Extract From the Pastoral Letter of Msgr. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

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Msgr. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

Israele       01/11/1993

The Introduction situates the letter in the context of the accords between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization with new hopes for peace. Yet the suffering and anguish of the long conflict still persists. The Bible presents problems for Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land yet it is necessary that they read, study and live by it, for it is the Word of God. The extent and diversity of the Patriarchal diocese is described and the letter is set in an ecumenical context.

Chapter I formulates the questions the Bible poses for Palestinians.
Chapter II is entitled "What is the Bible".
Chapter III answers the questions raised in Chapter I

We print below some paragraphs from the Conclusion)

Freeing the Bible from Political Manipulation

56 The Bible is the Word of God. If politicians or fundamentalist believers abuse it as a weapon in battle, it does not mean that the Word of God has ceased to be God's Word. The value and truth of Sacred Scripture depend on the authority of God Himself and not on those who use it or abuse it, be they friends or enemies.

We say this because some people, exasperated by the abuse of the Bible in the present conflict, have begun to declare that the Bible or the Old Testament is nothing more than a simple history put together by the ancestors of the Jewish people, and that this book has nothing to do with the revealed books.

First of all, this is a refusal to accept a part of the revealed books and a denial of God's Word. Second, this position merely confirms that one has fallen into the same error which one is accusing the other party of, i.e. taking the Bible as a book of history or culture in favour of one people against another. Abandoning all the direct testimonies given by Jesus and the apostles in the Books of the New Testament, and those of the teaching of Tradition and the Church, we would accept the deformed idea imposed on us precisely by those who abuse the Bible.

By rejecting God's Word, dear brothers and sisters, you would simply become accomplices and victims of the opposing party whom you accuse. Already deprived of the land, you would allow yourselves to be deprived of your Sacred Scriptures, and from the light shed by the Bible that helps you to come out of the darkness and to surpass all difficulties.

The Witness of the Three Religions

57 Furthermore, regarding the revealed Bible, the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are in agreement, even if each one has its own interpretation of the Revelation. For each of them, the Bible or the Torah is the book of God.

Faced with abuses, the sound position is therefore to defend the Word of God, not to abandon it. The Word of God should be above every human conflict. It cannot foster a conflict between peoples or individuals. On the contrary, the message of salvation is to be found in it, even in our present situation of conflict. In it must be seen the one and only God, who commands all believers despite their different religions to practise justice, love, forgiveness and reconciliation.

To accept the Bible and believe in it does not mean that God is one's adversary, supporting the opposing side. On the contrary, to believe it is an invitation to both sides who believe it to see God inviting both of them to grant each other justice and reconciliation. In the present circumstances, the Bible is a word of God, a word of justice and forgiveness directed to the two peoples, the Palestinians and the Jews.

The aim of the Bible was always the domination of oneself, it was never the domination of others. To seek to dominate others in the name of God leads to one's own condemnation. All empires that attempted to dominate others came to understand this at their own expense.

The Courage to Accept one's Faith

58 Believers must have the courage to understand the Word of God and be faithful to it, in whatever political or human contingencies they find themselves. It is time to return to the depths of religious truth, and free the religion from the social confines that are stifling it. When religion is set free in this way, it will be a force for liberation, but subject to social or political constraints, it loses all its liberating power, and becomes an instrument of struggle and hostility. Religion should help us to correct ourselves, to free us in order to be able to dialogue with others, and to share with others in a common action of reconciliation and construction.

The Christian must accept himself and accept his faith in its entirety. No part can be excluded. Attachment to God's Word as transmitted in Sacred Scripture, is a part of our deepest, most solid Christian tradition.

It is our strength and a sure reference point in the trying circumstances which concern us. Where are we to find light and strength, if not in God, who makes Himself present in His living and life-giving Word?

In the most dramatic moments of its history, every civil or religious community looks within itself, to its deepest identity, to its origin and goal. This is what is happening to our community. We turn to the Bible to understand ourselves better and to understand better our situation and our path.

God has Spoken in our Land

63 God has spoken in our land and His word has spread throughout the world from our land. "From Zion shall go forth instruction and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Is. 2:3).

Jerusalem was and remains the Mother Church, the birthplace of the first Christian community. Jerusalem as a symbol of the Land itself, is called holy (cf.Mt.4:5, 27:53), not only because specific sites confirm the Bible stories and inspire faith, but also because the city and the land have experienced the divine touching the human in the midst of sinfulness. They call us to a revealed dialogue or conversation between God and us. Jerusalem indeed is the outcome of the free choice of God and an act of grace (cf.Ps.78:68; 87:1f). The city is a symbol of the assurance of the saving power of God: " Just as the mountains are around Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people" (Ps. 125:2).

This holy city and this holy land are also ours. This place is our home. We live upon it and bury our dead beneath it. And today we are suffering for the simple fact of being here. Here in the land of the Bible we are the subjects of our own history. God calls us to take our destiny into our minds, hearts and hands. We drink from the local wells of our unique experience, and are fed by the Word of God who calls us to be in Jerusalem, and throughout the world, authentic witnesses of the One and Only, who is "the faithful and true witness" (Rev.3 : 14).

A Grace and a Challenge

64 To read and to live the Bible today in the land of the Bible is a grace and a challenge. A grace because we journey daily with the same Jesus along the same roads, where He walked with His disciples, as companion and friend.

A challenge, because what we experience today in this same land of conflict and suffering enters our own conversation with the same Lord, in order to make our own "hearts burn within us" as He talks to us on our own pilgrim journey, "opens up the scriptures to us" (Lk.24:32), and helps us to discern the will of the Father in the unfolding of our history.

Jerusalem 1.11.1993

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