When I first began a parish Scripture class 34 years so, I didn't plan to teach the bible for more than a few months. The Scripture course was just an introduction to a liturgy course.

Back then, the Vatican II Eucharistic reforms were the highest profile part of the Council's many changes. Catholics wanted to know why the rites and rituals they had been assured from childhood had come directly from God for the good of the Church were being unceremoniously altered.

BY using Scripture, I intended to show how some laws and regulations which we believed has been mandated by God had, in reality, come from human beings. I tried to lead my students back to the roots of our faith: the faith of the sacred authors. Though my plan seemed perfect, something went awry. I've never been able to start the main course. After all these years, I'm still teaching Scripture.

Scripture first

The reason is simple. Gradually, I and my students began to understand that acquiring a scriptural faith was more important than becoming liturgical experts. Not only did this unique faith help us understand the basis and necessity for all religious reform, but, as Moses promised the Israelites in Sunday's first reading (Deut 4: 1-2, 6-8), it offered us a life far superior to anything we'd experienced before.

That's why people originally saved the writings which eventually became our Bible. These books helped them understand their faith like nothing else did. And when they patterned their lives on the faith expressed in those writings, they discovered they were interpreting events, people and situations around them in life-giving ways.

Those who share this biblical faith can identify with Moses' hymn of praise to Yahweh: "For what great nation is there that has gods so close to its as Yahweh, our God, is to us...? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?"

Moses' followers were convinced that Yahweh had given them the one key which gave meaning to their entire lives.

Of course, people rooted in biblical faith also identify with James' remark (Jas 1: 17-18, 21-22, 27): "Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves." Scripture is a library for people of action, not a reading room for scholars. It only works if you carry it out.

Question

Yet the question which originally drove me to study and teach Scripture is a question the authors of Scripture frequently ask: "Is everything our religion teaches us to do actually what God wants us to do?" It was asked long before Vatican II.

It's consoling that Jesus, the reformer, addresses the same question (Mk 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23). Sunday's liturgically chopped-up Gospel provides just one example of Him confronting "the traditions of the elders." Like all reformers, Jesus demands that His followers return to the roots of their faith.

The only problem here is that the editors of our liturgical passage left out Jesus' example of a religious law which contradicted God's law: the "corban" loophole, a human law liberating children from God's law to care for their parents.

No wonder Jesus quotes Isaiah's Yahweh words, "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts." In other words, just because something's "religious" is no guarantee it's from God.

Today's Church reformers often make a distinction between Christian faith and the Greek philosophical concepts in which we've traditionally expressed that faith. Of course, such a distinction only makes sense to someone who has an experience of biblical faith -- an experience Aristotle, Plato and Socrates never had, but an experience that's ours for the taking.

(08-31-00)