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The Gospel according to John

Following the betrayal of Judas and the arrest of Jesus, he was brought before Caiaphas and members of the Sanhedrin. At the trial, he was found guilty because he proclaimed he was the Son of God. That was blasphemy and the punishment was death! Unlike John, the evangelist, Luke, in his gospel,(Ch 23) clearly states that the following morning, the whole assembly led Christ to Pilate and stated their case against Jesus.

Pilate questioned Jesus at length and brought him into the small courtyard, outside the praetorium where the Jewish elders had assembled and told them he found no fault with that just man. Pilate then asked Caiaphas and the elders as to why they could not take Jesus and try him according to their own laws. They answered, “We are not allowed to put anyone to death.” (John: Ch.18:31.) Pilate had every intention of releasing Jesus and washed his hands, because he did not want the blood of an innocent man on his conscience. The Jewish Elders cried out, “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.” (Matt: Ch.27: 25.) The Elders reminded Pilate that Jesus said he was a King. That was treason and a grave offence against Imperial Rome, and if he were released, Pilate would be no friend of Caesar. Pilate asked them what he should do with their King and Caiaphas and Jewish elders cried out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!

There is a major problem with John’s passion narrative. It is anti-Jewish, not only the language, but the whole tone and viewpoint. John’s account uses the word “Jews” that implies to the reader or the listener it was the Jewish people who stood against Jesus and called for his death. This, leads to Catholics and the Catholic clergy to firmly believe it was the throngs of people who greeted him with shouts of adulation and laid palm branches in his path, are the very same faithless Jews, who, a few days later, yelled for his crucifixion. Pilate is the one who would have willingly saved Jesus, but was forced to give in to the threats of the Jewish Elders.

Furthermore it is baffling as to why the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, over the centuries, have ignored this and have failed to bring it to the attention of its followers that it was the Jewish Elders who called for his death and not the Jewish people. They also failed to emphasize that among the throngs of people who witnessed the triumphant entry of Christ was Caiaphas, the High Priest and other members of the Sanhedrin. It scared the living daylights out of him. He did not fail to notice that here was a troublemaker, a rabble rouser who the crowds were hailing as a King – a King who had no legions to command and had entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey!

The Jewish people, at that time, had some autonomy. They were free to practise their religion and celebrate their feast days. He feared even that would be taken away. Caiaphas turned to the others and proposed, “It would be better for one man to die than have the whole nation suffer.” (John: ch. 18: 14)  From that moment on, they plotted to have Jesus killed.

It is truly a shame, no Catholic priest, during the narrative of the passion, reminds the congregation that Jesus willingly accepted his death to atone for the sins of all mankind and, in his infinite mercy, forgave us. Instead, the congregation is encouraged to loudly proclaim, “Let his blood be upon us and on our children” Over the centuries, those words have been used as justification for the bigoty, indiscrimination and unspeakable crimes that resulted in the extermination of six million Jews.

In 1095, Pope Urban II made the war against the infidels righteous for the men who took part in it. He preached a rousing sermon, calling on Europe’s knights to free the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslims. This, he told them was God’s will and the crowds cheered. Crusaders were given crosses blessed by the clergy and were promised spiritual benefits and forgiveness of sins. As they moved eastward, they unleashed the basest cruelties against the Jews. They fell on defenceless Jewish communities, secure in the conviction they were in a holy war against the enemies of God. Many a crusader wondered why he had to travel great distances to kill the infidels, when they were right there.

When we think of Jews being forced to wear the Star of David, we think of Hitler. Yet, it wasn’t Hitler who initiated that. It was the Catholic Church. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215 A.D.) renewed the Catholic Church’s terror against the Jews. Documents of that Council clearly state Christian Princes must watch, lest Jews exact too high interest of Christian debtors; baptized Jews may not observe Jewish customs; Jews may not appear in public during Holy Week; Jews must give tithes on their houses and other properties to the Church and pay a yearly tax at Easter; no Christian Prince may give office to a Jew under pain of excommunication; Jews must wear a distinctive dress from their twelfth year to distinguish them from Christians.

In his book, “The Holocaust: A Jewish Tragedy” Martin Gilbert, the noted British historian, tells us Holocaust survivors, returning to Poland to pick up the pieces and start all over, were greeted with Polish children hurling stones at them. One wonders what those kids were taught in their homes, their schools and in the Catholic Church.

However, years after World War II and the Holocaust, Pope Pope John XXIII, made the historic decision to address the relationship of the Catholic Church to Non-Christians, particularly the Jewish people. He had succeeded Pope Pius XII. He was an elderly person, with health issues. The Cardinals and other high ranking clergy were sure he would be just an interim Pope. In his infinite wisdom and courage, Pope John XXIII, convened Vatican II (1962-1965.) He called upon Cardinal Bea to spearhead the Council that would deal with the Church’s relationship to the Jews. Cardinal Bea, in an address, stunned the Council when he admitted that anti-Jewish ideas had helped NAZISM!

The most important document of Vatican II was NOSTRA AETATE. Biblical scholars among the Council Fathers pressed for having on record, a reference to the Gospel accounts that relate the involvement of Jewish leaders in the arrest and death of Christ. This involvement has, in fact, been a basic element in the thesis that the Jewish people therefore were guilty of the death of Jesus — a thesis held and pushed to extreme consequences from early times to the present. The Vatican Council repudiates the thesis and its consequences. The Council stressed that what happened in His passion cannot be blamed upon all Jews and they should not be presented as repudiated or cursed by God. Cardinal Bea further explained that the cry of the Jewish Elders, “His blood be upon us and upon our children” had no right to speak for the whole Jewish people. The Council further reminded the faithful that Christ willingly suffered his passion to atone for the sins of mankind and in his infinite mercy forgave us all.

The Catholic Church is to be commended for Vatican II and it was hoped it would put an end to the sad and dark chapter in the history of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, it did not. Anti-Semitism has raised its ugly head again. So has the religious right. Synagogues have been defaced with swastikas. Worshippers have been ruthlessly gunned down and Jewish graves have been desecrated. With the raging and explosive war in the Holy Land, giving way to Anti-Semitism spreading like an unstoppable, uncontrolled roaring wildfire, it is sincerely hope the present Pope will have the wisdom and the courage of Pope John XXIII and address this heart breaking issue, that brought such untold sorrow and suffering to mankind.

Please feel free to contact me at: lmichael@smarttmail.com

About the Author
Originally from Mumbai, India. Studied, trained and worked in Mumbai, Munich, Germany and Toronto, Canada. For many years, Leslie owned and operated a printing company where he printed everything, except money! Currently retired. Married with four children (four too many.)