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Between God and His People
It has been said that authentic dialogue should be a challenge. One must feel confronted to enter whole-heartedly into it. Neither of the partners can remain outside the full range of dialogue. This is true primarily of our biblical perspective. In the Bible, the human person is seen in dialogue with God. God calls him/her, confronts him/her, puts him/her to the test. And Abraham, who is at the origin of the Jewish people, through his call accepts this invitation. Later, particularly in Moses, we witness its development: a people challenged by God, a nation formed by God, finds itself in dialogue with God, in a mutual contestation which still endures.
The Bible gives us the main stages in the wonderful history of this people which, in its very essence and through its religious position, was to become both the symbol of humanity and the melting pot, where even the matter of revelation is cast. Thus, the book which, in the form of Scripture was to record this revelation, this irruption of the living Word of God into the world, was to evolve from Israel’s own history, which throws its dazzling prophetic light onto the most distant past as onto the most distant future. And ever since, all people have been related to this history. The whole of humanity is called into question by the characters in the book. Every single person, as well as every nation can see there their own reflection as in a mirror. Here they find like a self-revelation a reactive which causes them to call themselves into question while at the same time awakening an awareness of God’s revelation.
But it should be noted that in the Bible, God and His people, God and the Jew, are confronted with one another and mutually accept this confrontation within the framework constituted by the Covenant. The word has been introduced; it sheds light on the whole book which could well be entitled: «The Bible is the Covenant». But we must admit that this Covenant situation is hardly something ordinary. It is even paradoxical: a people and a God…
I. a God whose physionomy gradually becomes clearer, going beyond all the limits of consciousness, which He invades without destroying; a unique God, the centre of personal communion, source of love which extends over the whole universe without ever becoming confused with it;
2 a people with strong characteristics, whose culture would filter the ancient wisdom of the Orient and give to the world the religious vision recorded in the Bible;
3 a living God who reigns over all, the only absolute to whom alone adoration is due;
4 a people tormented by the vicissitudes of history, yet never annihilated, whereas the powerful empires which looked as though they would wipe them out have long ceased to be;
5 a people still alive today, which assimilates every kind of culture and wisdom, and asks the world: Who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you going?
The whole history of this people of God is magnetically drawn by a current of unparalleled impetus: Messianism. For this people, as well as for the whole world, this messianic current bursts all our mental and sentimental categories. It sparks off in the heart of the Jewish people and at the heart of the nations a series of explosions which are like reactions to successively going beyond states of knowledge and of civilization, which human beings would like to firmly establish and maintain for a long time.
It is absolutely essential for us Christians that we never forget that our origins are in this people, that we are linked to it by the very will of God, because salvation, like the Saviour, comes from the Jews. Jesus is a Jew. He is even the Jew par excellence ; he recapitulates Israel and takes it beyond what it is. And He who said, «I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill», shows us in His own person the whole journey of a history lived in time, assumed in depth at all levels of existence, and into which, through being grafted onto Him, we, too, enter. His life, His blood, His flesh transfigured in His fulfillment are given to us. Can we forget His origin, which, through Him, becomes ours? A Jesus of the Christian Gospel, who was no longer that of the Bible and the most perfect expression of the Covenant, would no longer be Jesus, the Saviour, the Messiah.
Can we then pass by a Jew or Jews without looking at them, without speaking to them and feeling that, at least spiritually, we belong to the same family, to the same race? If there was a time (and perhaps it still exists) when the epithet «Jew» was an insult, this absurdity must now come to an end. We must reverse the situation and consider that to be a Jew, or to be called a Jew, is rather a compliment and a title of nobility, because it reminds us of our relationship and of who is confronting us.
While the human person at the height of progress and civilisation seeks to close in on him-/herself and ends up by destroying him-/herself, the genuine Jew, the true Israelite, denounces this madness, this absurd illusion of self-sufficiency, and pushes open the door of the hereafter to welcome Him who comes.... Nothing suffices the human person, neither his or her own self nor all of creation. Christ’s last words spread over the whole history of the world the luminous and at the same time veiled reflection of God’s love for humankind, whom He desires should enter His kingdom.
