Saturday, April 12, 2008

Yom HaShoah - A Day of Remembrance

13 April 2008 – Easter 4/Yom HaShoah * John 10:1-10 / Acts 2:42-47

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

A Day to Remember

The history of Israel as recorded in Holy Scripture is unique among ancient historical accounts in any number of ways, but one aspect of that history is essential for us to know if we are to understand what Jesus is talking about in what is called The Good Shepherd section of the fourth gospel: Israel was not shy about critiquing its leadership.

While other written accounts of other ancient civilizations praise the leaders of their empires, Israel alone dares to lay out its history warts and all. And the metaphor of sheep and shepherd was perhaps the controlling metaphor for such critique.

This comes to a crescendo in the 34th chapter of the Prophet Ezekiel who takes off on the kings and priests of Israel in no uncertain terms: “Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?...You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them….I am against the shepherds…I will rescue my sheep from their mouths…” – Ezekiel 34: 2-10

The evangelist of the fourth gospel places Jesus squarely in this tradition. And why not? The priests, aristocrats and even some scribes and Pharisees had accepted employment on behalf of Rome. They were seen by the people of Israel, the “sheep,” as traitors, collaborators, selling the people out over and over again. Those listening to Jesus, a group of Pharisees who were challenging his healing a blind man and the blind man’s assertion that Jesus is from God, would recognize the sheep and shepherd metaphor and know exactly that Jesus is aligning himself with the prophetic tradition.

And the good news is meant to be heard by those followers of Jesus who were being asked to leave the synagogues that Jesus is the shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold, and that he offers protection and life – abundant life!

The trouble comes when the church does not understand the tradition to which Jesus appeals. And in the words, “All who came before me are thieves and bandits.” Early on in Christian preaching it was thought to be applied to all Jews who came before Jesus, including Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets. Thus was Christian anti-Semitism birthed from an inability to recognize the metaphor and the tradition of self-criticism.

This is, of course, to turn the words of Jesus on their head, words meant to be a challenge to the political structures of the Roman Empire and those who would aid and abet the enemy of Israel’s sovereignty.

We need not rehearse, but it is essential that we remember, the history of persecution of the Jews and other non-Christians at the hands of the Church, meant to be Christ’s body in the world – a history that culminates in Hitler’s holocaust, and a history that the church does not officially repudiate until 1963 under the leadership of Pope John XXIII.

A faithful understanding of this Good Shepherd speech ought to lead the Church and its leaders to the same sort of self-examination and self-criticism that was such a prominent feature of Israel’s history. We need to always be asking ourselves, “Who are the bad shepherds in today’s church? In today’s world?” Such an understanding and application of this scripture leads us to the importance of a day such as this – a day of remembrance.

For unless we are able to embrace the spirit Jesus embraces, we are likely to end up repeating cycles of violence, exclusion and coercion rather than living in the spirit of reconciliation and redemption Jesus sets in motion. To be co-operators with Jesus’ vision of abundant life, we need to become those people who not only hear the Good Shepherd, but also recognize who he is in the history of Israel – a Jew who was not afraid to speak out against the military occupation of his people and to call to task those fellow religionists who collaborated with the enemy forces.

Had Christians in Germany, and indeed even in America, followed the Jesus of history in the 1930’s and 1940’s, millions of lives likely could have been saved. The history of the church in this period reveals only a handful of Christian leaders willing to speak out on behalf of the Jewish people – and many of them were imprisoned and executed, including people like Martin Neimoeller and Dietrich Bonhoffer. Meanwhile, many were the “thieves and bandits” in the church and in our State Department who sympathized nd even collaborated with the Nazis and Axis powers allowing them to nearly succeed in their attempt to destroy a people and a civilization – the people and civilization of Jesus.

This is a day of remembrance. We come to remember the Shoah - the Holocaust and all that it means for Christians and Jews. We come to remember who Jesus was and what he did. We come to remember how the church has misunderstood its own tradition as being a part of the tradition revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. We must remember we come out of this tradition of self-examination and self-criticism – exercising the courage to speak truth to power. This is a day to remember who we are and whose we are, and to act accordingly, devoting ourselves to the Apostle’s teaching, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Jesus call us so that we might share in the vision of life as articulated in words of Hebrew Scripture and the Prophets – that we might have life and have it abundantly.


No comments:

Post a Comment