“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3
“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Dear Church and Peace members and friends,
The season of Advent, when we await the coming of the Messiah, plunges us into the mystery of the history of salvation. The child from Bethlehem - who grows up and ministers in Galilee, who goes up to Jerusalem, the son of God on the cross who, restored to life, appears to his followers in Galilee and sends them out into the world -, is he not the one in whom is fulfilled the promise made to Abraham: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”?
In this version of history humanity is not divided into camps of good and evil; the future does not belong to those who impose their will and their interests by whatever means are deemed necessary. The idea is not to establish a world ruled by the strong who wage war without mercy against their adversaries. Decisions are not left to the whims of coalitions formed and disbanded to serve leaders’ purposes. There is no secret or deadly manipulation of people and facts to further an agenda.
Instead in this view of history we can discern a recurring theme: God’s will for humanity is benediction. He created everything good and strives time and time again to save and heal a humanity which relentlessly pursues dreams of power and glory instead of focusing on God.
The call of Abraham is a central event in this history of benediction and salvation: the good that God intends for humanity will not take place in a general manner; this blessing will occur through the vehicle of a people bearing God’s message. This people, descended from Abraham, will be heir to many promises but these promises are not reserved exclusively for them: the history of the patriarchs emphasizes both the unique position of the people to whom the land of Canaan is promised and the fact that Abraham will be the father not of a single nation but of a multitude of nations.
The stories of the Exodus, the occupation of the Promised Land, the establishment of the monarchy and its decadence all give a critical look at the history of the patriarch’s descendants. The stories tell how promises were fulfilled: a people which escaped from slavery and is different from other nations, entrusted by the Torah of God, has settled in the land of Canaan. But they also tell how this people let itself be caught up in the temptation to become like other nations. The emergence of capitalism, politics defined by plots and scheming and alliances with the powerful; spiritual decline leads this people away from its initial vocation.
Only the prophets, untiring critics of the status quo, remain faithful to this vision and continue to proclaim it. A certain Jonah becomes - against his will - the messenger of God’s mercy for the worst enemy of his own people. A certain Jeremiah will go so far as to affirm that the people of God, even deprived of its land, is still responsible to bring benediction to the surrounding society.
Tracing the recurring theme of benediction throughout the history of salvation leads to the One who came and whom we await. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. He expands the horizons of his disciples by approaching those whom his contemporaries exclude: sinners, Samaritans, pagans. He rejects the laws of exclusion. He heals the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter. He finds more faith in the Roman centurion than in many of the sons of Abraham. He promises the Samaritan woman rivers of living water. Yes, he affirms that “salvation is from the Jews” but he rejects the idea that one land be considered ‘holier’ than another because “the true worshippers worship the Father in spirit and truth”. Thus he smashes to pieces a system based on exclusion. Thus he opens the floodgates of benediction for all the nations.
Benediction, the recurring theme throughout the history of salvation... The history of the past twenty centuries and especially the history of those who profess the God of the Bible continued on an ambiguous path. Sadly the ‘Christian’ West is all too well-known for the crimes it has committed: slavery, the Inquisition, the Crusades, colonialism, the Holocaust, neo-colonialist capitalism...
Yet the theme of benediction has not disappeared completely. Even though it has remained a minority voice, witness for a Gospel bringing peace and blessing has also been alive and bearing fruit wherever it has been preached and lived out on a daily basis. This witness is needed more than ever today even if - and precisely because - the predominant ideology seeks to win the world over to its lethal way of thinking. We are all sons and daughters of Abraham if we dare to live and proclaim today, by our engagement in the community of faith and by our actions supporting God’s promise, that God’s plan encompasses all of humanity. He wants to bless humanity, not destroy it.
May the God of blessing keep us vigilant in this Advent season as we meditate on the meaning of the history of salvation, a history which, inaugurated in Abraham, Father of many nations, culminates in Jesus Christ. This history gives us the tools with which to interpret the history unfolding before our eyes today and to respond in all humility. May his Spirit make us agents of benediction.
Abraham illustration taken from the publication of the Center for Religious Dialogue in Belgrade.