Read Sermon


Jew and Gentile

An address by Fr John Slater

07 March 2004 11:00 | Fr John Slater

Mel Gibson is creating quite a storm with his new film - The Passion. The issue is that, like the Passion Play at Oberammagau, it is very literal in its closeness to the biblical text. There’s no doubting that most of the gospels, especially St John, place the blame for the death of Jesus on the Jews - his blood be upon us and upon our children. St Luke, writing his Gospel for gentiles, exonerates the Jews and puts the blame for the death of Jesus on the Romans. Jews round the world are outraged and are sure that the film will stir up anti-Semitism. But we should remember that anti-Semitism s not something that begins with Christianity. There was widespread anti-Semitism in the Roman Empire where they were sometimes prosecuted under to the Roman law, odium humani generis - hatred of the human race.

It was thought very clever of Mel Gibson to make the film using only Latin and Aramaic - to make it really authentic. But at the time, Romans in Judaea would not be Italians but recruited local and would have spoken Greek, not Latin. So much for authenticity!

The issue in today’s Gospel is this very thing. Jesus the Jew meets a woman from Canaan - someone he would not normally even speak to - and when she speaks to him with the deepest reverence, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David, my daughter is grievously ill with a devil, he answered her not a word. So great was the barrier between them. And that barrier was entirely on the Jewish side. Every other racial and religious group in the world tolerated each other and identified their own gods with the gods of other nations. But the Jews were exclusive. There was only one God and that God had chosen the Jews - he had not chosen other peoples who remained outside any relationship with the one God and could look forward only to eternal punishment. No wonder Jews were not popular!

When the disciples tell Jesus to send the woman away, he finally speaks to her and says, I am not sent, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him saying, Lord, help me. Strangely, it is the Canaanite woman, the pagan beyond hope of salvation, who reaches across the Jewish-Gentile divide. Jesus says to her something that seems to us deeply offensive, It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs. She replies, not taking any offence at his words, Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the master’s table. And Jesus, clearly moved by her obvious faith, said to her, O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

It seems that Jesus himself learns something deeper about the nature of the human race. He breaks out of the straightjacket of the religious tradition in which he has been brought up. And doesn’t our world need just the same thing - breaking out of the straitjacket in which we have been brought up whether it is Christian fundamentalism or fundamentalist Islam or fundamentalist Judaism. I’m glad to say that it is only a small minority of Christians, and I’m sure that does’t include any of us, or Jews who regard anyone outside their religion as condemned to eternal damnation. Let’s all do our part to make our own religion more tolerant and more inclusive.

Cookies used on this website
New EU legislation requires that all web sites clearly specify the presence of cookies and their purpose. Cookies are used to enhance the user experience. StGeorges uses Google Analytics to track activity on its site, helping to keep the site relevant and easier to use, via the use of these cookies . For an enhanced site experience, consumers will need to consent to the use of StGeorges cookies. A preference cookie, that will become available to you when you choose the ‘I agree’ button, will be a long-life cookie that will not automatically clear when you close the browser window. If you manually delete this cookie you will need to re-confirm your preferences every time you next visit this website, unless you choose accept the long life option.