Twenty inches of snow blanketed Chicago on a January day in 1979. A year earlier thirteen inches had fallen in one day.
“Let’s buy a Jeep with a plow” my friend proposed. I had a garage and was persuaded. Minimal snow fell the next two winters, but monthly invoices for the Jeep kept arriving.
“I wish someone would steal the Jeep,” I said flippantly. Within a week the Jeep was gone. My friend had arranged for a theft. “I thought you wanted the Jeep stolen,” my friend said to me.
“But I didn’t mean what I said,” was my feeble reply.
Following the riots of 66CE, the Judean Free Government took control of Jerusalem. In 70, the Roman army attacked and seized Jerusalem, destroying the temple and sacking the Lower City. Ten years later, Matthew writes his gospel to an audience living with the memory of the temple’s destruction, fear of possible provocation of the Roman overlords and disagreements between Matthew’s Christian Jewish group and the Pharisaic groups living in tension over the future of Judaism.
To placate the Roman authorities, Matthew writes, “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:3-4). Matthew tells us that even Pilate knew Jesus was innocent of charges made against him.
It made good sense at the time. Matthew wanted no more trouble from the Romans; he even compliments the Romans for their wisdom, telling readers Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. So Matthew blames the death of Jesus on us, his Jewish brothers and sisters. We did it.
Matthew’s book became sacred scripture and the words he wrote took on a new life. My friend, with whom I purchased the Jeep, is Jewish. He lived on the southeast side of Chicago and as a child couldn’t understand how he had killed Christ, an accusation frequently leveled against him.
Eleven of our Jewish brothers and sisters were murdered in the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27. The alleged killer shouted, “All Jews need to die!” while on his murderous rampage.
We are part of the problem. Call it the law of unintended consequences. Matthew wrote what he wrote for what appeared to be a good reason at the time of his writing, to protect his Jewish brothers and sisters from further Roman attacks.
In an essay of Martin Luther written late in his life, entitled, “About the Jews and Their Lies,” he condemned the Jews for not converting to Christianity. If they refuse to convert, he wrote, “then we must drive them out like mad dogs, lest we partake in their abominable blasphemy and vices, deserving God’s wrath and being damned along with them.” Luther’s teachings have been quoted as justification by anti-Semites throughout history and were used most notably by Adolph Hitler.
In 1994, the ELCA adopted a declaration rejecting Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism, “We reject this violent invective, and more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations. …Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred, moreover, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people…We recognize in anti-Semitism a contradiction and an affront to the Gospel.”
Before an audience of more than 450 people, both Jewish and Lutheran, on November 13, 1994, at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, Bishop Sherman Hicks proclaimed, “We confess our sins. We repent for the wrong that has been done. We ask for forgiveness. As a bishop of the church, it is with humility and gratitude that I present this declaration to the Jewish community.” Bishop Hicks then presented a large plaque inscribed with a copy of the church’s declaration repudiating Luther’s teachings to two Jewish representatives.
Verbal slurs against our Jewish brothers and sisters can never cross our lips and must be expunged from our hearts.
Friday, November 2 at 8:15, an Interfaith Shabbat Service of Healing and Solidarity will be held at Congregatin Etz Chaim, 1710 S. Highland Ave in Lombard. Senior Rabbi Andrea Cosnowsky and Congregation Etz Chaim have invited members of Lutheran Church of the Master and people from throughout the western suburbs to come together to pray, heal and inspire hope.
P.S. My friend and I drove to the far southwest side of Chicago and retrieved our “stolen” Jeep. We remain good friends.