At 12 years old, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem after his parents went home to Nazareth. He spent his time in the temple, and “everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). The Gospels record him and others around him listening, learning and asking questions. Discussing the Torah and how it should be interpreted and lived out was a very common action among the Pharisees, whose practice would eventually become the basis for Rabbinic Judaism.
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We understand that Jesus was Jewish, but when we disconnect him from the Pharisaic tradition he was clearly part of, we disconnect him from his community and his family, from his ancestors and his place of birth. The western Christian church separates Jesus from the educated Jews of his time, the Pharisees and Sadducees. Those leaders are seen as the villains in every story.
Jesus has been Christianized, stripped of his roots. This same western tradition has also stripped the women in the Bible of their power and position. Women, for instance, supported Jesus financially: Martha opened her house to Jesus (Luke 10:38), while Joanna and Susanna supported him “from their means” (Luke 8:3). We make this an extraordinary thing. These women who supported Jesus would later hold positions of authority in the emerging church.
Paul writes their names in his letters, including that of Junia, who, along with Andronicus, was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7). Early theologians from Origen to Peter Abelard recognized Junia as a woman. During the Reformation, however, she became Junius, a man. In the Second Temple period, women owned property. In the medieval period, the church made women property.
The early church worked to separate itself from Judaism, changing the Sabbath and the celebration of resurrection. The later church would continue on this path, vilifying Jews and expelling them from Europe with clockwork regularity.
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That, too, is the context for the church’s ability to acknowledge Jesus’ Jewishness while disconnecting him from the educated Jews who were his peers. We imply that he wasn’t that kind of Jewish, not like them. Jesus was a “good one.”
As an Indigenous woman, I can tell you that this hits me in a particular way. From the moment of contact, the church has seen Indigenous peoples like Second Temple Jews. We are incomplete and in need of teaching and correction. This is, of course, what drove missions and residential schools and the conception of good Indians who adopted Christianity and bad ones who refused it. I have been told that I am not like other Indians, that I’m smart or articulate — a “good one.”
What if the church saw us as complete and capable of relationship and not just correction? What if it asked what good news we had for them? It wouldn’t need to vilify the ones who disagree with it; it wouldn’t need to make us the bad ones.
Patty Krawec (daanis.ca) is Anishinaabe from Lac Seul First Nation. She lives in Niagara Falls, Ont. Her first book, Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future, will be released by Broadleaf Books in September and is excerpted in Broadview’s September 2022 issue.
This column first appeared in Broadview’s September 2022 issue.
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