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The Rev. Dr. Robert M. Zanicky The Rev. Dr. Robert M. Zanicky

The Rev. Dr. Robert M. Zanicky is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Member of:

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Representative of:

First Presbyterian Church, Wilkes-Barre, PA


Rachel's Weeping Must Cease!

Matthew 2:13-23

December 30, 2001

Not long ago, a neighboring Orthodox synagogue was desecrated. Someone, some coward, some ignorant, some despicable individual or individuals threw feces onto the steps of our Jewish neighbor's synagogue. I spoke with the rabbi and offered my support and expressed my disgust. I have no doubt that this was an anti-Semitic expression--to be condemned by Christians everywhere.

Several weeks before that, I stood next to another Jewish temple in an adjacent town and saw painted in black on the outside temple walls-"Jews" and swastikas. I spoke with the president of the temple and offered my support.

Others and I wept, standing before this beautiful synagogue, viewing the horrible, destructive symbols of hate splattered upon our neighbor's house of worship. Anti-Semitism is still present among us, from small towns to large cities, and we must speak out against such hatred.

We Christians have just celebrated Christmas, the birth of the Christ Child. With the amalgamation of Matthew's and Luke's birth narratives, we have set up our nativity scenes. Angels have spoken to Mary and Joseph in different Gospels. We have looked heavenward for the star. The Magi, along with the shepherds, arrive at the manger scene, and all is at peace! Is it not? "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace...." Isn't that how it goes?

We can put away the creche for another year. It's back to the same old, same old. The gifts have been distributed and New Year's Eve is just around the corner. "Drinks on me!"

But I hear, I continue to hear voices out in the night, when the moon is dark and the sky is black. No, they are not just voices; they are cries. There is weeping in the night.

Joseph has another dream. This time he is to get his new family out of town. They are to be displaced because they are in danger.

Some powerful people fear the newborn Jewish baby. But, after all, he is only a baby! However, some want him dead, eradicated. How Jewish is this? The family travels south to Egypt. You recall the other baby the powers that be wanted dead? Moses! Indeed, many children were slaughtered! And it happens once again in Bethlehem.

The weeping prophet Jeremiah witnesses ever so powerfully to all generations of injustice and bigotry.

A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children....

Jesus is safe for the time being, but other children, innocent children, die, and Rachel continues to weep.

Indeed, children are still suffering today due to injustice and bigotry. Children are dying today due to injustice and bigotry.

Rachel is weeping!

Today, I can only share one reason for her weeping. It has been a hideous and heinous cause for centuries of lament and weeping throughout Christian history. Anti-Judaism devolved into anti-Semitism.

Our Christian faith cannot--must not--countenance anti-Semitism!

It is antithetical to Jesus Christ, whose mother was a Jew, who himself was a Jew, and who has taught this world or is trying to teach this world that love, respect, acceptance, and community are God's calling to all of us!

Historically, Christianity has taken a dark and degrading position toward the very people whereof we speak the name Jesus Christ. Religiously, Christianity is more closely related to Judaism than any other faith tradition.

For millennia, we Christians have been the cause of Rachel's weeping. Thank God, following the horror of the holocaust, we Christians have begun to repent of our sins of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. But we still have a long way to go.

It is difficult for me to understand, let alone countenance, that in our own day and age many Christians view Judaism as passé and superseded-superseded by "right thinking" Christians.

And a child of Rachel weeps--his name is Jesus.

I can recall a particular presbytery meeting not that long ago. During an examination for ordination, a minister stood to his feet and wanted the candidate to affirm and articulate that Christianity is superior to all other religions and that the Reformed tradition is superior to all other Christian traditions. I felt as though I was back in the 19th century--marking out our next colonial conquest. Thankfully, the candidate did not give him what he wanted. The young man confessed a most Christian witness-and Rachel smiled.

Not long ago, a spokesperson for a significant Christian tradition declared God "intended that Judaism qua religion be temporary and preparatory...Judaism qua religion has been superseded...there is no Temple, no priesthood, no alter, no atonement, no forgiveness, no salvation, and no eternal hope in Judaism as a religion."

Well, you can't get much clearer than that! For many, all too many, that triumphal spirit is alive and well. And Rachel weeps!

The great universal message of our Jesus Christ has been eclipsed and made to fit a narrow, particularized, doctrinal expression. Instead of realizing that all experience is particular, and the universal is expressed through the particular, there are those who take their particularity and universalize it. Its consumption is necessary in order to be in the "true and correct group."

How narrow! How destructive! How unchristian!

Over the centuries the continued existence of the Jews has been a special problem for Christians. The originally Jewish movement turned Gentile--non-Jewish--caused concern for Christianity. The Jewish "No" to Christianity's claims called for a response. Animosity on both sides was an early reaction. The use of polemic caught on early. The aggressive attacking of each other's principles was in high gear for those two developing faiths: Judaism and Christianity.

Early in our Christian history, Jews were to be looked upon as "killers of Christ." They were not to be killed, instead they were to be looked down upon and used as examples of God's rejection. Later, they were deprived of the rights of owning land, and other indignities were thrust upon them by the Christian civilization. Keep in mind-politics, religion, and culture were integrated.

Thankfully, thankfully, much is changing. Christians are beginning to realize their long-held destructive beliefs against Judaism. We are learning, slowly, but we are learning.

