3/12/2015 9:00:00 AM WORD OF FAITH How Bible's authors taught
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
FROM A READING FOR MARCH 15, FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT 'By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what He has made us...' - Ephesians 2:8-10
If composed today, our sacred writings would appear on the editorial page of our daily papers, not the news page. Their authors presumed their readers already were familiar with the news. Their goal was to present them with the meaning of that news.
That's one of the reasons our Bible is so thick: Our sacred authors couldn't agree on just one interpretation of news. They presented multiple theologies, multiple ways of understanding God working in our lives. If Scripture was written with the same frame of mind which triggered most of our catechisms, it would consist of just a handful of Xeroxed pages, all giving us the same theology in perfect, reasoned order.
Because the Bible's original readers thought semitically, they were much more comfortable with differing (and at times contradictory) theologies than we Greek-thinking modern readers are. We constantly keep looking for either/or answers to our questions; while our ancestors in the faith were not only content with both/and responses; they actually wanted them.
Always interested in exploring the "other hand," they presumed no one - not even a divinely-inspired one - could perfectly squeeze the complete meaning of God and God's actions in our lives into just one editorial.
Many sixth-century-BC Jews, for instance, would have looked at their disastrous Babylonian exile as being simply an example of, "That's the way the ball bounces." But in Sunday's II Chronicles (16:14-16, 19-23) reading, our sacred author gives a different editorial opinion of what caused that disaster: The people of Judah had "mocked the messengers of God, despised His warnings and scoffed at His prophets, until the anger of Yahweh against His people was so inflamed that there was no remedy."
According to the chronicler's theology, the 50-year exile wasn't just an historical accident; nor was it due to purely political circumstances. It was Yahweh's punishment for the Chosen Peoples' sins.
It's easy to forget that the reasons our Christian authors give for Jesus' death and resurrection are also just editorial opinions. Almost everyone presumes Jesus' death was an historical event - something which would have made the news page of any local newspaper. The discovery of His empty tomb might have appeared on the same page a few days later. But when it comes to explaining the meaning of His death and resurrection, we have to turn to Scripture: the editorial page.
In one of the best-known lines of John's Gospel (John 3:14-21), the author presents us with a classic death/resurrection theology: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life."
Somehow, what happened to Jesus of Nazareth around the year 30 CE didn't happen in a vacuum. Twenty centuries later, it still affects everything we are and do. His journey from death to life is the reason His imitators are able to make that same journey from death to life. He did it for us as an outward sign of God's love for us.
The disciple of Paul responsible for the letter to the Ephesians (Eph 2:4-10) developed a similar theology: "Because of the great love [God] had for us, even we were dead in our transgressions, [He] brought us to life with Christ by grace...raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus."
He adds something significant to John's editorial: grace. No one did anything to merit such a gift. It's totally free.
Though the biblical canon is officially closed, what theological editorials would we add if it were still open? What new implications have we unofficially surfaced for the risen Jesus working in our daily lives?