Summary: ‘Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples.'
Thursday of Easter Week 2017
Joy of the Gospel
I have often been amazed as I have spent the last three years reflecting on Pope Francis’s encyclical Joy of the Gospel, how the Thursday Scriptures mesh so well with the various themes the Holy Father visits. Today he is writing about our relationships with the Jewish people. Peter has a very first-century take on that topic–an accusatory one.
The story is continuing from yesterday’s reading. Peter and John have, in the name of Jesus, cured a man who had from birth been unable to walk. The man is still a little unsteady, so he is clinging to the apostles for support. The miracle has caused a crowd to gather, a perfect time to preach the healing as one of the joys of the Gospel. Peter speaks in a very stark manner: God glorified His servant, Jesus, but you Jews made Pilate condemn and kill Him. Despite your killing the Author of Life, God raised Him up. And this healing is God’s way of validating our claims.
So far, Peter’s words would only enrage the crowd. But then He takes a cue from Jesus’s first words from the cross–Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Peter tells the Jews that they were acting from ignorance, and that the very act of murdering Jesus was, in fact, the atonement for the sin they committed and for all other sin. All they needed to do was repent and receive the refreshing forgiveness available from the Church.
In the optimistic days after Pentecost, it must have seemed to Peter and John and the others that all Jews, and then all Gentiles, would accept the Gospel of Jesus. Indeed, the Church grew very quickly. But the Jewish leaders had no worldly incentive to support this “Jesus movement,” and many reasons to oppose it, even to the extent of persecution and further martyrdoms. Jesus had predicted this, and it came true. Relations between Jews and Catholics have been strained at times, but the Church has never in its teachings condoned or encouraged the kind of hostility that led to the Holocaust.
The Pope tells us, ‘We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.
‘Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.
‘God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism. While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.’
The plain truth is that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. The covenant between Abraham and the Father is brought to completion in the Son, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Christ did suffer and rise from the dead; we need to take every opportunity to proclaim that joyful fact to all, and perhaps especially, as we can, to the Jews.