Alfred de Zayas
by Eduard Grünwald
Does our ostensibly Christian society understand the message of Jesus
Christ, or do we just pay lip service to it?
Let us imagine, just for a moment, that we were to take the Sermon on
the Mount seriously. Would we still consider ourselves Christians?
we do not practice Christianity, which is based on love and
forgiveness. That's what the New Testament is all about. What we
practice is a modified form of the Old Testament, flattering ourselves
with the illusion that we are, after all, the "good guys",
the chosen people of God, that we shall be saved and that all others
are doomed (and probably deserve to be doomed) -- the Muslims, the
Bahais, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the agnostics, the atheists.
Every time we read the Old Testament and accept with self-righteous
contentment the idea that our God sent ten plagues to the Egyptians,
ordered the Israelites to smite the women and children of Canaan, to
kill everything living in Jericho, to slaughter the city of Hai ...
everytime we read such stories without reflecting on what they
ultimately entail, without realizing the cruelty and profound
unreligiousity of it all -- we are not behaving as New Testament
Christians, but as Old Testament patriarchs equipped with divine
legitimacy and justification to take our promised Lebensraum by
force. (Exodus, Chapters 8 to 15, Deuteronomy
Chapter VII, verses 1-6, Chapter XX, verses 16-18, and Joshua
Chapter VI, verse 21, Chapter VIII, verses 18-29). In the Old
Testament Jaweh is defined as the Lord of Armies, Lord of Sebaoth
(from Hebrew ṣəbā’ôt, pl.
of ṣābā’, army, from ṣābā’,
to wage war). This concept of a warrior God is common to many other
religions -- but does it satisfy our sense of religion, our sense of
goodness, our sense of morality, our sense of justice?
does. And many evangelical churches project this image of divinity.
Somehow it seems that the majority of Christians do not even try to
understand the message, much less llive according to the Sermon on the
Mount, because they think it is an allegory, a metaphor, too tough,
because we reject the fundamental premise of the equality of human
beings. We want to be the privileged class, even if we would
not admit it to ourselves. It is not equality that we want, but
We know the Beatitudes only in name -- not in practice -- for in
essence we still live according to Old Testament rules, considering
ourselves the good chosen people and judging all others as heathen and
worthy of destruction. We adhere to the myth of the "clash of
civilizations" instead of looking for an alliance of
civilizations, for a rehabilitation and reconciliation of cultures.
When I go to
Catholic Mass on Holy Thursday to celebrate the founding of the New
Alliance and the concelebration of the Eucharist feast, when I go with
my wife to the reformed Protestant Good Friday service to meditate on
the overwhelming symbolism of the crucifixion, when we go to the
oecumenical Easter Sunday service, I like to focus on the mystery of
the very fact that we exist, that one day we all shall die, and that
above all we believe in Life and have faith in the Resurrection.
As Rilke said:
"Das Leben ist eine Herrlichkeit".
And again, Hiersein ist Herrlich (7. Duino Elegy)
I like to
reflect on the overwhelming mystery that a GOD CREATOR would so love
his Creation that he would send his SON to die in the Cross to redeem
us. Admittedly, a mystery of faith. Impossible to grasp. Too
anthropomorphic to be transcendental, and yet it has that subconscious
metaphysical quality to it. Either you believe it, or you don't.
Credo quia absudum!
If you do
emotionally and physically feel faith, if you believe, you would agree
that we can be saved only by GRACE, i.e. by the same transcendental
force, by the same incomprehensible generosity -- that gratuitous act
of creation. We ought to endeavour to do the right thing, to be good
to our families, to our neighbours, to our colleagues, to be just, but
our good works can hardly be enough to deserve eternal salvation. We
are only the vessels into which Divine Grace is poured, like wine is
poured into a chalice, and yet it is the wine that matters, the wine
that still tastes of its grapes (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets
from the Portuguese, 6).
If we practiced
Christianity, we would at least make an effort not to hate our
neighbours, not to lie to and double-cross our acquaintances and even
our friends. Maybe we could even persuade ourselves to love some more
of them, in principle, not just our spouses and buddies, but also the
people who work with us, our colleagues in the office, our
secretaries, even our bosses! We should endeavour to hate only evil,
but not the persons who deliberately or by error do evil. Maybe they
are thoroughly confused and subjectively think that they are doing the
"right" thing. Maybe they, too, think they are Christians
and acting honourably.
Instead of creating at atmosphere of confidence around us, we project
a sense of being threatened, the suspicion that we consider our
neighbour to be a competitor, a potential enemy instead of a potential
friend. Thus we provoke the dislike of our neighbours, committing that
first and gravest of the seven capital sins – the sin of arrogance.