If Christianity is a fulfillment, the Christian must know what this fulfillment is made of and must accept to sense that no human wisdom can replace this essential dialogue with the elder brother of the family. Reciprocal knowledge and mutual confrontation, a kind of uncluttering of our minds and above all, going beyond our habitual mental patterns within Jewish-Christian dialogue could reveal unexpected horizons. On condition that each remains faithful to his/her beliefs, we could then perhaps discover astonishing convergences, ways of thinking, of grasping reality beyond words and images, as well as the strength of a deep love for the world and all that it teaches us.
Among other things, there is a way of reading and rereading Scripture while living the event of each day which contact with Jews can teach us anew. And above all, by knowing them better, could we not discover with them what is continuity in a plan, what is the permanence, in the midst of the most profound changes, of a pledged fidelity that is maintained and unfailingly present to our destiny: that of God? God is faithful. God is fidelity itself, as He still shows in the history of His people. God is always there, as is His people, even though the form changes.
Dare I say that Israel, lived and represented so diversely by its members, even in its mystery - for it is a mystery – lets us discover a dimension, a depth in what is human which frightens us. For whether we want it or not, Israel reminds us that we are interdependent in a drama of cosmic dimensions which takes place in infinite time and space. We must recognize in ourselves these immense powers which go through us, and whose meaning is revealed to us in the mystery of the Covenant. This mystery is revealed in Christ - Christ as He is, as He was announced and prepared for, and as He was given to humanity by the one God, to whom our adoration makes us open.
And let us not substitute ourselves too easily for the Jews by thinking that only they and all of them failed to recognize the Messiah and rejected Him. All too often, we too fail to recognize Him and reject Him in so many ways. Let us never say: they have done that, we however… That is too facile and abusive a dialectic which falsifies our outlook and mind. Also, let us be careful lest, through appalling vanity, the much decried blindfolded synagogue becomes our own caricature. There is a pride of possession and a hardness of opposition which ruin hope and prevent us from entering into dialogue with our Jewish brothers and sisters.
It is perhaps not as easy as might be thought to truly recognize Christ; and to have a truly religious view of the world is a true conversion. Dialogue with Israel will certainly help us in this. The Church of Christ, the people of God who recognize themselves in Israel, have expressions in prayer which should enlighten us, as for example this one: «Abraham, father of our faith...» or in the Canon of the Mass: «Abraham, our father».
We must allow the Word of God to work in us. As Edmond Fleg has so well expressed it, Jews and Christians are on either side of a great river:
And now, both are waiting,
You, that he should come,
And you, that he should come again.
But it is the same peace you are both asking for,
And, whether he comes for the first time
or the second,
You are both stretching forth your hands.
In the same love, you are stretching them forth!
What does it matter then?
From this side or the other,
Grant that he may come!
Grant that he may come!
(Ed. Fleg. Ecoute Israël, L’Evangile d’Ahasvérus, p. 245)
There is unity in the successive stages of salvation, just as the Covenant is renewed and definitively consummated in Christ. From the first poetic narratives of Genesis to the grand frescoes of St. John’s Apocalypse, there is one unique intention, one message resounds: that of the divine Word which animates every text, and which can reach the person who hears it. It is not in vain that in the Apostles’ Creed we say that Christ rose again on the third day «according to the Scriptures», or of the Holy Spirit that He «spoke through the Prophets». All that is very incarnate, like the psalms which «speak of Him» in a history and a people which is not relegated to the past, but remains the trunk «onto which we are grafted». As beautiful as the branch may be, it has not replaced the roots and the trunk. And then, like a gentle but penetrating light, shines forth the Canticle of Mary - also a Jew, the Daughter of Zion - solemnly chanted every day at Vespers:
He has given help to Israel His servant,
Mindful of His mercy,
As He promised to our fathers,
To Abraham and His descendants forever.
We are caught up in a vast movement which does not begin with us who are present now and which cannot be reduced to the limits of our perception. It begins with Creation, passes through the Noahide covenant, the vocation of Abraham, the proclamation at Sinai to Moses, the thundering of the prophets, and finally through Jesus, who makes it resound throughout the world by means of the Church.
Dialogue with Jews will make us more keenly aware of the universal salvific will of God.
* Dom Paul Grammont was the Abbot of Bec-Hellouin from 1948 to 1986. He died in 1989.
Sidic, I, 3, 1968
The English translation of this article was somewhat revised for the present edition (Editor’s note).