew had blamed the Jews for killing Jesus, he would have not been very effective on getting the Jewish community to follow Christ. It would be like going into Ikea and attacking the geopolitics of Sweden. (Warning, don’t try doing that. Such folly can only lead to tears when all you really wanted was a new bookcase).

What is interesting is that two other Gospel writers didn’t blame the Jews either. Luke didn’t – he was writing to a Gentile/Greek audience who probably didn’t care much or know much about Palestinian traditions. The same can be said of Mark.

In fact, the question I presented to you earlier is beguiling. We tend to forget that every Sunday we recite an answer to the question “Who killed Jesus” in the Nicene Creed. Remember? “…who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” For us as Catholics, the blame for Jesus’ death is pointed at Pontius Pilate, not the Jews.

Where then does the false narrative that the Jews killed Jesus come from? A good place to look is the Gospel of John from which we will read on Good Friday. The Gospel of John was written as the last of the four gospels and it was written at a different point of history, after Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (which is why it is the only gospel that references the temple being destroyed) and the Jewish people were dispersed. John was writing to a different audience in a different time and he looked to put the blame on a people who felt “other.” So he chose the diaspora of the Jewish people. He probably had no idea how his false narrative could lead to devastating violence in the centuries to come.

But what has slipped into people’s minds because of John’s writing is a prejudice that erodes the dignity and goodness of God’s chosen people. How easy and unassuming it is to let this happen. Sadly, we all know what violence this kind of prejudice can manifest.

As you hear or read today’s Gospel, do a check of your own bias. What are you hearing and what is actually being proclaimed? And if you are successful at checking your own bias, try to extend that capacity to other parts of your life. Where else does implicit bias filter in and influence how you think and act? Do you see clearly the facts of a situation or do you infer a bias when it comes to immigrants? Muslims? Women? Men? Gays? Others?

God sees all of God’s creation through the eyes of beauty and goodness. May we resist the temptation of a poorly formed bias and instead see the world the way that God does.

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate

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