By Abraham Skorka
[Published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, December 22, 2019, p. 7.]
A look back at our human history confronts us, on the one hand, with many fabulous scientific and technical achievements and, on the other hand, with voracious self-destruction. The same genius that discovers and creates often seems unable to master its own harmful impulses.
The Book of Genesis describes how God blessed humanity to multiply and dominate the earth (1:28). But God went on to set a limit to remind human beings that they do not have absolute power over the created world. It was a very simple limit: to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some Midrashic sages (Bereshit Rabbah 15:7) claimed that this fruit was a mere fig, while others proposed various other fruits. This diversity of opinion suggests that the narrative’s prohibition is more symbolic than literal. It is perhaps in the words of the serpent’s temptation that the deeper meaning of the prohibition is revealed. By eating that fruit, the serpent says, “you will be like gods, connoisseurs of good and evil” (3:5). The elimination of God’s presence from human reality, and substituting human beings who know good and evil for God, and are thus supposedly able to act without limit or restraint, is the temptation to which the archetypal human beings succumbed by transgressing the only rule that God had given.
The Garden of Eden, a paradise prepared by the Creator for humanity, can be understood as the place where human beings, nature, and God all lived harmoniously. In the vision of the authors of Genesis, humanity disrupted this primordial harmony.
The two features that mark human history, creativity and destruction, respectively correspond in the Jewish tradition to the hope of a restoration of the harmony between God and humanity in opposition to the craven ambition for absolute human power. The first leads to the path of peace, the second was the source of inspiration for all the demagogues and tyrants who perpetrated horrible massacres and whose threats continue to overshadow the future of humanity.
Isaiah 11 envisions the coming of a descendant of King David under whose reign harmony would be reestablished between humanity, nature, and God. This anointed agent (mashiaḥ) of God would fulfill God’s intentions for a reality of peace in a redeemed world
Since then, the hope of a different human reality is one of the central elements of Israel’s faith. It has allowed the Jewish people to overcome the many tragedies they have had to face and to continue to live and prosper. Through one of Israel’s children—Jesus—this messianic hope for God’s Age to Come was imparted to the cultures of many peoples around the world. Today Christians express the same hope for a world at peace, perhaps with the greatest yearning in their prayers and celebrations during the Christmas season.
And so, with these reflections I offer to the Christian community my sincere wishes for a happy and deeply meaningful Christmas time. May your celebration of the birth, naming, and circumcision of Jesus, renew Christian hope and dedication to God’s Age to Come, and so bring light to a world so often beset with conflict and violence.