This Sunday we shall hear Matthew’s gospel account of the Passion story. Rather than read it in parts—which we will do on Good Friday—we hear Matthew’s account today and in doing so it is helpful for the reader (and listener) to know some background behind the story in Matthew’s writings.
Matthew’s community was a mix of Gentiles and Jewish converts and so, as Scripture Scholar Father Donald Senior notes, it is important to understand that Matthew weaves into or places at the center of his writings many Old Testament interests and points. Father Senior reminds us that the people of this Christian community were interested in hearing Jesus as the obedient Son of God, they needed to hear of the Old Testament as being fulfilled in Christ, and of salvation history (as we hear it sung of in the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil). You see, for many of the Jewish converts and the Gentiles, Jesus’ identity was vital: who was He, what was His purpose--and was it accomplished? Let us not forget the ancient understanding of the title “Messiah” and what the expectations were for those placing that title upon the head of Jesus. When it comes to Jesus’ identity, often times Father Senior notes, that we can misread the accounts in the Scriptures and therefore come to misunderstand or broadly exaggerate the beliefs or feelings of a small minority and their appropriate them to the whole of a community or people. Case in point, when the Jews said "His blood be on us and on our children." (Matt. 27:25), was that all the Jews at that time? In his book entitled “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict XVI said: “Now we must ask: Who exactly were Jesus' accusers? Who insisted that he be condemned to death? We must note the different answers that the Gospels give to this question. According to John it was simply "the Jews." But John's use of this expression does not in any way indicate--as the modern reader might suppose--the people of Israel in general, even less is it "racist" in character. After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers. The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews. In John's Gospel this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning: he is referring to the Temple aristocracy. So the circle of accusers who instigated Jesus' death is precisely indicated in the Fourth Gospel and clearly limited: it is the Temple aristocracy--and not without certain exceptions, as the reference to Nicodemus (7:50-52) shows. Clearly, Benedict re-affirms the traditional Church teaching, that it was the Jewish leaders, Pharisees, Sadducees and the aristocracy, who sought the death of Jesus, because as the Gospels overwhelmingly show they--and not the common people--rejected Jesus as the Messiah. In fact the common people admired Jesus and the "temple aristocracy," in turn, feared Him precisely for this reason.”
From the writings of Saint Pope John Paul II, we are reminded that it is through a careful reading of the Scriptures particularly during Holy Week that we will come to know the truth behind often misinterpretation and not find ourselves ready to accuse all members of the Jewish people with the acts of a particular group therein (the Temple aristocracy). A righteous study of sacred scripture will enable us to have an understanding of historical truth, and history well-understood will lead us to not only not repeat it again, but to allow the Truth to shape our words, actions and life today.
Source: Fr. Alphonso De Vale, C.S.B, the Free Library.