“You’re Too Hard on The Romans”

Somebody told me I was too hard on the Romans in my Good Friday sermon. She noted that there was a paragraph printed in the bulletin denouncing a Christian reading of the passion that would breed hostility toward Judaism by overemphasizing the agency the Jewish people exercised in Jesus’ crucifixion and under emphasizing the agency of the Roman police apparatus. It’s a terrific paragraph that I wish I’d written. It’s in all of our Holy Week bulletins.

“But then your sermon,” she observed, “contradicted that.” She elaborated: I very clearly described Jewish actors doing things that made them culpable in Jesus’ killing. Why, she asked, are we urging people to blame only the Romans?

Two things. 1) 90 % of my sermon was in fact a word-for-word recital of the passion story from the Common English Bible translation of Mark’s gospel. 2) the passion story assigns specific responsibility to particular groups and individuals for what it narrates. Chief priests, the High Priest, the Council, the Sadducees, legal experts, the Sanhedrin, guards, soldiers, Pilate, a crowd, and people walking by. To impute responsibility for Jesus’ execution to “The Romans” or “The Jews” in light of that fact is lazy. Here’s what I said in the 10% of the sermon that contained my own words:

You can’t listen to this story and conclude that any one person or group is responsible for what happens. Because the phrases that carry this story along to its end are all plural. Every actor in the story, from the malicious to the simply scared, needs the support of other actors in order to play their role.

My interlocutor and I had a civil exchange about it, and that’s good. Because I’ll admit I was knocked a little backward by the accusation that I was too hard on the Romans. That’s a first.

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