January 28, 2004
We're Like That
"He was despised and rejected by men, a man of
sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from
whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we
esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3).
In the next few weeks a new Bible movie is going to
hit the screen. Mel Gibson's "The Passion" has been
arousing much interest, both positive and negative. A
couple of things that make this film different is the
use of the original languages throughout, and the
intense (and likely accurate) graphical portrayal of
the final sufferings of the Messiah.
One of the concerns that has been expressed on the
part of some Jewish leaders is that the movie puts the
Jewish people in a bad light.
I agree with their concern. For most of the history of
the Church, the Gospel's depiction of the Jewish
rejection of Jesus has been used against us. Even
though this negative sentiment is not supported in the
pages of the New Testament, the Church has been slow
to fully recant these wrong notions. Therefore the
Jewish community is being reasonable in feeling
The abuse experienced by the Jewish people, is partly
responsible for our not accepting the depiction of the
Jewish leaders' role in the Gospel story. This is
tragic, since it clouds the intended message.
The fact is, whether or not we accept the historical
accuracy of the Gospel story, the behavior of the
leadership in Yeshua's day is so typical. Whenever
someone appears on the scene, who apparently is
challenging the way things are done, current
leadership gets edgy.
Not only is this an understandable reaction, it should
be expected. The Jewish leadership at the time of
Yeshua was responsible to make sure that the people
were taught the truth. It was their responsibility to
scrutinize newcomers, especially those who appeared to
be radically different.
That they rejected him is also not unusual. Do we
think so highly of ourselves that we are so sure that
we have the ability to recognize truth when it is
presented to us? Truth is hard to take, especially
when we feel personally threatened. If Joseph was
rejected by his brothers, Moses by the elders of the
community, and David persecuted by Saul, is it so
unusual that the Jewish religious leaders would reject
Similarly the others involved in the story: Pilate as
the Roman governor decides to condemn the Messiah for
political reasons rather than out of a sense of
justice; a mob crying out for blood not really
understanding what is going on; even his own fearful
followers deserting him in the midst of his greatest
need. There is nothing unusual about this kind of
thing. It's all in keeping with what we know about
What has not helped the Jewish community throughout
the centuries is how one of the main lessons of this
part of the Gospel story has been missed. When you and
I read the attitudes and actions of the various people
involved, it is not for us to criticize them. We need
to look at ourselves, and see how we tend to be like
them. It is so easy to reject the things that God is
seeking to do in our lives.
The Jewish people have been chosen by God as an
example to the other nations of the world. God decided
to use our successes and failures to be his object
lessons for everyone else. Whatever happened to the
Jewish people in the pages of Scripture is there to
show us what the rest of us would have done had we
been in those same situations. Our response needs to
be one of humility and soul searching in the hope that
we would not fall into these same traps.
It is only when we respond to the Gospel message in
this way, that we will truly get the message.