The following suggestions come from the Roman Catholic web site, "Sermons Without Prejudice" (http://www.sermonswithoutprejudice.org). The whole web site is well worth a look.
What Can a Minister Do?
In most of our commentaries on “Problematic Passages,” we have suggested alternative wordings which do not convey the anti-Judaic tone of the Lectionary’s current readings. Some ministers, for very understandable reasons, do not feel comfortable with changing the current wording. Others are willing to modify the wording, but want additional ways to address the text.
Below we suggest other possible ways of addressing this challenge. Not all may be relevant in your context. Choose those that seem helpful. Or, add your own ideas.
SOME ADDITIONAL WAYS
TO ADDRESS PROBLEMATIC PASSAGES
Read the text as it is, but confront it: Call the congregation’s attention to the harm that passages with an anti-Judaic tone have done and can do. Here is what a Catholic leader, Archbishop Weakland said about such passages: “I acknowledge that we Catholics, by preaching a doctrine that the Jewish people were unfaithful, hypocritical and God-killers, reduced the human dignity of our Jewish brothers and sisters and created attitudes that made reprisals against them seem like acts of conformity to God’s will. By doing so, I confess that we Catholics contributed to the attitudes that made the Holocaust possible.”
A Vincentian priest in Philadelphia confronted a set of up-coming problematic texts around the Lent-Easter season by saying, before proclaiming the day’s Scripture: “Over the next three weeks, we’ll be hearing some of the most anti-Jewish Scripture readings that we’ll hear at any other time during the liturgical year. So talk to your children about this. What is our relationship to the Jewish community? How do we relate to the roots out of which the Church sprang? What responsibility do we share for the suffering of the Jewish people? Talk to your children about what we believe and what we don’t believe. . .Teach your children so they can grow up without anti-Semitism, can grow up, in fact, without prejudice of any kind.”
Omit the verse: Now and then, problematic words/phrases can be omitted without doing violence to the meaning of the passage. For example, John 20:19 says: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst. . . .”
Since the disciples still considered themselves Jews, it is not historically accurate to say that these Jewish men were in hiding “for fear of the Jews.” To modern ears, however, it can be heard as another indictment of the Jewish community as a whole.
This phrase appears more than once in John’s Gospel (e.g., 7:13; 9:22) and in each case it means fear of the authorities. The reading flows without “for fear of the Jews,” i.e., “. . . when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, Jesus came and stood in their midst. . .”
The whole passage is too rich with solid Johannine themes to try to address this problem in the homily. Better to omit the phrase or to substitute “for fear of the authorities.”
Comment on the reading in your sermon: An approach that can jolt people into awareness is to read, one after another, a string of negative verses about Jews in John. (Examples: John 5:15-18; 7:1; 7:13; 8:43-44, 47-48, 57-59; 9:22; 10:31; 11:53-54; 18:35-36; 19:12, 14-16, 38; 20:19.)
Then ask the congregation to ask themselves quietly: How do these verses portray the Jewish people? Do you agree with this portrayal? How does reading them all together make you feel?
Then read a group of verses which portray Jewish people in a positive way, and ask the same questions. (Examples of positive verses: John 4:45; 6:14; 7:31, 40; 10:41-42; 11:45; 12:12-13.)
Bible study: Ask one of your congregation’s Bible study groups to take up the topic of how Jews are portrayed in the New Testament and what to do about it.
Deepen your own understanding: Read up on the subject. See especially this website’s “Bibliography” and “Essays” sections which have a wealth of information.
Sunday Bulletin: Refer to the issue in the church’s Sunday Bulletin.
The church’s website: Include a section on these issues. It might say something like, “How we are addressing anti-Judaism.”
Sunday school classes: After meeting with and orienting teachers, introduce this subject in both children’s and adult classes. The former is especially important, since children form their ideas of “the other early on.
Have a speaker on the subject: Invite someone with experience in Jewish-Christian relations and knowledge of the biblical issues to speak, e.g., at a special night meeting.
The Rev’d Doug Fisher, Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and rector of Grace Church, Millbrook, NY, writes:
“I'm very sensitive to the lurking anti-semitism in John's Gospel. And we have at least eight Jewish people who attend Grace Church because they are married to parishioners or because they support our activism. I decided after this year that I will not use John's Passion account for Good Friday anymore.
“In the Doubting Thomas passage, I leave the word "Jews" out entirely - I just read "the doors were locked for fear."
“In other places I replace "Jews" with ‘Temple leaders.’
“I would love to hear other possibilities.”