Saturday, February 24, 2007
Yesterday we attended a funeral at St Joseph's Church for Bruce Gilliland. Bruce was a Professor at our medical school and one of the calmest, wisest figures i have yet met. This entry is not about him, it is about the funeral.
A lot of people came, many of whom I recognized from the UW Medical School. There was a bagpiper and a priest, 2 daughters, 1 son and a wife named Collins. My understanding is that Bruce was Presbyterian, so the use of St. Joe's .... I assume ... was to comfort Bruce's wife. The odd thing about this is that most of the service was about Jesus and about Bruce going to be with Jesus. This is such a beautiful image. Certainly for the living person it may be a great comfort. Was it Dr. Gilliland's wish as well? I don't think he had converted but perhaps it does not matter. The wish, at the very least, was well meant.
Of more concern to me was the passage from the Roman Bible chosen by Father Paul Fritterer. The choice was Matthew 8. In this passage, Jesus is approached by a Centurion. A Roman Centurion, kind of like a Lt Colonel in Iraq. A Commander of 80 men, Roman soldiers, occupiers of Jesus' homeland.
This Centurion asks Jesus to help, "Et dicens Domine puer meus iacet in domo paralyticus et male torquetur," his servant it seems was ill and the Colonel wanted to ask Jesus to heal the sick person. Jesus was willing but the Colonel demurred, claiming that the home of a Roman Officer was not grand enough to host the great healer. The Officer went further and pointed out that Jesus, as a great man, must have same ability to command that the Officer had himself. Couldn't Jesus just command the healing?
These verses follow:
8:10. And Jesus hearing this, marvelled; and said to them that followed him. Amen I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel. And Jesus said to the centurion: Go, and as thou hast believed, so be it done to thee. And the servant was healed at the same hour.
The good priest saw this as a wonderful message of the faith of a gentile in Jesus. To Father Fritterer the Centurion was being humble about his home, though I wondered if the Roman may have felt unease at asking a Jewish holy man into the hime of an occupier. Perhaps the priest was sending a message to Dr. Gilliland's wife that Bruce's life, while not Catholic, would be seen by Jesus as a life of service and faith?
In that way, Mathew 8 was appropriate and loving. As an aetheist and a Jew I am jealous of those whose loved ones live on in Heaven.
But, I am Jew. I read this differently from Father Fritterer and, that reading is part of the last 2000 years of antisemitism. Why? Imagine that Jesus was a Chassid, a holy Rabbi, in Russian occupied Poland and the Centurion was a Commisar. The Russian is there, and proud of his duty in suppressing the religion and freedom of the Poles. Yet, Jesus not only praises the Comissar for his faith but goes on to exult about the horrors to come under Communist rule. Mathew's Jesus says,
"And I say to you that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
in simpler words,
"Your faith is well meant to me and I will welcome all gentiles to the worship of the true God, but the Jews will be cast out and suffer pain."
These are the words of the Church of Rome. They are words that forgive the Romans, and their heirs the Church, for what would be millenia of hatred. In the Jewish tradition, the tradition of Hillel the great Pharisee, Jesus may well have said to the Centurion that all good people, even a the lowly servant of a Roman Officer, have equal rights before God. Those words would not have been followed by the prediction of a cruel future for the Jews.
These are words that justify the Jewish wars, the Arch of Titus, the Crusades, the Inquisition and, perhaps, the Holocaust.
I hope it does not offend my Catholic friends to point out how hateful this verse is to a Jew.
Posted by SM Schwartz at 3:59 PM