"Appropriate Attitude Toward the Jewish People"

Father Cantalamessa Comments on Sunday’s Gospel

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ROME, SEPT. 30, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In a commentary on this Sunday’s Mass readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, urges Christians to imitate God’s love for Israel.

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Matthew 21:33-43
Isaiah 5:1-7

The kingdom will be taken away from you

The parable of the unfaithful vine growers, above all in its conclusion — «the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it» — evokes the theme of the so-called rejection of Israel. A simplistic and triumphal interpretation of this and other similar passages of the Gospel has contributed to the condemnation of Jews, with the tragic consequences that we know.

We must not abandon the certainties of faith that come to us from the Gospel, but it does not take much to realize how much our attitude has often altered its genuine spirit.

Before anything else, one must see in those terrible words of Christ before Israel, the extraordinary love of God, not condemnation. Jesus weeps when he speaks of the future of Jerusalem! It is moreover a pedagogic rejection, not definitive.

God rejected Israel as well in the Old Testament. One of them is described by Isaiah in the first reading, with the same image of the «vineyard» — «Now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down» (5:5) — but this did not impede God from continuing to love Israel and to watch over it.

St. Paul assures us that this last rejection, announced by Jesus, will not be definitive. More than that, it will allow the pagans to enter into the kingdom (cf. Romans 11:11-15). He goes further: Because of Abraham’s faith, which is the first fruits and the root, Jews as a people are holy, although some branches were broken off (cf. Romans 11:16).

The Apostle to the Gentiles, unjustly considered in favor of the break between Israel and the Church, suggests to us the appropriate attitude toward the Jewish people. He did not advocate self-assertion and foolish pride — «we are now the new Israel, we the chosen ones!» — but fear and trembling before the unfathomable mystery of divine action — «Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall» — and even more love for Israel, which is the root and trunk on which we have been grafted.

Paul says he is prepared to be separated from Christ if that would be useful to his brothers (cf. Romans 9:1-3). If Christians in the past had been concerned about having these sentiments when speaking about the Jews, history would have had a different course.

If Jews one day come (as Paul hopes) to a more positive judgment of Jesus, this must occur through an inner process, as the end of a search of their own (something that in part is occurring). We Christians cannot be the ones who seek to convert them. We have lost the right to do so by the way in which this was done in the past. First the wounds must be healed through dialogue and reconciliation.

I do not see how a Christian who really loves Israel cannot hope that the latter will one day come to the discovery of Jesus, whom the Gospel describes as «glory to the people Israel» (Luke 2:32). I do not think this is proselytism.

But now what is most important is to do away with the obstacles we have placed to this reconciliation, the «bad light» in which we have placed Jesus in their eyes. Also the obstacles present in language. How many times the word «Jew» is used in a pejorative or negative way in our way of speaking!

Since the Second Vatican Council, relations between Christians and Jews have improved. The decree on ecumenism has given Israel a separate status among religions. For us Christians, Judaism is not «another religion,» but rather an integral part of our own religion. We worship the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who for us is also the God of Jesus Christ.

[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana; translation by ZENIT]

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