By Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz
Among the perks that come with teaching, researching, and writing about the Bible (in addition to the surpassing blessing that is the study of the Word of God), is the opportunity to learn from and with so many brilliant colleagues in biblical studies and theology. I deeply appreciate the scholarship of fellow Catholics, Christians from many other faith communities, and Jewish colleagues as well.
We share common energy for the work of pondering the subtleties of ancient texts composed in times and settings so distant from our own. As people of faith, we rely on the abiding relevance of our sacred texts and living traditions as we wrestle with the pressing concerns of our present-day world.
I applaud the work of my friend Dr. Malka Z. Simkovich, who holds the Crown-Ryan Chair of Jewish Studies and serves as Director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union, a school of theology and ministry where men and women prepare for service in the Church and in the world. I call attention to her recent statement about rising antisemitism in which she writes that “Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Jews across the United States have been physically attacked, synagogues have been desecrated, kosher restaurants have been vandalized, and protestors have intimidated local Jewish communities by calling for the annihilation of Jews in the State of Israel.”
Dr. Simkovich rightly insists that, “regardless of one’s position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, targeting Jews on the basis of their religion is antisemitic and must not be tolerated.” Here in New York, Governor Cuomo recently announced stepped-up State Police patrols to provide security at Jewish religious, educational, and community sites in the wake of the disturbing rise in antisemitic attacks directed against people and property. To name a few: a brick was thrown through the window of a kosher pizzeria in Manhattan, a Jewish man was assaulted in Times Square, two Jewish teens were beaten with a baseball bat in Borough Park, and a 67-year-old Jewish man was attacked as he tried to enter a synagogue in Sheepshead Bay.
Such violence is abhorrent, and people of faith must not remain indifferent to it. That is the emphasis of the recent statement by Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop David P. Talley, chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. They wrote, “We cannot remain silent when we witness our brothers and sisters suffering on account of being Jewish, and we will never tire of our commitment to decry every form of hatred, especially those formed in contempt of faith.” Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out against antisemitism, insisting that “a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite; we share the same roots. It would be a contradiction of faith and life.”
What place does this have in a column about the Scriptures for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ? How can these readings equip us to push back against antisemitism? When we look at Sunday’s Gospel, we can’t ignore the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew, and that his earliest disciples were Jews. As Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, both affirmed, “Whoever meets Jesus Christ, meets Judaism.”
We read how Jesus instructed his disciples to prepare for their Passover celebration. The evangelist Mark makes it clear that the final meal Jesus shared with them—the Last Supper—was a Passover meal, their observance of the Jewish holy day that gratefully remembers God’s liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Echoing Sunday’s reading from Exodus, Jesus took the cup, gave thanks, and shared it with his disciples saying, “This is my blood of the covenant.”
As we consider both the words of Moses and of Jesus, let us read them in light of what John Paul II said during his homily at Mount Sinai: “On the heights of Sinai … God seals his love by making the covenant that he will never renounce…The exodus and the covenant are not just events of the past; they are forever the destiny of all God’s people!”
When we Christians speak of the new covenant and of the distinctive role of Jesus, in whom we believe as Son of God and descendant of David, we must never forget that God remains eternally faithful. In reminding us of this, John Paul II had in mind the words of Romans 11:29: “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”
Why must Catholics stand with our Jewish sisters and brothers against antisemitism? As John Paul II told those who were gathered in Rome’s Great Synagogue, “With Judaism… we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.” Because we are disciples of Jesus, standing in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers against antisemitism is a family matter!
Readings for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Mark: 14:12-16, 22-26
Father Ruiz, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica.