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Ole Christian Mælen Kvarme

Évêque luthérien, Norvège

The theme for this panel is ”Scriptures in Monotheistic Religions”. The authors of the New Testament were in constant dialogue with the Jewish Bible, and the Koran relates widely to the biblical traditions of Judaism and Christianity. Today, however, these Scriptures do not talk to one another. They are foundational for our religious communities, but people live side by side and talk to one another. 

To my mind the question in our theme is the following: What is the significance of our sacred scriptures as we encounter and live with people with other sacred scriptures? Are the sacred scriptures a demarcation line that only separate us from one another, or are they doors that may open up for broader horizons, interaction and fellowship?

I would like to begin with a story, not just another story, but one of the better known from the New Testament: Jesus´ parable of the Good Samaritan. You will remember how Jesus told about the man who fell into the hands of robbers and was left half-dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A priest and a Levite came, but disregarded the man and passed by. But a Samaritan had compassions with him and bandaged his wounds, brought him to an inn and took care of him. Now you may ask: What has this to do with “Scriptures in Monotheistic Religions”?

Well, Jesus told this parable as he and one of the experts in the Law, a Bible scholar, discussed a piece of Scripture. It was not just any piece of Scripture, but the double love-commandment: “Love the Lord with all your heart… and your neighbour as yourself.” They both agreed on this, upholding the authority and quintessence of Scripture. They shared a common platform.

But then Jesus tells his parable and turns many things upside down, and I am fascinated by its relevance for me as a Christian as we discuss the significance of our sacred Scriptures. 

First, Jesus points to the relationship between the word of Scripture and the way we live our lives. The authority of Scripture is tested in our encounter with a fellow human being. Jesus introduces the authority of the other for the way we walk and act, in this case the man who was left half-dead by robbers. This does not diminish the authority of Scripture, but emphasizes the way we live and the significance of the other.

Secondly, Jesus turns the question of the Bible scholar around. He had asked: “Who is my neighbour?” When Jesus ends his story, he asks: “Which of these three – the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan – do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” In other words: We cannot define who are our neighbours, we can only ourselves be neighbours. Another rabbi of the same age made the same point: “One can only oneself be a good neighbour.”

Thirdly then: Jesus does not only bring a Samaritan into his story, but presents him as the neighbour of the half-dead Israelite. The Samaritan is the surprise and the shock of the parable. He belonged to a community with their own version of the Torah and a different tradition than the Jews of Jerusalem. They were regarded as schismatics, as outsiders. But it is this schismatic Samaritan who lives out the double love-commandment. I cannot but see in this story an open door to “the other” and to people of other traditions. Jesus says: “Go and do likewise.” 

When I read this story as a Christian, I also see a hidden reference to Jesus himself. In his ministry he healed the sick and concerned himself with the poor. Later, on his way to the cross, he is left alone and slain like the suffering man. Jesus identifies with the man who fell among the robbers, but also with the Samaritan. He bridges the gap between the word of Scripture and our troubled lives.

But in his identification I also see something more. In the Gospel of John Jesus says about himself that he is “the way, the truth and the life”. This we believe as Christians, and we regard Christ as the incarnate Word of God to us. But we shall never finish with this Word – in search of this way, truth and life. This also opens up for our relationship to the other – also to people of other traditions and with different Scriptures. 

The call of Scripture is still there, just as the call of the other. Today this is a call for compassion in dialogue as we search for common ground in our Scriptures and deal with our differences. But equally important it is a call for compassion in diapraxis – in our common lives as neighbours to one another.

With this in mind I would like to add three remarks related to our context here in Krakow – remarks that deal both with the authority of our Sacred Scriptures and our lives as neighbours.

Tomorrow we go to Auschwitz to remember one of the darkest nights in human history. During the Third Reich the Nazi regime admonished people to eradicate everything Jewish from society and culture. Never in European history has there been such an onslaught on the religious heritage and culture of our civilization. Did they forget that Jesus was a Jews, and that our sacred Scriptures were written by Jewish authors? When anti-Semitic trends again appear in Europe, we have to point to our common heritage and uphold the respect for both Jewish and Christian Scriptures for the sake of our common future. And we must ask: Where are we and how do we live together as neighbours?

This I say as we also gather in the muslim month of Ramadan, this special time for the recitation of the Koran. The differences between Christians and Muslims are no less than between Jews and Christians, but the respect of Muslim tradition for the peoples of the Book should resonate in our respect for them. When I referred to the conversation between Jesus and the Bible scholar and the parable of the good Samaritan, I was again reminded of the letter from 138 muslim scholars to us two years ago. They pointed to the Sacred Scriptures of Jews, Christians and Muslims and highlighted the double love-commandment as a basis to move forward together for the sake of peace in our world. There is still a lot of work to be done among us to move this process forward, in dialogue as well diapraxis.

Finally: This approach to our Sacred Scriptures does not only concern the relation between Jews, Christians and Muslims. This summer I read one of the sayings of Buddha, in the anthology of Dhammapada: “Not through enmity comes enmity to rest, but through friendship will enmity rest.” This comes close to what Jesus said: “You have heard it is said: Love your neighbour. I say unto you: Love your enemy.” This does not exhaust what is said by the Sacred Scriptures in our traditions, but I think it is a good starting point – particularly in this context of Sant´ Egidio which has taught us so much about the significance of friendship.