As I’ve weaved in and out of church groups over the years, sharing my story with the people I met there, someone with an interest in apologetics always wants to know: when was the moment you read the Bible and realized that the Old Testament points to Jesus?
There was no such moment like that for me – my reasons for conversion, I’m now able to say, had nothing to do with apologetics and everything to do with a desire to fulfill spiritual needs that simply weren’t being met in the religion of my birth.
The fact of the matter is, I avoided certain parts of the Gospels on purpose because I couldn’t reconcile their anti-semitic history with faith in the God I was beginning to know.
I’m still not sure what to make of the passages that are commonly recited at Easter time (Matthew 27:25 in particular, “His blood be on us and on our children!”), in which the Jews are depicted as bloodthirsty hounds who seem to crave violence. In this anti-semitic -sounding reading, Jesus isn’t a long-predicted sacrifice necessary for human redemption. Instead, he’s a helpless murder victim. A target of his own people.
And such passages made it easy to justify violence against the Jews for hundreds and hundreds of years.
So what do I do with these passages now? For a while, I skipped over them, figuring I already understood the nuts and bolts of the gospel story. I struggled mainly with the application part: walking the walk, not simply talking the talk.
But when Easter rolls around each year, I’m forced to address these passages again. All the memories of being called a “Christ-killer” from childhood come flooding back.
To be honest, I don’t understand how those ugly accusations fit with the tradition that I have found (and really, according to basic Christian theology, I thought we all killed Jesus with our sin?). In Christianity – now in the Anglican denomination – I found a path to a one-on-one connection with God that didn’t exist in my family’s tradition of Reform Judaism (or at least, I was never told about it).
Most of all, the idea of a God in human skin who felt all the gritty things every human body feels intrigued me. I wanted to know that God.
Focusing on the Jewishness of Jesus helps me. Just because certain passages of Scripture can be used to justify Jewish discrimination doesn’t mean that’s how they were intended to be applied. To quote Ani DiFranco, “Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.”
I know those less-than-savory (dare I call them “ugly”?) passages are there. I can’t ignore them. But if Judaism has taught me anything, it’s the art of nuance, of holding good things in tension with the not-so-good.
I’m okay with the knowledge that the Bible is more than just a history of God and his relationship with us – it’s also a deeply political work, and a product of its times. It contains the very best and worst of human nature, and that is one compelling reason why it is worth reading.
In summary, I hold fast to what is good, and pledge to wrestle with the rest. That is the Jewish way of reading the Bible; the only way I know how.