Hearing the story of Jesus’ trial and death in Matthew’s Gospel version for “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion” reminds me of an experience I had some years ago. I traveled to Chicago to view a special, once-in-a-lifetime exhibit of paintings by Monet. The works on display covered the span of the artist’s life. Seeing a whole lifetime of work by the artist, rather than viewing one isolated painting, helped me appreciate the larger context of Monet’s artistry.
Hearing an isolated gospel story, even one of some length like the Passion Narrative, is like viewing a single painting by an artist. We might miss the meaning from which we’d get the overall context of Matthew’s Gospel.
Unfortunately, some Christians over the centuries have used Matthew’s words as a reason to charge all the Jews of Christ’s time—or Jews of later generations—with Christ’s death. Matthew’s language often doesn’t help, for example, when the crowds in the Passion story ask that Jesus’ “blood be upon us and our children.” This antagonistic tone may reflect a real hostility between Matthew’s community (living 40 or 50 years after the time of Christ), and the Jewish community of the time which did not accept Jesus.
But there’s no justification for anti-Semitism, ever. The late Pope John Paul II urged an end to hatred and misunderstanding between Christians and Jews. You and I can help to foster such reconciliation by careful—and prayerful—attention to the stories of the Passion and death of Jesus as we hear them this year on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.
Featured Photo: Christ Carrying the Cross, detail of a window in St. Joseph Church, Peoria, Illinois.