Christians, Jews united

  • February 5, 2007
Toronto - Just a couple of weeks after announcing his retirement as archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic confessed his love to a gathering of about 50 at Holy Blossom Temple.
Ambrozic_HolyBlossom“I love Jeremiah, I may as well tell you,” Ambrozic said. “He’s the only prophet that tells you something about himself.”

The 76-year-old biblical scholar was leading the group Jan. 10  through a wide-ranging exploration of his personal relationship as a Christian, a bishop and an academic with the Hebrew Scriptures. His message to a group of Jews predominantly from his own generation was that Christians and Jews know and worship the same God through their relationship with the Old Testament.

“The Hebrew Bible is God’s word for me,” he said when one member of the audience asked him to compare the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament. Ambrozic said he could not accept the premise of the question. It is the same complex and sometimes inscrutable God in both Testaments, he said.

The cardinal did not arrive at a personal relationship with Hebrew Scripture right away. He recalled returning home from studies in Rome to find his ailing father reading the Book of Job — identifying with Job’s puzzlement over human suffering. Ambrozic’s first reaction was that since he had studied such texts in their original language he knew far more than his father ever could about Job. It was only gradually that the young Ambrozic came to see the importance of his father’s relationship with the story.

“For him, the Bible was real. It was not a literary experience, as it was for me,” said Ambrozic.

Cultivating a personal relationship with the Bible has become the work of the cardinal’s public and prayer life, following in his father’s footsteps.

“The Psalms have become a very personal experience for me,” Ambrozic said.

As Ambrozic thumbed his way through his Bible beginning at Genesis and ending with Habbakuk, he outlined his Christian understanding of God’s covenant with the Jews. After God divides and scatters the human race for building the Tower of Babel, it would seem there’s no way to overcome this punishment from God, he said.

“There is no indication of God’s mercy, no answer,” Ambrozic said.

But as Genesis rolls on, the answer appears.

“Abraham, of course, is the answer,” he said. “It is through Abraham, and through Israel, that God saves humanity.”

Abraham’s descendants, including the Jews of today, “have a universal significance,” he said.

Beyond the idea that Jeremiah may have been the first romantic for the way the prophet played out his passionate relationship with God, and his tragic addiction prophecy, Ambrozic  sprinkled his talk with hints of where the careful reader can find clues about how God loves His people.

About the prophet Isaiah in chapters 40 to 55 he said: “If you are ever depressed — ever depressed with God I mean — well, read that.”

Ambrozic pointed out the prophet Habbakuk’s understanding of faith.

“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will exult in the God of my salvation.” declares Habbakuk (Hab. 3:17-18).

“This, for me at least, is the highest expression of faith in God,” said Ambrozic. “He rejoices in God’s presence even though there is no outward sign of Him.”

Ambrozic admitted that, though he had studied Hebrew, he is not always comfortable reading the language, and recalled spending an entire semester studying three chapters of the Book of Exodus in the original.

Greek is another matter.

“The New Testament I read in Greek,” he said. “The New Testament in anything but the Greek is like reading Shakespeare in German.”

For Erin O’Connor, a member of one of Holy Blossom’s Torah study groups, the cardinal’s insights into Hebrew Scripture were a welcome affirmation of what Christians and Jews hold in common.

“He was commenting in a very thoughtful and wonderfully inclusive way about the fundamental nature of God,” O’Connor said. “His message was that we share the same God.”

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