Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Evil Tenants, Cornerstones & the Sin of the Church

The liturgical police gave me a summons for incorrect use of the lectionary.  Yesterday’s post was based on a passage from Mark that was used last week, not this week.  Sorry about that.  To get back on track, Wednesday’s gospel reading from Mark records an odd parable Jesus told about a farmer who leased out his land to tenants who refused to pay their rent.  He sent several agents to collect, each of whom they beat up or killed.  Finally he sent his son.  The tenants seized and killed him, figuring, according to the parable, that they would now be the undisputed owners.  

That was the end of the parable.  Then Jesus asked his listeners what they thought the owner would do next.  Send troops, kill the tenants, and lease it out to more honorable people, they said.  Jesus ended the encounter by citing Psalm 118 about the rejected cornerstone, a stone that was God’s own marvelous work, a living stone who would live, not die, no matter what humans tried to do.   The meaning of the parable was not lost on religious and political leaders.  It gave them one more reason to get rid of this trouble maker before he could do real damage.  Who did he think he was, Son of God?

To the shame of the Christian Church, it was this parable, together with other scripture passages used in Holy Week, that appeared to authorize Christians to round up a bunch of local Jews to beat and kill on the grounds that they were the evil tenants, while Christians were the new tenants, the righteous avengers of God, the aggrieved owner, whose son they killed.  It all happened a long time ago in the Dark Ages, the work of ignorant people, and we’re not like that anymore.  Except we are.  The holocaust of WWII didn’t pop out of nowhere.  It was the culmination of centuries of anti-Jewish laws and pogroms that permeated the whole of European Christian culture.  We have not yet learned our lesson.  The resurgence of anti-Jewish fervor is obvious in every place where ultra-nationalism, white supremacy, and neo-Nazi movements gain traction.  And they gain traction where common, ordinary, everyday anti-Jewish prejudice is tolerated without objection, perhaps even with a chuckle.  

It may be that the secularized West is no longer dominated by church going Christians, but the Holy Week sentiment lingers, aided by radical voices with access to radio, t.v. and social media; abetted by disinterested church going Christians who turn the other way.  


If Holy Week is a time for deep examination of self and Church, this lesson, and the history that emanates from it requires truth be told, confession be made, and repentance of life begun again. 

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