I am busy reading the Part Two of Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth. As usual, his theological insights are invaluable; and as usual, there are a few things that really stand out more than others.
One of the more significant things he has had to say in this book concerns the curse that the Jews called down upon themselves when they demanded to have our Lord Jesus crucified. You may recall that Pontius Pilate was looking for an opportunity to deliver Jesus because he found no fault in Him; however, when he saw that he would not be able to have Jesus released without causing a riot, he resorted to washing his hands saying that he wanted no part of this execution. The Jews responded by saying “His blood be on us and our children”. In their ignorance, they were willing for God to curse them for shedding the blood of an innocent man, and even more than an innocent man – the Son of God Incarnate.
Now, that’s the way that I have always understood this passage, which is OK insofar as it goes. However, our Holy Father in his usual perceptive way has suggested that we look at this passage from a slightly different perspective – indeed he is suggesting that we look at it from the perspective of our Merciful God who does not delight in the death of the wicked (Eze 33:11).
Here is what our Holy Father has to say:
When in Matthew’s account the “whole people” say: “His blood be on us and on our children” (27:25), the Christian will remember that Jesus’blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...God put [Jesus] forward as an expiation by his blood” (Rom 3:23, 25). Just as Caiaphas’ words about the need for Jesus’ death have to be read in an entirely new light from the perspective of faith, the same applies to Matthew’s reference to blood: read in the light of faith, it means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation. Only when understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament, does this verse from Matthew’s Gospel take on its correct meaning.
The Gospel truth is that if anyone is covered by the blood of Christ, He is blessed and not cursed. So, not unlike Joseph being sold into Egyptian slavery (Gen 50:20); whilst the crowd was willing to call down God’s curse, God meant it as a blessing for them. By going to the Cross, our Lord Jesus gave His life for the sins of the whole world, including those who cried out for His crucifixion...and thanks be to God, for me too because I am just as guilty for His crucifixion because of my own sins.
P.S. As a side note, I think that it is important to clarify that by saying the Jews called out for the crucifixion of our Lord, we do not attribute guilt to all Jews of all ages; nor even to all Jews who were living at the time of our Lord e.g. the people who demanded His crucifixion were not the same people who sang His praises on Palm Sunday. Unfortunately, a wrong interpretation on this point has been the cause for much anti-Semitic behaviour; behaviour which should be deplored as un-Christian because all men are created in the image of God.