As we approach Holy Week and reflect more deeply on the passion and death of Our Lord, I though it would be a good time to also examine the issue of Jewish guilt for His death.
Undoubtedly, Deicide, or the killing of God, is the worst evil ever committed in the universe. To kill the incarnate Son of God, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), the One who spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1:3), and Him who holds all things in a state of existence (Colossians 1:17), was a crime of unspeakable magnitude. It was a crime against humanity, against nature, and against the infinite Creator.
But how much of the guilt for this crime belongs to the Jews, both of the day and of our day? How fair is it to call a Jewish man or woman “Christ killer” as has been done by some throughout the centuries?
It goes without saying that the Jewish authorities of Jesus’ day were actively trying to find ways to stop Him, even by killing Him, throughout His earthly ministry. But it’s also not in dispute that Pontus Pilate was the man who passed sentence on Christ and gave in to the will of the crowd, though he knew Jesus was innocent, because he was afraid of losing his political power and appointment. So why don’t we hear of Italians, the closest ethnic, cultural and linguistic descendants of the Romans, blamed for this like Jews have been through the millennia?
Simply boiled down, the question is this: Are the Jewish people collectively guilty for the death of Christ, thus earning the title “Christ Killers”? No!
There’s really no stronger way to express this than to just say NO.
The Jews of today are in no way guilty of the death of Christ on account of their ancestry. This libelous charge has had serious and terrible effects on the children of Abraham for almost 2000 years now, and it is a shameful thing for any Christian to hold to it.
If you read the passion account from the Gospel of John, you will see that John uses “the Jews” over and over (more than a dozen times) to express that the people were stirred up by the high priest and his ilk, and they cried out for Jesus to be crucified. What is John trying to tell us here?
John isn’t pointing out anything in a sinister way, or laying the blame on his own people, but stating a fact. Jerusalem was a Jewish city, and the Passover festival would swell the population of the city with Jews from far and wide. Then add to it that the high priests were gathering sympathetic witnesses to form a mob outside Pilate’s palace. Would non Jewish pagans have any interest in calling for Jesus’ execution based on Jewish law? So it only makes sense that the crowd outside, that were calling for Jesus to be crucified was primarily made up of Jewish men and women.
Also, Jesus makes it quite clear throughout the Gospels that He was laying His life down, and that it wasn’t being taken from Him. If the Jerusalem authorities were capable of killing Jesus against His will, then He wouldn’t have truly been God, but He willingly submitted to their plans because it was the Will Of God.
Remember that only a few chapters earlier in John we hear Jesus tell the Samaritan woman that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4), and we must also remember that Our Lord was Himself a Jew, as was the Blessed Mother, all twelve apostles, and many of the early Christians.
To hate Jews as a Christian is nonsensical, not to mention racism in general is mortally sinful for a Catholic. It shouldn’t be necessary to tell a Christian that hating someone based on the color of their skin goes against the very essence of the Gospel, but sadly many have forgotten that principle. Racism is forbidden by the Church, and anti-Semitism especially so.
We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man’s relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8).
Nostra Aetate, 5
Believing that today’s Jews are guilty of this leads to some very damaging consequences; one being an incitement of anti-Semitism. This has been used by ill informed Christians, or by malicious intent, to persecute the Jewish people in Christian lands. This was never the official teaching of the Church, and thankfully the Church has been forcefully pushing back against this sin.
True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.
Nostra Aetate, 4
Another consequence of this is that it diminishes our own culpability in the death of Jesus.
CCC 598: In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured.” Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself, the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone:
“We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him.
Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.” -St Francis of Assisi
Every one of us share a responsibility for Jesus’ death on Calvary. It was as if we personally drove the nails with each sin we commit; like we spat upon Him every time we turned against our conscience; like we slapped Him every time we chose to turn away. We did that to Him, and He knew we would, but He went through with it anyway because He loves us more than I can put into words on this page.
If you ever want to know how much Jesus loves you, just look at His body on the cross, with His arms stretched wide. That is the perfect love of God.