On the Palm Sunday when the Lord came to His Temple and 'cleansed' it, it seems to me, as I argued yesterday, that our essential Jewishness is something which we must constantly bear in mind. And this was emphasised most brilliantly in the first published volume of Jesus of Nazareth by our Holy Father Benedict XVI. If, after your initial enthusiastic perusal of its pages, it has during the wearisome preoccupations of this lesser pontificate been rather gathering dust on your shelves, I beseech you to get it up and running again. I would urge you to turn to the very fine section where Joseph Ratzinger deals with the Sermon on the Mount; and does so by engaging with one of the most distinguished historians of Jewish thought in recent decades, Rabbi Professor Dr Jacob Neusner, whom I featured yesterday.
In Northern Ireland they are convinced, not only that the dogs in the streets are either Catholic or Protestant dogs, but that the very atheists are either Catholic of Protestant atheists. People sometimes laugh about this, but our Ulster friends mean, of course, very intelligently, that a man may claim to be an atheist, but that his mindset, the matrix especially of of his antipathies, may have been formed by a cultural background which is differently doctrinaire from his current position of dogmatic atheism. English atheists, for example, often have minds befuddled by a world view which is little other than the old, ranting, Fox's-Martyrs-in-a-sauce-of-Charles-Kingsley-with-a-dash-of-Kensit Protestantism, all in the reassuring clothing of a friendly atheistical sheep.
Jewish scholars who venture into 'Christian Origins' tend very often, I fear, to be Liberal Protestants in sheep's clothing. That is what made Neusner so exhilarating to read. He did not have that sort of crypto-Protestant bagage.
The old Liberal Protestant superstition, such a comfort to the anti-Catholic mind, was that the Eucharist started as a simple fellowship meal which, probably under the influence of Hellenistic Mystery cults, was perverted into the Catholic Mass. Neusner, on the other hand, was free to follow the obvious track which leads from the 'Cleansing of the Temple' (in which Christ emptied the Temple of those who, by changing money or supplying certified animals, enabled the Temple cult to be fulfilled) to the conclusion, documented from his profound knowledge of first century Judaism, that Jesus of Nazareth saw himself as abolishing that sacrificial cult on the Temple Mount because of His intention, on Maundy Thursday, to erect in its place the new sacrificial system of His Eucharistic self-oblation in His Body and Blood.
And, during this Holy Week, let us continually bring back to our memories the self-identification the Lord made of himself with the Temple. "Destroy this Temple, and in three days ...". But he had made this identification during his Galilaean ministry. He forgave sins! Who indeed, as the watchers absolutely correctly asked themselves, can forgive sins but God alone? And where does God do so, if not in the Place of Sacrifice, the Temple?
So ... who ... what ... is this Man?