Fr. Bill Carroll – Palm Sunday, April 2, 2023
His blood be upon us and upon our children.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Not long before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams wrote a short book. It’s called Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement. In it, Williams tells the story of a Russian Orthodox priest. Fr. Dimitri Klepinin worked in Paris during the Nazi occupation. He was forging papers for French Jews—helping them hide and escape. He was captured by the Germans and interrogated for hours. At one point, they offered him his freedom if he would stop helping Jews.
Fr. Dimitri refused to defend himself. At one point, he held up the large cross he wore around his neck. As he confronted his persecutors with Jesus crucified, he asked them: “But do you know this Jew?” In response, they struck him in the face. They mocked him, taunting him as a “Jew.” Then, they killed him in one of their camps, alongside God’s ancient and beloved People.
“His blood be upon us and upon our children.” This verse from Matthew has a prominent place in the history of anti-Semitism. For centuries, it formed the basis for a theory of genetic guilt. This theory singled out all Jews, living and dead, for putting Jesus to death. For centuries, this verse was abused to rationalize murder and violent persecution. Eventually, all of that led to the horror of the Holocaust, where at least six million Jews were murdered, alongside mentally- and physically-disabled people, ethnic and sexual minorities, and others deemed deviant or unclean.
In our bulletin today, we put a statement about the Episcopal Church’s teaching, which explicitly rejects the theory of genetic guilt. Individual Jews, along with Roman soldiers and officials, played a role. But the whole human race is responsible for the death of Jesus. And that’s why we take the part of the frenzied crowd in the Passion Play: “Let him be crucified!” we shout, and then we say: “His blood be upon us and upon our children!”
“Do we know this Jew?” The witness of Fr. Dimitri points us to a central truth of our faith. Jesus was a Jew born of Jews. Salvation comes from the Jews, and from this Jew in particular.
Recently, a friend of mine drew my attention to an article by Jonathan Malesic. “For the better part of a decade (he writes), scholars and writers across the globe have lamented the growing prevalence of misinformation, [conspiracy theories], ideology, mistrust of experts,…and echo chambers. These scourges make it much harder to solve any problem of politics, climate, culture, or public health, because they frustrate the search for a widely-recognized truth. We know there is something wrong with the way we know.”
Malesic finds a “common source” for our confusion in what he calls “knowingness.” Drawing on a book by Jonathan Lear, called Open Minded, Malesic observes that “[Knowingness] is a posture of always, ‘already knowing,’ of purporting to know the answers…before the question [even gets asked]. When new facts come to light, the knowing person is unperturbed. You may be shocked, but they knew [it] all along.” Malesic gives examples that range from conspiracy theorists to ideologues to “the physician who enters the examining room certain [that] the patient’s problems result from the condition the doctor happens to be an expert in.”
How do we respond to these problems? I don’t know for certain. But we do need better education in our schools. We need teachers in the sciences who show us how to follow the evidence where it leads. We need teachers in the humanities, who help us to reckon with conflicting interpretations of the texts and the traditions that define our civilization. We need to seek clarity where it’s possible, because not all interpretations are faithful. And we need to accept real ambiguity where it exists, because sometimes we just don’t know. We need to commit to seeking the Truth. And part of that is keeping an open mind.
This is important. Because, today, there’s a growing threat of violence in our nation. Gun violence continues unabated. Our former president has been indicted. The City of New York is bracing for violent demonstrations. Social media is filled with “passionate intensity.” Politicians and pundits are lining up in predictable ways.
As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be salt and light in this sinful, violent world. We give our allegiance to Jesus. He is our King. For he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And he shed his precious blood for all of us. He calls us to love other people like he did, even when that’s hard to do. As Rowan Williams reminds us, the Gospel “unsettles our judgement.” Or, as Karl Barth once said, “The Gospel…sets a question mark against all truths.” All truth is judged at the foot of the Cross.
The question we are asked today is the same one posed by Fr. Dimitri and other blood-soaked martyrs: “Do we know this Jew?” Do we know Jesus of Nazareth? Do we “have the same mind” in us? Will we answer his call to serve others? Will we “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God”? And, when the guns come out, will we lay down our lives for other people—even the ones we are tempted to hate and despise?
Do we know this Jew?