Looking at this Sunday's readings, I can see how Paul and John's raging anti-Semitism has perpetuated itself across the centuries in the church. Ironically, the theme of the readings is that God's message transcends national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and generational boundaries. I propose a creative interpretation to uncouple the thematic use of Jews in the readings from the anti-Semitism that has unfortunately stemmed from these readings.
The first reading and the Gospel depict Jews as exclusive and closed-minded as a counter-example to the message of inclusion, universality, and pluralism. In the first reading, we see that Paul is starting his ministry and gathering up a bunch of followers, consisting of Jews, Jewy (recent converts), and goyim (Gentiles or non-Jews). These particular Jews and Jewy get all uppity that Paul is sharing God's message with non-Jews. As God's chosen people from back in the day, it doesn't make sense for God's message to be applicable to non-Jews, too. Paul says that excluding Gentiles from God's message is in itself a rejection of that message of universality. Irony of ironies, Paul's preaching of tolerance leaves no room for another group's intolerance, and he thus excludes the Jews from his ministry and focuses his ministerial energies on the non-Jews who are eager to hear God's message.
Oh, Paul, you really do piss me off sometimes. Can't we all just get along?
The Gospel this week is really short. I read the rest of chapter 10 in John's gospel for context. Jesus and company are in Jerusalem for Hanukkah. The Jews ask him, "Well, are you the Messiah or not?" The Gospel reading is Jesus' answer, with the shepherd metaphor. He says that his followers would truly recognize him for who he is, that they have eternal life through him from the Father, that nothing can take that away, and that he and the Father are one. I think when Jesus says, "The Father and I are one," his meaning is closer to, "God and I are hella tight, yo." After this, the Jews call blasphemy and want to stone Jesus. Jesus answers that a stoning for having demonstrated God's message in good works makes no sense. Even if the Jews don't see that he and God are hella tight, then they should at least recognize the good of Jesus' actions and believe the message of God through the example of those actions.
See, at the time of John's gospel, Jews didn't like Rome. John the evangelist often uses Jews as counter-examples to distinguish Christians from Jews and thus gain favor with Rome.
Yet in the psalm and even in that drug-induced second reading from Revelation, we hear that God's message is available to all and transcends all petty boundaries. The psalm introduces the shepherd metaphor echoed in the Gospel: "Know that the Lord is God; / he made us; his we are; / his people, the flock he tends." We are God's people; we evolved after God set off the Big Bang. As such, God's goodness is available to us all, from all lands and across generations, "from every nation, race, people, and tongue."
To avoid perpetuating the anti-Semitism that the church must have found in the first reading and the Gospel, I propose to pull a Reform Haggadah on this one, that is, a more symbolic reading. If you've ever been to a Passover seder, there's a pervasive subtext of "Egyptians suck! Boo, Egypt!" throughout the story of Exodus presented at the meal. The Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, literally means, "the narrow places." Instead of tying slavery and oppression to a geographical and historical Egypt--and thus risking very politically incorrect discrimination today--one could go through the story of Exodus reflecting on the narrowness, constriction, and closed-mindedness in our lives that keeps us from achieving our potential. Similarly, we should see that it is this type of closed-mindedness that the Jews represent in our first reading and Gospel this Sunday. Closed-mindedness and exclusivity are completely out of line with God's universal message of goodness and kindness. The narrowness hinders the spread of God's message.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the narrowness hindering the mission of the church these days. Female? One too many X chromosomes for the priesthood. Separated from Catholicism by Reformation? No communion for you. Jewish? We pray for your conversion. Homosexual? Intrinsically evil. Tradition of secrecy in the hierarchy? That's what keeps pedophile priests in the priesthood, for the good of the church. Has the institution become a lost sheep whose stubbornness muffles Jesus' voice?
We must eschew such narrowness that distances us from God. Jesus calls us all--regardless of nationality, ethnicity, cultural identity, etc.--to recognize his voice and to spread God's message through good works.