The root of the word "scandal" relates to tripping over or falling into a trap. Holy Week, Passover Week, reminds that each of us will find something to be "scandalized" by at the depth of other peoples' stories. Inside America, the virtues of pluralism, tolerance, good will, and interfaith neighborliness generally rule, and that's all to the very good. But interfaith amity cannot mean that the stories get blended. George Santayana noted: "Every living and healthy religion has a marked idiosyncrasy. Its power consists in its special and surprising message and in the bias which that revelation gives to life."
This week some of the opportunities to offend and scandalize are occurring in concert halls, for example where Johann Sebastian Bach's "Passion According to St. John" resounds. This year, 250 years after Bach's death, has inspired more than the usual number of discussions of that piece. It's my own favorite sacred composition in the corpus of a composer I hold almost sacred. Around me in the audience are multitudes of Jews, there to appreciate the music and sense the sacred, even as they hear "offensive" and "scandalizing" references to "the Jews" coming from the Gospel of John. What goes on, and what might we understand, about these public encounters?
The conflict between two sets of Jews in the family quarrel of the first century (A.D.!), preserved in texts, became grievously distorted in antisemitism and its consequences. But the Gospel and the music will not go away, and cannot be wrenched from those who read truth in the first and hear beauty in the second. (It also "scandalizes" believers to be asked to forget, abandon, or destroy their 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 sensitive to how these messages resound in the neighbor's ears. And now we diverse subpublics of citizens tell and sing our stories for another year, and come to the separate tables of the Passover Seder and the Lord's Supper -- hoping to contribute to shalom, to reconciliation, and, in the end, to the common good.