Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sachs Answers Questions on Covenants, Jesus and Peace
By Chris Sugden and Cherie Wetzel
July 30th, 2008
The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks answered questions at a press conference on Monday at the Lambeth Conference.
1. Does the Covenant of Fate make the Covenant of Faith redundant?
Every building needs a foundation. The covenant of fate allows us to live in God's world. It is responsible for life, nature and diversity. It is the foundation every faith is built on, such that God goes on to make further covenants. The Noachic covenant was not enough. It was just the precondition, logically and chronologically. If we honor this covenant of fate, we make space for one another and for God.
2. Does the Anglican Communion need a covenant of fate or faith? Can you offer wisdom to help with the divisions in the Communion?
A covenant is not a yes/no way of partitioning reality. It is not a matter of a right/wrong proposition with one side being erased by the other. Is it possible to enter a covenant without erasing the other. This is where we leave room for the other.
A covenant is predicated on difference. Difference can compete or difference can cooperate. Cooperation is the nature of covenant. We need all three for society to thrive. A Covenant brings radically different people and entities together: husband / wife; parent / child; and man and God. Ultimately, God and Humanity, through love and trust, face the future together. If we were all the same we would not need a covenant. If we were completely different, we couldn't communicate. If we are totally alike, we have nothing to say to each other. (laughter).
The hardest thing in the world is holding adherents of a faith together. The Anglican Communion has held different strands of Christian theology and practice together more successfully longer than any other protestant religion. You hold together in spite of differences. The rest of the world looks at you with wonder, awe and admiration. Your ability to hold together in a world driving apart is your unique contribution. It creates a landscape of hope for the future.
So, how do I know so much about the Anglican Communion? If you read my CV, you would see St. Mary's Elementary school, Church of England and Christ College. These are my schools. I was a Jew in Christian schools. Never once in 13 years did I have an anti-Semitic slur or incident. I think that is because my teachers cared about their own Christian faith so much that they could understand how I cared about my Jewish faith. That is the Church of England. I spent 13 years in Anglican schools. In moments like this, I like to think that I am repaying the debt that I owe the CofE for my growing up and my education.
3. Covenants and Peace in the Middle East
The first that comes to mind is in the mid-90's, the Oslo Accords with Jerusalem. I was one of the architects. In November '95 Rabin was assassinated. He was not the only one who gave his life in pursuit of peace. I went in 1996 to see Prince Hussein in Jordan. He was already very ill. I saw Crown Prince Hassan. I said to him, "What will bring us together? Jews and Arabs?"
His response was, "Our shared tears." That is the covenant of fate. There are hundreds of languages in the world, but only one shared language, the language of tears.
Today we have a group in Jerusalem of Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children in the battles and wars. They have come together to talk about peace so that other parents don't have to lose their child. Tears bring peace in the Holy Land, a place that longs for peace. The covenant of fate is a powerful force to bring conflict resolution.
4. Are Christians just impatient Jews? How can that be: a people more impatient than Jews? Judaism is the religion of not yet. Christianity speaks of salvation that has come. Judaism is redemption not yet. Each honors our covenant with God.
Tell us about Jesus.
I am not a New Testament Scholar as my friend Rowan is. There is a line we say at the beginning of the prayers on the Holiest of Holy Days: Yom Kippur (Kohl Nidre) I think it is read from the Book of Numbers, about chapter 14. This is what the high priest said on the Day of Atonement: Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.
If Jesus said those words on the cross, then Jesus was at his most Jewish. At that moment Jesus was delivering a Jewish message. The Christ delivering the message to the world. We did not take it to the world. We are few. You are many. You took it to the world. In fact, we are so few. I have the numbers of Jews from all of the countries in the world. That is part of my job now and I travel to see them. We have 5 Jews in China. You can bet that they have 6 synagogues and someone is saying that the Jews are running the country. (again, much laughter)
You have taken that message of one who was a Jew to the world. Take that message as a Jewish message: forgive them Father. If there is one Jewish message we need it is the courage to forgive one another. To walk side by side in many differences of faith, but the shared experience of faith. The World is enlarged by differences. We must do what Joseph did in Genesis. We must have the courage to forgive one another.
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