In the midst of reminding the Church that it “exists for one reason only — to carry the story of Jesus forward in history,” James Carroll laments how that story has been obscured and distorted over time, especially “the way in which the full and permanent Jewishness of Jesus was forgotten, so much so that his story is told in the Gospels themselves as a story of Jesus against the Jews, as if he were not one of them”:
Imagined as a zealot who attacked the Temple, Jesus, on the contrary, surely revered the Temple, along with his fellow Jews. If, as scholars assume, he caused a disturbance there, it was almost certainly in defense of the place, not in opposition to it. The narrative denouement of this conflicted misremembering occurred in the 20th century, when the anti-Semitism of Nazism laid bare the ultimate meaning of the church’s religious anti-Judaism.
The horrified reckoning after the Holocaust was the beginning of the Christian reform that remains the church’s unfinished moral imperative to this day. Most emphatically, that reform must be centered in a critical rereading of the Gospel texts, so that the misremembered anti-Jewish Jesus can give way to the man as he was, and to the God whom he makes present in the lives of all who cannot stop seeing more than is before their eyes.
Such retrieval of the centrality of Jesus can restore a long-lost simplicity of faith, which makes Catholic identity — or the faith of any other church — only a means to a larger communion not just with fellow Jesus people, but with humans everywhere. All dogmas, ordinances and accretions of tradition must be measured against the example of the man who, acting wholly as a son of Israel, eschewed power, exuded kindness, pointed to one whom he called Father, and invited those bent over in the shadowy back to come forward to his table.
(Image: El Greco’s Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, London version, circa 1600, via Wikimedia Commons)