Summary: How should Christians treat those of different cultures and traditions and religions?

Thursday of the 5th Week in course 2018


Our Scriptures today ought to be at least a little disturbing to us today. In first Kings, Solomon, who was the anointed of God, the heir to the great king David, apostatizes. He had what we can only call a “mess” of wives. “According to the biblical account, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. The wives were described as foreign princesses, including Pharaoh's daughter and women of Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon and of the Hittites.” These were certainly political marriages, arranged to help stabilize Solomon’s rule over an unmanageably large territory. They were his way of buying off the rulers of neighboring territories, so that they would not steal his land and people. But they came at a high price. First, the taking of foreign wives was expressly forbidden by divine commandment. Worse, they came with their own false gods, and, of course, wanted Solomon to build chapels so they could worship these false gods. They came with their own priests, and at least one of the gods demanded sacrifice of human firstborn children. So the biblical author rightly calls them “abominations.”

Mark’s story here in the Gospel seems to cast Jesus as a bigot. He appears to be calling this Syro-Phoenician woman a “dog.” Her only offense appears to be asking Jesus to heal her daughter, who was possessed or more likely obsessed by an evil spirit. Jesus’s response seems at least to be remarkably rude. After all, on several occasions he preached to and healed audiences of mixed Jewish and Gentile heritage. What’s going on?

Both of these stories deal with the question of how to approach the diversity of cultures that religious people face. So both stories are relevant to our Christian experience today, as well as the experience of the Protestant revolution. Jesus has commanded us to go to the whole world and preach the Gospel. The Church has done this for almost two thousand years. But of those who hear the Gospel, perhaps the majority either don’t get it, or if they understand the pleas and commands of Christ, they refuse to accept it. Of these, the most illogical are the Jews. Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews, but in and after His life on earth, most appear to have been at least indifferent to His voice. Many actively rejected it, and a significant number of these have stirred up anger and persecution against the Way. Saul, before his conversion, was one of these.

Saul became Paul, and he immediately began to beseech his fellow Jews to accept Jesus and be baptized into the Church. He was heard by many, who did become Christians, but rejected by more. Gentiles seemed more receptive to the Word. Paul was frustrated by the typical Jewish response, but not angered. He prayed for the Jews and for their conversion, so they might enjoy the peace and love of Christ. The Church has followed that example. Individual Christians and their political leaders sometimes oppressed the Jews. We are all sinners and that is a sin we must hate and oppose, like all forms of intolerance and persecution.

Luther’s revolution did not ignore the Jews. Early on in his movement, he set his “Lutherans” to convert the Jews. Most of them would have none of it. Luther was grieved, but he was also angry, angry enough late in his life to publish a book of 65,000 words that was actively anti-Semitic. It was titled “Von den Juden und ihren Lügen,” or About the Jews and Their Lies. It was, everybody agrees, hateful and vitriolic. He called Lutherans to burn down their synagogues, destroy their prayer books and Talmud, burn their homes and confiscate their wealth. ‘They should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection, and "these poisonous envenomed worms" should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. He also seems to advocate their murder, writing "[W]e are at fault in not slaying them".’ (Wikipedia summary with documentation) It is easy to see how the Nazis could have felt supported in the last century by such language. Today all Christians see that such language, born of frustration and anger, may have seemed reasonable to Luther. But he was wrong, wrong, wrong.

So how should Christians, especially Catholics, treat those of different cultures and traditions and religions? First, we must live our own faith boldly in public and private. That means live in charity and justice. Second, we must always be ready, as Paul tells us, to explain and defend our faith to others, and to invite them to fellowship in Christ. And above all, we must treat others kindly and mercifully so that all see how we love each other and our Lord.

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