Christ tried to
teach us humility, not arrogance.
listen to John Cotton of the first Church of Boston in the 17th
century, listen to Increase and Cotton Mather (1663-1728) of the
Second Church of Boston in puritan Massachusetts. They considered
themselves the New Canaan, the New Chosen People of God, entitled to
smite the indigenous population of the New World, who had first
welcomed them, given them food and taught them how to survive in the
years ago the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials were in progress. The
Prosecutors condemned the vanquished and prostrate Germans, both the
Nazi leaders and the common folk. It was an exercise in arrogance,
because the crimes of the British, American and Soviet leaders were
not less in the eyes of God. Who were we to cast the first stone
against the adulteress? For we were guilty of the nuclear annihilation
of the civilian populations of Hiroshimaa and Nagasaki, the carpet
bombing of Tokyo, the fire-bombing of population centres Dresden,
Hamburg, Kassel, the massacres of Katyn, Nemmersdorf, Methgethen,
Marienburg, Postelberg, Lamsdorf, Swientochlowice, Aussig and Brno,
the expulsion of 15 million human beings from their 700-year old
homelands, the deportation of nearly two million ethnic Germans to
slave labour for many years after the war, etc.
Not without reason Christ asks us, “But why dost thy see the speck
in your brother’s eye and yet does not consider the beam in your own
eye”? Matthew Chapter VII, verse 3. Nuremberg was not a Christian
court. It was an Old Testament tribunal, in the spirit of revenge, not
reconciliation. When I think of Nuremberg I cannot help but be
reminded of Luke, Chapter XI, Verse 52
you lawyers! Because you have taken away the key of knowledge"
an exercise in hypocrisy. A continuation of hate and war by the
instrumentalization of the administration of justice, a corruption of
legal norms and procedures, a pollution of philosophy, a truly
George W. Bush
and Tony Blair too are Pharisees. Certainly no Christians (new-born or
newly-made Catholic), even if they masquerade as Christians and misuse
the name of Christ. When they do, I have a sense of blasphemy. I think
of so many politicians before (and no doubt) after them. Alas, they
are but two in a long list of politicians who have abused religion as
a justification for crime, who instrumentalize the transcendental, the
sense of awe, to lead the gullible masses to their doom. Just as the
fanatical Islamists misuse the Koran. Thus can good books like the New
Testament be transformed into evil deeds. For indeed our God is a God
of Peace, not a god of war like Mars or Wotan.
The New Testament is a "plan of action" for peace and
reconciliation, but in AD 312 Roman Emperor Constantine made
Christianity his personal religion and in AD 380 Emperor Theodosius
declared Christianity to be the only State religion. This transformed
the New/Old Testament into a programme of war and conquest,
instrumentalizing it into a weapon of mass destruction, an instrument
of asserting power -- and keeping it.
It is appropriate in Holy Week to be reminded of the core of Christian
faith, of the mode d'emploi -- the Beatitudes:
"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they
shall be satisfied.
are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
are they who suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven"
Chapter V, verses 1-10)
And I would
turn to that passage of the Sermon of the Mount
“If thou art
offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother
has anything against thee, leave thy gift before the altar and go
first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer thy
gift.” Matthew V, 23-24. This is a cardinal principle of the
Beatitudes -- charity, forgiveness, reconciliation ahead of ritual.
For what is the use of the ritual, if we persist in doing injustice to
reconcile ourselves with our families, with our neighbours, with the
indigenous people of the Americas, of Australia and Tasmania against
whom our European ancestors committed genocide, with the Africans,
whom our ancestors enslaved for hundreds of years, with the
Palestinians, whom we have ravaged and murdered since 1947, with the
Vietnamese and Cambodians, whom we napalmed for no reason, with the
Iraqis whom we aggressed and despoiled of their riches, with the
Iranians, whom we are preparing to shock and awe.
The Sermon on
the Mount is the New Law, replacing the Old Law of the Old Testament.
proclaimed the Old Law from Mount Sinai
proclaimed the New Law from the Mount near Capharnaum.
Let us hail the golden rule: “Therefore all that you wish men to do
to you, even so do you also to them” Matthew VII, 12.
The New Law has replaced the old, as a new Alliance with all of
humanity (Matthew Chapter 26, verse 28, Luke Chapter 22, verse 20) has
replaced the Old Covenant with its exclusivist principle of a chosen
people. Christ's Language at the Last Suppler upon the Consecration of
the Wine says it all: hic est enim Calix Sanguinis mei, novi et
aeterni testamenti qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in
And this new Alliance rests on two principles, that of love, and that of
forgiveness, which Christ so clearly stated in the Lord's Prayer, et
dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
Let us thus
intone the Benedictus of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini
and the Agnus Dei
Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi
dona nobis pacem
And now let us meditate for a moment. What would we do with the Lamb of
God if He were to visit us today? We probably would not recognize Him.
