Priests who are Scripture scholars have a problem proclaiming one particular line of the Second preface for Advent Eucharists: "His (Jesus') future coming was foretold by all the prophets."

The historical method of study we pursue -- first mandated for Catholic scholars by Pope Pius XII in his 1943 encyclical "Divino Afflante Spiritu" -- leads us to conclude that no prophet or author of the Hebrew Scriptures ever predicted anything about Jesus as such.

So we instinctively recoil in scholarly dismay when we hear Peter state, "God has thus brought to fulfillment what He had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer" (Acts 3: 13-5, 17-19).

Prophecy?

Our dismay continues in the Gospel where Jesus assures His disciples "that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled" (Lk 24: 35-48).

We'd like to corner Peter and Jesus, and ask what prediction texts they're talking about. But this misinterpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures probably doesn't come from Peter or Jesus. One of the perks of being a biblical author is that you get to write down all speeches everyone gives. Peter and Jesus are simply proclaiming the theology of the unknown Christian author who composed both the Acts of the Apostles and Luke's Gospel, an author who knew nothing of historical exegesis.

When we apply our historical method to the authors of the Christian Scriptures, we realize they operated from a different perspective than we. Today, we work at uncovering the original meaning the sacred writers put into their text. But in the first century, the earliest followers of Jesus tried to uncover the meaning He had put into their lives.

They were more interested in their own history than in the history of prior biblical writers. Since they found Jesus in every part of their existence, they presumed they'd also find Him in every part of the Hebrew Scriptures they revered.

They didn't hesitate to cut verses in half, remove passages from their literary and historical context, or even give words meanings which their authors never intended. Somehow, some way, these first Christians were able to discover Jesus in almost every line.

Awesome faith

Though we wince at their methodology, we stand in awe of the faith which prompted it, a faith which helped people repent and convert to an entirely new lifestyle...a faith which regarded the risen Jesus to be so close they could reach out and touch Him in their daily lives...a faith which experienced Him dining with them whenever they celebrated the Eucharist.

Our Christian authors didn't start with the Hebrew Scriptures, then work their way forward to understanding Jesus. They first experienced Jesus in their lives; then, because of His presence, they began to re-interpret their Sacred Writings. The only historical limits restricting their endeavor were the limits of their personal faith-history.

That's why Sunday's second reading (I Jn 2: 1-5) is so important. The author reminds his community of the starting point of all Christian faith. "The way we may be sure that we know (Jesus)," he writes, "is to keep His commandments. Those who say, `I know Him,' but do not keep His commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them. But whoever keeps His word, the love of God is truly perfected in him."

Only after someone begins to imitate Jesus can that person truly reflect on what Jesus is about. Valid Christian theology comes from our experience of being other Christs.

True followers of Jesus begin their faith journey with a person, not with a book.

(05-04-00)