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A Unique Covenant for the Children of Abraham - A Christian Perspective
The Jew and the Christian belong to the same family in their Covenant with God. The seed of the divine word is sown bountifully in the Hebrew Bible and bears the reality of salvation within itself. It is growing into the fullness of the promise. When it is recognised that Jew and Christian are grafted by faith onto the same "tree", they can continue to grow towards completion. To illustrate this rootedness and this development, I would like to examine Genesis 14:17-24, the text about Abraham's meeting with Melchisedek.
In this encounter bread and wine are brought for the offering, during the course of which both God and Abraham are blessed. All the people who belong to Abram (from now on called Abraham) are included in this blessing (the word is important). This universal blessing was promised when Abraham first heard the Lord God (Gen. 12:1-3). It concludes: "By you all the families of the earth will bless themselves".
To belong to Abraham is to believe as he did. It is to surrender oneself without reserve and in lifelong fidelity to God's covenant. In this commitment, the Jew, the Christian and the Muslim can recognise one other. This covenant becomes a reality when it is lived from within, with heart and soul centred on the living God in daily life. Then this Blessing becomes beneficial for everyone. It brings about reconciliation and peace (as when Abraham returned from the battle); it leads to forgiveness, to respect for the other in his/her integrity; each person, each people receiving their rightful share (cf. Gen. 15:21-24).
This blessing has its material expression in the gift of bread and wine. Bread is the staple food for many peoples; wine stimulates and gives joy. They are natural products that do not require the slaughter of animals or the shedding of blood. They are fruits from the defenceless earth, the outcome of a non-violent way of living with creation. They express the authentic state of a human being who lives in harmony with creation (trees, fruits, plants, animals and other persons cf. Gen 1:29), total security for all, as God willed:
no one threatening another,
no one wounding or killing,
no one robbing another.
The essence of creation in its beginning and in its completion is given here. It is the essential reality of God, which must become actualised in us; this is what it means to live the covenant authentically. Isaiah 2:1-5 expresses it in another way:
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,
And many peoples shall come, and say:
Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.
For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations and shall decide for many peoples; And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
The Mission of the Believer
The mission of every believer, of everyone, is to expect the realisation of this promise, to make it a reality here and now, to live in God's presence. We are a blessing for the world when we give our active consent to this vision of the future with faith in this covenant. Why do people fight each other? Why do we not give room to people who are different from us to live? Why do we not live with other believers instead of setting ourselves against them? What does it really mean to believe and to live as a believer? Who is this God of whom we say "I believe in God"?
It is God's salvation that we want to make present. We are real believers when we offer bread and wine to each other, these non-violent gifts which exclude envy. They are an expression of respect for life which is freely shared with others. It is exactly what Jesus did in offering these gifts to his disciples. He gave himself, his whole life, in the humble gifts of bread and wine:
He took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said: "Take this and share it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes".
And he took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to the disciples saying: "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me". And likewise the cup after supper, saying "This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood ". (Luke 22:17-20)
We really communicate and we form true human community when we share our gifts unselfishly; when we give ourselves. The newness of this one covenant is the gift of self, in love, to others. This becomes a reality in very concrete actions and events, in humility and purity of heart.
The covenant with Abraham is present in this offering and this gift of ourselves. It is the same covenant but it continues to develop in the lives and hearts of human communities and persons, through the love of neighbour, by esteem for their religion and culture, by listening to the "other" by affirming what is good, true and noble in them. That does not mean a fusion of expression, suppression of different identities, an artificial syncretism. Each becomes what they really are by living the covenant in God, each with their own culture, personality, identity, language. The work of God is recognised in each of those who are in covenant with God. All believers are fundamentally united in the covenant of Abraham with God, but in fact it is necessary that it develops into its fullness. We must foster communication and loving relationships through a continual conversion of heart that demands an openness to persons who are different and to their organisations. Do we really want to give and receive without prejudice or selfishness? Are we closed to the advancement of the 'other', entrenched in our self-sufficiency, pride and hostility, in the hardness of our hearts and thoughts? God alone can liberate us from such attitudes.
To live the covenant and move towards its accomplishment within ourselves and around us, we need the help and grace of the living God. So let us pray:
Lord, give us a humble heart of goodwill. Make us ready to serve and to be hospitable in our life. Give light to the eyes of each of us, and enable us to live without anxiety and in full security. Grant that we may be 'bread and wine' for each other, so that the blessing of the God of the covenant may be spread far and wide over all humanity, Amen.
*Rev. Willibord Meekers is a member of Abbaye Sion, Valikerweg, Diepenveen, Holland.