“Strangers no longer”: Dr. Murray Watson reflects on The Truth Between Us series

(These introductory reflections on “The Truth Between Us” blog series come from my friend and collaborator on this project, Dr. Murray Watson. He will regularly offer his insights and analysis, especially in his field, Jewish-Christian relations. Here he offers his own thoughts on the process of reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, and his own involvement in this developing tale. – LB)

I remember the first time I was ever invited to give a d’var Torah in a synagogue. A local rabbi—a colleague and friend—called and asked me to come on a particular Sabbath. “It’s the Shabbat when we read parashat Amalek, the ancestor of all the enemies of the Jewish people throughout history,” he informed me. “Every year on that Shabbat, I invite a local Christian leader to speak to our congregation”. He was half-joking, but he was also half-serious, and I guess I could understand his logic. Yes, for much of the nearly 2000-year history Jews and Christians have shared, my religion and many of its followers have spoken and acted in ways that are dismissive, hurtful, destructive or murderous toward Jews. Whether it was the theological contempt of anti-Jewish teachings, or the rousing up of Christian crowds to avenge Jewish “deicide” … whether it was the subtle superiority Christians felt over their “blind” Jewish neighbours, or simply a combination of ignorance and inherited stereotypes, the Christian-Jewish relationship has most often been a bitter, conflicted and unpleasant one. That history is well documented and well known.

What is not so well known is the slow but consistent process of teshuvah and growth that my Catholic Church—and many other Christian churches—have been involved in since the 1940s. The horrific shock of the Shoah forced many Christians to grapple with their received teachings, and to ask themselves how a religion supposedly based on love and mercy could have been twisted in ways that were so toxic to Jews for so many centuries. Since 1965, a steady stream of official Catholic documents, and several papal visits to Israel, and to Jewish synagogues, has borne witness to a dramatic and unparalleled transformation in religious history. Today, in much of the world, Jews and Catholics are good friends, colleagues and partners. Without ignoring the wounds of the past, we are building a new different kind of future together. We are strangers to each other no longer.

I am privileged to be part of that generation, and to have been actively involved in Jewish-Christian relations for close to 20 years now. That journey has stretched and enlightened me, has enriched my faith as a Christian, and has challenged me on many levels. It has given me a wonderful circle of Jewish friends and colleagues, in Canada, in Israel and elsewhere, with whom to explore questions of faith and Scripture, and to reflect together on questions both ancient and modern. Being part of that journey has been a great gift in my life, and it has had a major impact on my studies and research.

Dr. Murray Watson and Pope Francis in Rome, at the ICCJ meeting marking the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, June 2015.
Dr. Murray Watson and Pope Francis in Rome, at the ICCJ meeting marking the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, June 2015.

Perhaps Lazar Berman and I seem like an odd pair for this kind of conversation. But it is the fruit of several years of friendship, conversations, shared meals and visits during my time in Israel—and many, many e-mails when I am back home in Canada. Although we come from very different religious worlds, I have tremendous respect for Lazar and his faith, and am deeply grateful for the projects we have been able to work on together, as friends and partners. Tikkun olam, the mystics say, is our human task here on earth: to help repair the world as God would have it. I would like to hope that our friendship is one tiny component of that tikkun, and I ask God’s blessing on this undertaking, as we strive to understand each other’s beliefs and insights better—to honour God, and to help build a world of greater solidarity and peace, for Jews, for Christians, and ultimately for everyone.

Murray Watson is a Roman Catholic theologian and Biblical scholar based in southern Ontario, Canada. His graduate studies were done in Jerusalem, Rome and Dublin, and he now teaches for part of each year at Huron University College (London, Ontario), and for part of each year in Jerusalem, at the Ecce Homo Centre for Biblical Formation, in Jerusalem’s Old City. For the last 20 years, Murray has been active in Jewish-Christian engagement, dialogue and education, locally, nationally and internationally, and he frequently writes and speaks on topics relevant to contemporary Jewish-Christian relations.

About the Author
Lazar Berman, a former Times of Israel journalist, holds a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University. He has worked at the American Enterprise Institute, and served as a Chaplain-in-Residence at Georgetown. Lazar's writing has appeared in Commentary, the Journal of Strategic Studies, Mosaic, The American, and other outlets.
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