Catholic writer, Raymond E. Brown was intelligent, thorough and prolific. When he wrote The Birth of the Messiah (1977 – and enlarged edition in 1993) and The Death of the Messiah (in two volumes – over 1,600 pages! ) (1994) he found that he had more material than he could fit into either of those works. Seriously! They’re already pretty massive, but he had even more to share.
So he prepared a series of liturgical reflections - essays on various parts of the life of Christ tied to the liturgical calendar year of the Church. A Crucified Christ in Holy Week is, obviously, intended to be useful during Holy Week.
In this brief volume, Brown leads the reader through the diverging Passion accounts in each of the gospels, noting that the Synoptic accounts -read cyclically over a period of 3 years on Palm Sunday – are paired against the gospel of John’s account – read on Good Fridays.
Brown shows how each of the gospel writers – though telling the same basic story – have crafted their story to emphasize different messages, different aspects of the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. He (rightly) insists that they should not be artificially harmonized. Their differences should be made clear. To smooth over the discrepancies, to weld them all together doesn’t make a stronger, better gospel. It weakens the different strengths of the individual gospels.
Brown also emphasizes the need for preachers and pastors to make clear that the hostility directed toward “the Jews” in the passion accounts reflect the situation contemporary to the gospel writers – but are not appropriate for Christians today. It is not enough, says Brown, to excise the offending passages in a “Speak no evil; see no evil; hear no evil” manner. This would only perpetuate an unthinking, uncritical reading/hearing of scriptures. Instead we need to read them fully and unabridged, and carefully – but forcefully – preach that such hostility between Christians and Jews cannot be continued today (Brown, 15 – 16).[i]
These essays, though brief, are insightful and powerful. You would do well to read them.