The root of the word "scandal" relates to tripping over or fallinginto a trap. Holy Week, Passover Week, reminds that each of us willfind something to be "scandalized" by at the depth of other peoples'stories. Inside America, the virtues of pluralism, tolerance, goodwill, and interfaith neighborliness generally rule, and that's all tothe very good. But interfaith amity cannot mean that the stories getblended. George Santayana noted: "Every living and healthy religionhas a marked idiosyncrasy. Its power consists in its special andsurprising message and in the bias which that revelation gives tolife."
This week some of the opportunities to offend and scandalize areoccurring in concert halls, for example where Johann Sebastian Bach's"Passion According to St. John" resounds. This year, 250 years afterBach's death, has inspired more than the usual number of discussionsof that piece. It's my own favorite sacred composition in the corpusof a composer I hold almost sacred. Around me in the audience aremultitudes of Jews, there to appreciate the music and sense thesacred, even as they hear "offensive" and "scandalizing" referencesto "the Jews" coming from the Gospel of John. What goes on, and whatmight we understand, about these public encounters?
The conflict between two sets of Jews in the family quarrel of thefirst century (A.D.!), preserved in texts, became grievouslydistorted in antisemitism and its consequences. But the Gospel andthe music will not go away, and cannot be wrenched from those whoread truth in the first and hear beauty in the second. (It also"scandalizes" believers to be asked to forget, abandon, or destroytheir own stories and ways.) What to do?
Vast tasks of reinterpretation have to go on, are going on. There*are* ways to tell and observe our "idiosyncratic" and "special" and"surprising" messages that make citizens not less but more sensitiveto how these messages resound in the neighbor's ears. And now wediverse subpublics of citizens tell and sing our stories for anotheryear, and come to the separate tables of the Passover Seder and theLord's Supper -- hoping to contribute to shalom, to reconciliation,and, in the end, to the common good.