Bearing in mind that the establishment in the Roman province of
Palestine in the time of Emperor Tiberius considered Him to be a
seditious person, a kind of intellectual terrorist, who knows, maybe He
would find Himself today a "disappeared person" in some
incommunicado cell somewhere, awaiting interrogation. But maybe he would
turn the tables on the interrogator and tell him a parable of an Animal
Farm with sheeps and goats and postulate a different World where human
beings could unabashedly show compassion to other human beings, where
needs would be addressed "for I was hungry and you gave me to eat;
I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you took me
in; naked and you covered me; sick and you visited me, I was in prison
and you came to me..." (Matthew XXV, 35-36). Yes, he would be in
prison for us and his message would reach the world as the message of
Nelson Mandela escaped the walls of Robben Island and touched the world.
What would Wikileaks reveal to us about prison conditions and about the
justifications of the Pharisees?
Easter is the name of the pagan goddess of spring. It commemorates the
rebirth of nature, thus the resurrection of Christ. True enough, the
foundation of the Eucharist coincides with the celebration of the Jewish
Pass-over. It is worth pausing for a moment and reflecting on what is
being celebrated there: "For I will pass through the land of Egypt
this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both
man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute
judgement. I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon
the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you,
and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the
land of Egypt." Wow! Is this an allegory? It seems a pretty ghastly
one, and hardly a good example to follow! Talk of love of neighbour!
What kind of a good God would send his agents to murder the first born
of Egypt. This is certainly not my idea of Divinity, not my idea of
Perfection, but the caricature of a very misanthropic God. Just as
misanthropic and hateful as the unhistorical and aggressive "ten
plagues" of Egypt. Indeed, there is not a speck of historical
evidence to back them up, and the period when the plagues are supposed
to have occurred coincides with the years of great prosperity and
cultural brilliance under Pharaon Ramses II. Why so much hate in the Old
Testament? I would have to say with the Taino Chief Hatuey,
burned at the stake by his Spanish victimizers 1512 in Yara, Cuba:
"if that's your God, I don't want to be there."
Meanwhile historians have come to understand that Moses was not a Jewish
slave found as a baby in a basket floating in the Nile (Exodus,
Chapter 2). Moses was an Egyptian follower of the monothesistic Pharaon
Akhenaton (1380-1362 BC), husband of Nefertiti, who anticipated
monotheism by several centuries. As part of my Easter meditation I
recommend reading Akhenaton's Hymn to the Aton. I cannot help
thinking that Akhenaton was a soul brother and that Ramses II too was a
child of God's manificent creation. We are all one family and there
simply cannot be any "chosen people" of God. It would be a contradictio
in adjecto. We are all his children. Indeed, it would be outrageous
if we Christians were to celebrate the blood of the Egyptian first-born,
the "Pass-over" when the angel of Death passed and "slew
every first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharao on
the throne to the first-born of the prisoner in the dungeon, as well as
all the first-born of the animals" (Exodus, Chapter 12, verse 29)
sparing only the Israelites. Everytime I reread that I can hardly
believe my eyes!
I think we do well to celebrate the Spring of the Resurrection.
I think we do well to reflect on Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus
Caritas est", for indeed this is the new Covenant, God is
Charity and enjoins us to love one another. "A new commandement I
give you, that you love one another" (John Chapter 13, verse 34),
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you" (John, Chapter
14, verse 27), and to reflect on his more recent encyclicals Spe
Salvi and Caritas in Veritate.
And let us imagine ourselves back in that high room of the cenaculum
in Jerusalem where Christ invited his 12 disciples for the Last Supper.
He invited them all -- even Judas Iscariot, even Peter who would deny
him three times that very evening! We are all invited -- we sinners, and
all the world is invited to the table of our Lord the Creator. It is not
only the "elect" or the "pure" who are invited. In
fact, we sinners are those who most need God's grace and Christ's
blessing to acquire the strength necessary to carry us through the
vicisitudes of every day. We are all invited to share the bread and the
Let us be thankful for this invitation and sing Psalm 136, Confitemini
Domino, quoniam bonus. Confitemini Domino Alleluia.
we celebrate Easter -- let us celebrate life, not death. It is the
resurrection that gives us hope and meaning. If Christ had died on the
cross and that had been it, the perspectives would be different. The
cross is a much more powerful symbol when it is just the cross, without
the lifeless, martyred body hanging on it. The cross is the symbol of
the resurrection, the symbol of reconciliation, the promise of boundless
Caritas. That is what gives us strength. That is what we have
chosen to believe in!
When we celebrate Easter -- let us celebrate the brotherhood of all men
and women. Indeed, we are all children of God, for, as Saint Paul writes
in his Epistel to the Romans: "For there is no distinction between
Jew an Greek, for there is the same Lord of all, rich towards all who
call upon him. 'For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be
saved.'" (Romans, Chapter X, 12-13).