April 14, 2014

Killing Jews

            Yesterday in Overland Park, Kansas, a rabid anti-Semite, white supremacist drove into the parking lot at the Jewish Community Center with the intent to kill. And he succeeded.  He shot a grandfather and grandson (thinking they were Jews, but actually Methodists), missed two others, and then drove to a nearby Jewish retirement center and killed a woman.  The metro area of Kansas City and the wider Jewish and Christian communities are bowed down with grief.

            This story line is both ancient and contemporary, and the horrific atrocities never are put to rest.  On the eve of Passover and the beginning of Holy Week, this event requires better thinking about guns, religious liberty, and the propensity of humanity to scapegoat “others” for the ills of the world.
            In earlier times, Christians persecuted Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus, and they read virulent parts of the New Testament as warrant for their action.  The epithet “Christ killers” seemed to justify the targeted marginalization and wounding exploitation of Jewish communities.
            Thankfully in recent scholarship, the broad-brush accusation of “the Jews” has been refined, although movies like Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” do not help.  We have learned that a slender sector of Jewish persons, temple authorities, colluding with Rome allowed the death of Jesus, and that his confrontation with the reigning powers precipitated his execution.
            Yet the burden of election, “being chosen,” clings to this historic people.  Perhaps it is because of the unique identity God bestows on the Jewish people that others express the mimetic desire to displace and destroy them.  Over the past two summers studying with rabbis in Jerusalem, I have learned that God’s project with Israel, calling them to a covenant relationship, was a test case to demonstrate how God desires intimacy with all humanity.  Sadly, this experiment was more failure than success, in the words of my teachers.

            In this week Christians call holy, we confront once again the blood thirst that characterizes sinful humanity.  The “fall to violence,” in the words of Marjorie Suchocki is the primal expression of rebellion against God and the refusal to live in community with others.
            A reading for Monday of Holy Week describes the peaceful ways of God’s servant, whom Christians claim to be the Messiah.
He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:2-3)
This faithful Jew shows us the way to live with others.  I pray we will be renewed in this season as we consider his pathway.

            Molly T. Marshall
             Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

April 7, 2014

Entering Jerusalem

            Jesus completes his measured journey to Jerusalem for the time of Passover, and his arrival stirs great excitement among the crowds.  No doubt, many had heard that he had called Lazarus back to life (John 12:9). The miracle so enraged his opponents that his travel to the city seems a deliberative provocation.  The triumphal entry can only heighten the resolve to remove him. 

            Scholars have written about the staging of his entrance into the city, coming in from the east in this humble fashion, while entering on the opposite side of the city was the power of Rome in all its gleaming force. It was a stunning contrast between the realm proclaimed by Jesus and the realm that held most of the world in its thrall.
            Mary Oliver captures a vision of the simplicity of the scene—the people, the palms, the praise--in her poem, The Poet Thinks about the Donkey. 

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

            How horses, turned out into the meadow,
                        leap with delight!
               How doves, released from their cages,
                        clatter away, splashed with sunlight!
    But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
    Then he let himself be led away.
    Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward. (Thirst: Poems)

            In a sense, the inexorable movement toward his ultimate clash with temple authorities and the occupying forces is a similar pattern.  Resolute and courageous, Jesus enacts the prophetic symbolism of the promised redeemer of Israel.
            Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
         Look, your king is coming,
            sitting on a donkey’s colt.

            This last week of his life has begun with the cheers of thronging crowds, which will be silenced all too soon.  He will try to fill the remaining hours with urgent teaching, prayers, and attempts to prepare his disciples for his death.  One wonders if Jesus enjoyed this brief time of festivity, if it lifted his hopes that his message was being received.  We know how the narrative unfolds, but at least on this day, the kind of reign he has proclaimed is in full evidence, with an important role for the donkey as they, together, moved forward.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.