In his Apostolic Letter for the preparation of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, Pope John Paul II has stated that "The two thousand years which have passed since the birth of Christ ... represent an extraordinarily great Jubilee, not only for Christians but indirectly for the whole of humanity, given the prominent role played by Christianity during these two millennia" (TMA 15).
The Holy Father, underlining «the ecumenical and universal character of the Sacred Jubilee» (TMA 55), envisages the possibility of a meeting of all Christians, organised in a spirit «of grateful openness to those religions whose representatives might wish to acknowledge the joy shared by all the disciples of Christ (ibid). Since the celebration of the Jubilee is to take place simultaneously in the Holy Land, in Rome and in the local Churches throughout the world» (ibid), it would seem that this openness to people of other religions should also be shown at the local level.
What restrictions may be expected from people of other religions? Will they be willing to join Christians in celebrating the birthday of Jesus? What do they think of Jesus Christ? The purpose of this short article is to take a rapid look at how the followers of some religious traditions might answer this last question.
With regard to the Jewish tradition it is important not to overlook the Jewishness of Jesus. There is not only the fact of his birth, but also his love for the Scriptures and for the Temple as evidenced in his preaching and his ministry in general. It should be remembered too that the first Christians were in fact Judeo-Christians, though very soon Gentiles entered the Church.
In the first two centuries there does not appear to be much opposition on the part of the Jews to Jesus as a human person. From the 3rd century onwards, as the Christian faith in the divinity of Christ became more clearly expressed, and the distance between Judaism and Christianity grew, Jews tended to ignore Jesus. After the year 1000, when persecution of Jews increased, and Jesus was perceived to be the source of all their woes, Jews adopted a more critical stance. Yet some Jewish sages, writing between the 12th and 14th centuries, could speak of Jesus as a "saint", as one who "served to prepare the whole world for the veneration of God in the communion of hearts".
The Enlightenment brought a change. Jesus is regarded as a religious and ethical master, a reformer, a man of faith. He is regarded by some as a "messianic" person, but obviously Jews do not accept him as the Messiah awaited by Israel. The new climate established by the Declaration Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council has allowed both Jews and Christians to take a new look at Jesus....
This very rapid look at different religious traditions will have shown that there are many different approaches to Jesus. As Christians we are rooted in our belief in Jesus as Son of God, Lord and Saviour, and in our love for him. It is this faith and love which allows us to go out to others. We may feel that, though they do not fully share our belief in Christ and our commitment to Him, they are able to walk part of the way with us. This may encourage us to invite them to be associated in some ways with our celebrations for the 2000th anniversary of the Birth of Christ.
Source: Excerpted from the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, The Vatican.