By Viola Larson, Naming His Grace.
If a biblical lesson starts off with a false assumption about the text the whole text is inadequately explained. The second lesson of the Presbyterian Women’s Bible study, Who is Jesus? What a Difference a Lens Makes, begins with a half-truth. The lesson, “According to Matthew,” written by Judy Yates Siker, is written around the assumption that the Jewish community and the Christian community were in conflict with each other because of the fall of Jerusalem.
In the midst of the crisis Siker believes each community was attempting to find their identity minus the sacrificial system. The Jewish community found their identity in the Law while the Christian community found their identity in Jesus and his interpretation of the law
Siker’s point is that Matthew and the community he was writing for were involved in a debate and the Christian side of the debate involved “derogatory remarks and venomous hate speech” which the author of the text placed in Jesus’ mouth. The words of the Jews at the trial of Jesus, that his blood should be on them and their children, is also blamed on the crisis of the community rather than the truth of history. Siker puts it this way:
“As we noted at the beginning of this lesson, the Gospel of Matthew was written at a time when there was great turmoil among the Jews; the temple at Jerusalem had recently been destroyed for a second (and final) time, and the Jews were struggling to determine for themselves what it meant to be a good Jew in the wake of this disaster. There were those who believed that even without the temple (and thus the sacrificial system) it was possible to remain strong in their faith because they had the Torah and could not only survive, but thrive, by living in accordance with God’s revealed law. They did not believe that the messiah had come. We call them non-messianic Jews. There were however, others who believed that the messiah had come—Jesus of Nazareth—and that he had fulfilled the Jewish law, he had offered the definitive understanding of the law; thus, through belief in him and his teachings, Jewish faith could flourish. We call these Messianic Jews.”
Siker goes on to explain that the non-messianic Jews evolved into rabbinic Judaism while the Messianic Jews became Christians. She writes that we are looking at an “in-house debate” and “sibling rivalry.” Siker’s explanation, “the mistake that many Christians have made over the centuries is to take the in-house Jewish debate from the first century, adopt its animosity and use it to denigrate the Jews across time. The misuse of our Scripture has resulted in centuries of anti-Semitism, culminating with the horrors of the Holocaust.”
While Siker’s concerns about hatred of the Jews are valid and compassionate, her understanding of the text and history is very confusing and wrong. It is a tangle that needs undoing.