Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The events of our Lord's trial and passion have aroused the anger, pity and tears of faithful Christians throughout two millennia. How should e react to the trial and punishment, followed by the crucifixion of the Son of God as a criminal? Should we seek to blame particular people of his time and place?
The religious authorities in Jerusalem were not unanimous about what stance to take toward Jesus. (Cf. Jn 9:16; Jn 10:19) The Pharisees threatened to excommunicate his followers. (Cf. Jn 9:22) To those who feared that 'everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation,' the high priest Caiaphas replied by prophesying: 'It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.' (Jn 11:48-50) The Sanhedrin, having declared Jesus deserving of death as a blasphemer but having lost the right to put anyone to death, hands him over to the Romans, accusing him of political revolt, a charge that puts him in the same category as Barabbas who had been accused of sedition. (Cf. Mt 26:66; Jn 18:31; Lk 23:2, 19) The high priests also threatened Pilate politically so that he would condemn Jesus to death. (Cf. Jn 19:12, 15, 21)" (CCC 596)
Are the Jews collectively responsible for Jesus' death?
The historical complexity of Jesus' trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone. Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole, despite the outcry of a manipulated crowd and the global reproaches contained in the apostles' calls to conversion after Pentecost. (Cf. Mk 15:11; Acts 2:23, 36; 3:13-14; 4:10; 5:30; 7:52; 10:39; 13:27-28; 1 Thess 2:14-15) Jesus himself, in forgiving them on the cross, and Peter in following suit, both accept 'the ignorance' of the Jews of Jerusalem and even of their leaders. (Cf. Lk 23:34; Acts 3:17) Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places, based merely on the crowd's cry: 'His blood be on us and on our children!' a formula for ratifying a judicial sentence. (Mt 27:25; cf. Acts 5:28; 18:6) As the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council:
...[N]either all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion....[T]he Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture. (Nostrae Aetate 4) (CCC 597)
All of us have sinned and must look to Christ on the cross and see in his death the ransom and cure first for our own sins. We cannot help but each wonder: "Would I have remained at the foot of the Cross and braved all to be faithful as did Mary? Would I have been instead with Peter, furious in my denials against him, concerned with the preservation of my body over the eternal fate of my soul?
-- Matthew 26. 36-75; 27. 1-60
I look forward to meeting you here again next week as, together, we "meet Christ in the liturgy"---Father Cusick
Meeting Christ in the Liturgy ( Publish with permission.)
(Art: Ecce Homo by Titian.)