In an often-quoted Sunday Collect we pray,
“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”
God intended the Scriptures for our learning, but I very much doubt God intended us to learn to hate or to create and sustain prejudice from the Scriptures. That Scripture has had this effect and continues to have this effect should make us wary. Scripture is not for proof-texting; and some of it is not for casual hearing.
Under casual hearing I would include the Sunday liturgy. That is not the best setting in which to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest complex matters like anachronistic translations. When the reading includes passages prejudicial to Jews some serious study is needed. Otherwise, as the centuries attest, many people walk out of the service with scorn in their hearts for Jews.
There is nothing casual about the liturgy. But the worshipers? People come to worship with all kinds of worthy motives, including a need to rub elbows with others. But not all are serious students of our faith. Not all come prepared to listen to the Scriptures with an intent and critical ear. Some even come out of a sense of obligation; they bring their bodies but their minds drift. Nevertheless, what is said can shape their attitudes, whether they are paying attention or not.
The Rev’d Kathryn Piccard* speaks of the “halo effect.” She refers to the human tendency to give special meaning to what is heard in the context of worship. Because of the halo effect, even passive hearers take to heart anti-Jewish passages which they might dismiss in a secular setting.
Conscientious clergy craft their sermons to correct the anti-Jewish reading — to let the congregation know that what they heard is not what it originally meant. Historical or theological explanations help with this. But what a negative use of precious preaching time, when so much that is positive and uplifting could be imparted instead!
* The Rev’d Kathryn Piccard’s articles can be read at http://www.katrinasdream.org/katrinas-story/just-words