As a priest, I brought stole, Bible, prayer book, cup and bread. Asa rabbi, he brought prayer shawl, Bible, prayer book, cup and bread.
Some in our respective traditions would have been offended by ourpresentation. But our point was to affirm mutual respect, our commonheritage and faith in the one God.
In my childhood, Jews had a parallel culture -- their own countryclub, their own neighborhoods, their own law firms, their own athleticclub. When I tried to take a Jewish friend to my swimming club, he wastold to leave.
These ethnic animosities go way back. One could argue that the Bookof Genesis was written to explain why Semites were special in God'seyes. Israel's myths served to justify warfare against other tribes.
If much of Torah was grounded in ethnic hatred, so were the Gospels.Matthew and John seemed determined to reinforce hatred of Jews. Once theDay of Pentecost had passed, the New Testament drama turned on ethnictension: Did one have to become a Jew before being baptized?
It went both ways: Jews persecuted Christians, and Christians, oncethey got the upper hand, persecuted Jews. Christians and Jews have spentthe last 2,000 years hating each other.
The story of the Epiphany is more than a quaint incident involvingmysterious strangers from the East bringing gifts to baby Jesus.Matthew's point was that the first witnesses to Jesus were outsiders.
As Matthew tells it, established leaders like the Pharisees resistedJesus from the beginning. Small wonder. The Sermon on the Mount was arewriting of Torah and the declaration of a new beacon to the nations.Jesus railed against shallow piety, false prophets, ancient trees whosesap had dried up. In the end, his own people shouted for his death.
Perhaps in this Third Christian Millennium we will finally read thestory correctly. The point wasn't to condemn Jews. The point was thatMessiah was rejected by the religious people of his day. His enemieswere his own people, and not because they were Jews, but because theyrejected anyone who bade them take their tradition seriously.
The religious establishment, the pillars of temple and synagogue,saw in Jesus a threat to their privileges and self-serving world view.Rather than admire their finery, Jesus called them to account forabusing "the law and the prophets."
We cannot read this story as Christian vs. Jew. Not because it ispolitically incorrect to do so, but because it is an abuse of Scripture.In our various faith communities, we must ask whether rejecting someoneelse truly constitutes accepting God. Can anything worthwhile be builton hatred?
Speaking to my own tradition, I would ask, Does the religiousestablishment of our day welcome a gospel of new life, self-sacrifice,suffering servanthood, victory over money and control? Do the religiousof our day embrace a faith-world in which there is neither Jew norGreek, male nor female, slave nor free?
Have our churches become so immersed in the way Jesus lived that wehave torn down our walls of exclusion, abandoned our membership rules,given away our gold, frankincense and myrrh, left our safety to follow astar, put aside our pastor profiles and knelt before a child?
It isn't Jews who send Jesus outside the walls to die today. It'speople who enjoy the benefits of Christian community but resistdiscipleship. It is easier to hate and to blame than it is to repent andto accept unearned forgiveness.
Standing together before God isn't a sappy blurring of necessarylines. The rabbi and I weren't being nice. We were laying down our arms.We were looking for common ground.
That should be our business in the new millennium: Jew, Christian,Muslim, non-believer, male, female, straight, gay -- finding commonground, standing before God, our angry histories and our ferventopinions piled behind us like rifles we no longer need.
What salvation worth seeking can possibly be found in shedding theblood of another pilgrim?