Lectionary Readings: Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
PROBLEMATIC PASSAGES: Gospel reading: John 2:13-25 — This reading has 2 problematic passages.
PROBLEM PASSAGE #1: John 2:18
Current lectionary reading: At this, the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
WHY IS THIS PROBLEMATIC? The phrase “the Jews” is a generalization, bringing to mind, not individual people with individual characteristics, but an amorphous throng. It also makes it appear that all Jews objected to or challenged Jesus. We know that this is not the case, since, e.g., Jesus’ mother was Jewish as were his disciples. This wording comes early in John’s gospel, but John’s habit of speaking of “the Jews” collectively is found throughout his gospel. By the end of his account, “the Jews” are being held responsible for Jesus’ death. (In John 19:14b-15, for example, we read: “[Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold your king.’ They cried out, ‘Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!’”)
Tragically, this created a portrait of the Jewish people as “Christ-killers,” a portrayal that has come down through history, strengthening anti-Semitism and fostering prejudice and discrimination against the Jewish community. It has given ammunition to bigots, manipulative politicians and dictators. The image of Jews as “Christ-killers” has contributed to the torture and death of millions of Jews by purveyors of hatred. Surely John and the other New Testament writers–followers of Jesus, the Lord of love–did not intend to unleash upon the world such defamation and horror.
SUGGESTED ALTERNATIVE READING #2 — FOR JOHN 2:18
“At this, some of the Jewish leaders answered and said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?” [This phrasing is used in TheHoly Bible: Contemporary English Version (N.Y.: American Bible Society, 1995)]
“At this, the authorities answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?
“At this, some of those present answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”
WHAT ELSE CAN A MINISTER DO?
Comment on it in your sermon: A minister might say something brief and simple such as: “As we hear the words of John”s Gospel, let us not think that the phrase ‘the Jews’ refers to some group that is different from and hostile to Jesus. After all, Jesus himself was a Jew, as were Mary and Joseph, all of the rest of his family and all the Apostles. We must not let words like this take on an anti-Judaic connotation in our minds nor contribute to anti-Semitism. Let us rather acknowledge and give thanks for the Jewishness of Jesus and of the Jewish roots of our own Christian faith.”
Deepen one’s own understanding: See this website’s bibliography, which lists a number of helpful books with suggestions for creative ways to discuss and preach about this subject.
Sunday bulletin: Include a commentary on the reading which will help worshippers understand the negative ways that the phrase “the Jews” has been used in the past. Caution against reacting to the phrase in ways that can inspire or reinforce anti-Judaism.
Bible study: Invite church members to a Bible study to look more closely at this whole issue. Use a book like Removing Anti-Judaism from the Pulpit (see bibliography) to help guide the discussion. Suggestion: To kick off the Bible study, ask someone to read in sequence John 18:12-14, 19-20, 29-31, 35-36; John 19:6-7, 12, 14-16, 19-22, 31, 38; John 20:19. Then ask the group to discuss, e.g.: “What impression of ‘the Jews‘ and their role in Jesus‘ crucifixion do these verses convey? Do you think that reading these words in the Sunday worship can inspire or reinforce anti-Judaism? How did you yourselves react to these readings?”
The church’s website: Include a section on these issues. Suggest books that church members might read (see this website’s bibliography) to deepen their own understanding.
Sunday school classes: After meeting with and orienting teachers, introduce this subject in both adult and children’s classes. The latter are especially important, since children form their ideas of “the other” early on.
Have a speaker on the subject: Invite someone with experience in Jewish-Christian relations and knowledge of the biblical issues to speak at a special gathering (e.g., a night meeting) at the church. (See the resources elsewhere in this website for names of such speakers.)
PROBLEMATIC PASSAGE #2: John 2:20
“The Jews said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?’”
WHY IS THIS PROBLEMATIC? Since the phrase “The Jews” repeats John 2:18, please refer to the preceding commentary which considers that verse.
SUGGESTED ALTERNATIVE WORDING #3 — FOR JOHN 2:20
The leaders said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?”
The temple authorities said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?”
WHAT MORE CAN A MINISTER DO?
For other suggestions on “What Can a Minister Do?”, see the preceding commentary