So much of what is learned about Jews and Judaism is learned from the pulpit. We ministers continue long-established beliefs often without questioning their legitimacy. We were taught such and such in seminary and from the pulpit and in Sunday School. This must be the truth! But for many this just won't do!

One Christian scholar writes, "If the general public remains theologically illiterate, if the acquisition of historical and ethical perspectives on religious affairs lies beyond the competence of our society, then the tendency of believers to love one another and to hate everybody else is far more likely to go unchecked. Dangerous habits cannot be broken unless they are named."

The name is anti-Judaism. It is pernicious and dangerous. It transcends itself, in that to name this is to be open to the naming of other dangerous hatreds of those who are different from us. Naming is not a comfortable thing to do, but comfort is not our total calling in life.

Feminist author Katharina von Kellenbach recalls what she heard, and still hears, from the Christian pulpit. "I remembered the many sermons and lectures which depicted the Sabbath as oppressive, Kahrut laws as hypocritical, Levites and Pharisees as chauvinists and Torah observance as blind submission under the heavy yoke of the Law. Even worse, Judaism was utterly male identified, patriarchal and sexist.... I had not been aware of any pre-judgments until I met my first Jew. My views of Judaism had not revealed themselves as warped and distorted because they had never been measured by and compared to reality."

There is the key to really getting to know someone, or someone's tradition! Get to know them. Let them speak for themselves. Let them tell you who they are, instead of only listening to your own tradition and its passionate vested interest.

Still today, Pharisees are taken for granted as hypocrites, blind guides, defective, inferior leaders.

Scriptures are read without recognizing the context of antagonism between the early Christians and Jews. "The Jews, His blood be on us and on our children," etc., are read and taken for gospel.

Judaism is presented as inferior, outdated, as though it ended two thousand years ago.

I recently heard a sermon speaking of Israel and the Jews declare, "Theologically, however, by the time of the prophets this vine brought out of Egypt reeked with the odor of corruption; its stalks were inefficient and ill-formed. As a metaphoric garden, it was overgrown with weeds; its fruits were eaten by vermin. Once-strong walls of faith now lay in ruinous destruction. The high tower of its spirituality was capsized and destroyed. As a symbol of a nation walking closely with God, the vine had forfeited its meaning."

And Rachel weeps. Rachel weeps.

Christianity is deemed superior, a thought that would not fall from the lips of Jesus Christ.

Daniel Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust chronicles the continued life of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. It is argued that Hitler could never have done what he did to the Jews without a climate, a culture, that would give him a hearing. Western culture fed on anti-Judaism for centuries.

Goldhagen writes:

For much of Western history, it is virtually impossible to be a Christian without being an anti-Semite of some stripe, without thinking ill of the people who rejected and reject Jesus and the moral order of the world derived from his teachings, from his revealed words. This is especially the case since Christians held the Jews responsible for Jesus' death.

Thank God that for the last 50 years daring Christian scholars have been facing this issue of anti-Judaism in our faith tradition. For them, for many of us, Jesus and the moral order that revolves around him, is such that it cries out against this anti-Judaism! So many of us today see this misinterpretation and its horror. The moral order of Christianity is one that includes those that reflect the ethics of love and justice.

God help us--Rachel has wept enough!

Not long ago, the New York Times published a full-page declaration, written and signed by over 150 Rabbis and Jewish scholars. I know it has been criticized from both ends of the spectrum, but it is a step in the right direction. It was called a "A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity." It begins:

In recent years, there has been a dramatic and unprecedented shift in Jewish and Christian relations. Throughout the nearly two millennia of Jewish exile, Christians have tended to characterize Judaism as a failed religion, or at best a religion that prepared the way for, and is completed in, Christianity. In the decades since the Holocaust, however, Christianity has changed dramatically. An increasing number of official church bodies, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have made public statements of their remorse about Christian mistreatment of Jews and Judaism. These statements have declared, furthermore, that Christian teaching and preaching can and must be reformed so that they acknowledge God's enduring covenant with the Jewish people and celebrate the contribution of Judaism to world civilization and to Christian faith itself.

We believe these changes merit a thoughtful Jewish response. Speaking for ourselves-an interdenominational group of Jewish scholars-we believe it is time for Jews to learn about the efforts of Christians to honor Judaism. We believe it is time for Jews to reflect on what Judaism may now say about Christianity. As a first step, we offer eight brief statements about how Jews and Christians may relate to one another.

Of those eight points:

* Jews and Christians worship the same God.
* Jews and Christians seek authority from the same Book-the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures.
* Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace.

Hopefully, Rachel's weeping is coming to an end. It will cease. It must cease.

In Matthew's Gospel we read that Herod, the killer of innocents, died. The way was clear to return home.

But was it? There was still a lingering, cancerous hatred in the form of Herod's son, waiting to pounce. But they did find a place, a home, and Rachel's weeping ceased...at least for a while.

Friend, when can she finally cease her weeping? It's up to you.

Let us pray.

Our God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, we have celebrated the birth of Jesus, our Christ. We have been nurtured in the teachings of this itinerant rabbi--his teachings of love and justice. Open our eyes, O God, that we might recognize the horrors of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. May we not countenance the denigration of your Son's wondrous tradition? May Rachel cease to weep! Amen.


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