I saw a police car sitting in the parking lot of a synagogue the other day, and it made me sad. You see, I know the rabbi who serves the synagogue where that police car was stationed. We belong to the same interfaith group. I respect him. I enjoy being with him. And while we have discovered that there is something that is common in the experience of serving as clergy no matter what the religious tradition, seeing that police car in the parking lot of the synagogue where my colleague serves reminded me that there are differences in our experiences serving as clergy—that there are extra complications that my colleagues who are rabbis must face.
For the shadow cast through the millennia of human history by anti-Semitic hate is a long one. We know that it was the motivation for the Holocaust. We know that it stands at the core of Hamas and the terrible murders on October 7 and the kidnappings and the use of civilians as propaganda tools that we see happening right now. We know that it fuels the threats against Jews in our country—more in 2022 than ever—that makes it necessary to have police cars stationed at synagogues.
And it is hard to know what to do in the face of all of this. As Christian clergy, of course, I need to acknowledge the Church’s role through history in perpetuating anti-Semitic hate, and I need to take care not to follow generations of misinterpretation of Scripture that denigrated Judaism. As Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish New Testament scholar, has put it in her book on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Jesus is not a Christian talking to other Christians; he is a Jew talking to other Jews. He’s not telling his fellow Jews to do away with Torah. That would be ridiculous. Rather, he’s telling them that he has insight into the heart of Torah, and they would do well to listen to him.” And as Christian clergy, I need to help members of the congregations I serve to understand our essential and ongoing connection as Christians to Jewish tradition.
And I need to pray. In her book on the Sermon on the Mount, Dr. Levine tells a story about a little boy who went to the synagogue and prayed aloud the first three letters of the Hebrew alphabet. When the rabbi asked what he was doing, he said, “I don’t know the prayers, and I can’t read, but if I just say the letters, God puts the prayer together for me.” And if that’s how you feel these days—as if you need God to put the prayer together for you because you just do not know what to pray—that’s alright. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask” (Matthew 6:8). And you and me, we need to pray. Because while this all might seem to be beyond us, it is not beyond God, and through prayer, it might very well be that God will show us how we can shine some light in the darkness.
–Pastor Don Steele