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12/23/2004
WORD OF FAITH
Faith on the move
REV. ROGER KARBAN


We often miss the most obvious point our sacred authors are trying to make. Reading only small hunks of their writings, we overlook their overall theology. No one liturgical reading can provide us with the broad brushstrokes the writers employ to create their works.

That certainly is the case with Luke. In both his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, he presents his theology against the background of journeys. Frequently in Luke's double-volume work, someone is either on the road or planning to go on the road.

His pattern starts with Jesus' birth. Contradicting Matthew, who presumes that Joseph and Mary already live in Bethlehem, Luke must get the sacred couple to David's City for Jesus' birth (Lk 2: 1-14). So he conveniently posits a Roman census (which no historian has yet surfaced) to force the pair to leave Nazareth and travel to Bethlehem. But they're not the only travelers; even the shepherds are told by the angels to travel to David's City to see the "savior born to you."

On the move

Luke knows his Scripture. In the Genesis 12 call of Abraham and Sarah - the first Jews - Yahweh insists that people of faith move. God never tells anyone, "Stay here! Don't budge!" Luke presumes that when Mary told the angel, "Let it be done to me according to your will!" she immediately began to pack.

Biblical conversion always presumes a change. It might not be an actual move from one piece of real estate to another, but at least a mental change of direction. Jesus certainly demands such a change. In His basic "stump speech," He insists that anyone who wants to follow Him "repent."

The Greek word, "metanoia," which lies behind this command, refers to a change in one's value system. Jesus expects us to move from one way of looking at things to another, and eventually to reach a frame of mind that touches God's frame of mind. We're expected to move from our value system to God's value system.

Isaiah expects no less of his audience (Is 9: 1-5). Though Christians have traditionally held that the "child born to us, (the) son given to us" is Jesus, Scripture scholars are convinced that the boy is actually King Ahaz' son, Hezekiah. The prophet is simply informing his community that the "abundant joy and great rejoicing" they're expecting will come about by God's working through the ordinary events of their lives.

New frame of mind

There's no necessity for "external forces" to step in and replace the natural forces that already determine their destiny. If people let Hezekiah's natural, God-given goodness play itself out, they'll eventually see the "great light" of peace for which they long. The Israelites don't need a heavenly change of leadership; they only need to move a little, to discover a new angle from which to view the natural succession of leaders that Yahweh has already brought about. They have to journey to a new frame of mind.

The unknown author of the letter to Titus makes the same pitch (Titus 2: 11-14). Writing to people who already believe Jesus is their savior, he insists that they also move. Just believing that Jesus embodies the "blessed hope" Christians anticipate doesn't necessarily make that hope a reality.

Before we can experience what this hope offers, we must change our value system. As the author puts it, "Reject godless ways and worldly desires....Live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age."

It's impossible to take a "still photograph" of a true believer. He or she is constantly in motion. If not moving their bodies, they're certainly moving their minds - always changing their perspective of reality, always seeing things they've never before noticed. If they continue on the journey, they'll eventually begin to see things, people and events as God sees them.

(12/23/04)












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