In churches on Palm Sunday and Good Friday a “Passion Narrative” will be read or communally recited. Passion Narratives are the accounts, drawn from the gospels, of Jesus’ last days: his struggle and arrest in Gethsemane, his trial, and his death and burial. Like the gospels in which they appear, Passion Narratives were composed primarily to help early Christians remember and reflect on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Secondarily, they were intended to exonerate the Romans for Jesus’ death by blaming “the Jews.”
We have very little historically verifiable information about Jesus. One of the few details for which we do have some reliable historical sources is that Jesus’s execution was most likely ordered by the Roman official, Pontius Pilate and carried out by Roman soldiers; not “the Jews.” It is a lie that Jesus’ fellow Jews were responsible for his death. That lie, woven into the Passion narrative, has resulted in the death of millions, even before the Holocaust of the 20th century.
“If to get a good message you need to make Judaism look bad, then you don’t have a good message.”
It is time for Christians to stop telling and re-telling the lie. Let’s skip the references to Judas. Even if he really did exist, the Holy Week story does not need a betrayer. As Jesus said himself, he lived and taught publicly. The Romans didn’t need Judas to find Jesus. Then we can leave out the references to Caiaphas, Annas, the High Priest, the Sanhedrin, the elders, the scribes and the Pharisees. Just edit them out. Their roles and their words were made up to perpetuate a terrible lie.
One of the reasons to remember the story of Jesus’ death is to reflect on how it is that good, innocent people get crushed by unfairness and injustice – not because it happened once 2000 years ago, but because it happens daily, and because we want to keep trying to change that. Let’s do our remembering and reflecting in a way that honors the Jew whose life and teachings we call good news.