I subscribe to email updates from a Jewish website, and one such update, advertising a recent article, caught my attention. The writer, a Jewish woman living in an area of the Midwest with few Jews and no synagogues, asked herself: “Wouldn’t it be easier to just accept Jesus as the son of God?”
This question occurred to the writer when she was working at a Catholic church as a musician during Holy Week. While playing the music for a Mass on Palm Sunday, she started reflecting on how difficult it could be to be a non-Christian in a small town filled with Christians:
All of my friends are Christian here. I have been handed countless books. I have been encouraged, and shamed, and excluded, and judged—and at that moment at the piano, I was damn tired of it all.
I wrestled with these thoughts privately, of course. I knew better than to share my confusion with my Evangelical friends. No fewer than three local Protestant pastors invited me to Good Friday services. I was relieved to be playing for the Catholics. The parish priest was kind and respectful, and I thought the music was beautiful.
She was strongly considering talking to the priest about conversion to Catholicism when a passage from the Gospel read that day at Mass stopped her cold. In Matthew’s account of the Passion, the crowd—incited by the chief priests and elders who wanted Jesus dead (Matt. 27:20)—demanded Jesus’ crucifixion and told Pontius Pilate, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:25).
The writer shared her reaction:
I wanted to get up and run out of the church. My mind was alive with thoughts about blood libel, and the persecution of my people, and the fact that I was sitting in a church, listening to a justification said to come from the Jewish people, as if we deserved what has happened to us over the millennia.
We don’t have space here to address the question of whether this passage in Matthew’s Gospel actually is anti-Semitic or in any way justifies anti-Semitic acts. The short answer is that it isn’t and it doesn’t. Here instead I want to look at the question, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just accept Jesus as the son of God?”
Conversions happen for many reasons, and some of those reasons are better than others. My initial interest in Catholicism was sparked by a desire to rebel against my upbringing. My family was Seventh-day Adventist, although my branch of the family was mostly non-practicing, and Seventh-day Adventism is historically anti-Catholic. As this writer considered doing, I separated myself from my family’s religious tradition. In my case though, it wasn’t to assimilate into a larger society but to assert individuality.
I was under no illusion that following through on that flawed spark of interest would be easy. Again, as happened to this Jewish writer, my spark of interest happened around Holy Week, in 1995. I had to call a local parish three times over a period of a couple of months before I finally got in to see the pastor. It turned out that Holy Week is a really bad time to try to pigeonhole a priest with questions about conversion!
The need for persistence turned out to be an occasion of grace. Having to work hard to get a priest’s attention made me all the more determined to become Catholic. It sparked my desire to learn the Faith, not just through the RCIA program but through personal study. When confronted with questions about Catholic beliefs and practices that rubbed against the grain of my culturally Protestant background, I took those questions to Catholics for answers. By that time, I was disposed to accept the answers I was given.
But the questions don’t magically stop the moment the chrism dries on the new convert’s forehead. Many converts experience periods of difficulty, of doubt, following conversion. Acclimation to the Catholic Faith—as distinguished from assimilation—can take years. A few years ago I wrote:
I firmly believe that, sooner or later, each and every convert to the Catholic Faith—whether that person chose to become Catholic as an adult or was brought into the Faith as a baby by his parents—is going to have to face the scandal that the Church is not what he believed it to be when he signed up. The test will be whether he will persevere because he knows it to be the Church Christ founded or whether he will fall away because he decides it is merely a human institution that has disappointed him.
The writer of the essay I read came to the conclusion that her experience at that Palm Sunday Mass had in fact been an epiphany that strengthened her identity as a Jew and her commitment to Judaism. Perhaps it was.
If that incident strengthened her to stand up to occasions on which she had been “shamed, and excluded, and judged” in her community because she was not Christian, if it kept her from becoming Christian for the wrong reasons (such as to make her life easier), then perhaps that was how God chose to act in her life at that moment. Perhaps it will be an important step on her journey to where God is leading her.
What we can say for sure, though, is that no one should become Christian to make his life easier. Those who want to follow Christ will be called upon to do exactly as Christ did in the Palm Sunday Gospel. They will be called to take up their cross and follow him, all the way to Calvary (Matt. 16:24). Or, as C.S. Lewis wryly noted:
I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.
 Those who are interested in the long answer are invited to read Are the Gospels Anti-Semitic? by David Currie and The New Testament and Anti-Semitism by Jimmy Akin. If non-Christian readers prefer a Jewish perspective, I recommend The Misunderstood Jew by Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar of the New Testament.