The January/February issue of The Bible Today
contains an article by Michael Cahill, titled Teaching and Preaching as Priestly
Ministry. He reminds us that ancient Jewish priests and Levites did valuable
work for Yahweh and the people but get precious little credit for it.
They played an important role...in the religious
education of the people of Israel and in the preservation of their faith over the
centuries. They did this through their preaching and teaching.
Dr. Cahills admiration for the work of these ministers
is especially significant for us today, since most Scripture scholars believe a Levite
authored I and II Chronicles. Sundays first reading is even more important because
many of these same scholars are of the opinion that it was once intended to be the Hebrew
Scriptures last passage (II Chr 36: 14-16, 19-23).
Yahweh and us
Though priests get most of the biblical press, their
assistant Levites did most of the actual work, including teaching people who visited
Jewish shrines and temples about the part Yahweh had played in their lives through the
In the reading, the author reminds his community that it was
Yahweh who got them into Babylonian Exile and Yahweh who got them out of it. But, in both
instances, Yahweh used secondary forces to accomplish the task.
Nebuchadnez-zars Chaldeans destroyed Jerusalem and dragged them off to Babylon; The
Persian king Cyrus eventually issued the edict that permitted their return.
In emphasizing Yahwehs methodology, the
sacred writer opens one of faiths most difficult dimensions. Its relatively
easy to believe in a God who enters our life in the way we expect God to enter it -
trumpets blasting, lightning flashing, glories streaming. Its much more difficult to
notice God working through the people and situations we encounter every day.
Paul and John take this insight one step further. They expect
their communities to notice how God is working through them.
The basic theme of Pauls letter to the Ephesians
revolves around Gods choice of non-Jews to be other Christs (Eph 2: 4-10). This ran
counter to the earliest Christians belief: If anyone were to carry on the ministry of
Jesus, he or she, like the historical Jesus, must be a Jew.
We know from Pauls prior letter to the Galatians that
he based his liberal bent on the belief that the risen Jesus is not a Jew (just as the
risen Jesus is not a free person or a man). But here he approaches the issue from a
different direction: Gods unforced, loving choice of each of us.
By grace you have been saved through faith, he
writes to the Ephesians, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not
from works, so no one may boast.
If we could just name one or two things we did to attract
Gods attention, it might be easier to acknowledge God working in and through us. But
Paul believes that even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] brought us to
life with Christ.
John follows the same tack in the Gospel (Jn 3: 14-21).
God so loved the world, he reminds his community, that He gave His only
Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal
This tremendous love actually empowers us to carry on
Jesus work. As John sees it, Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so
that their works may be clearly seen as done in God. Whatever we do in faith, God is
doing through us.
Just as insignificant Levites once carried on the
essential ministry of passing on Jewish faith-history, so today many
insignificant laity and women religious - people officially forbidden to
preach - pass on the essentials of our Christian faith-history. Theyve become the
message they proclaim.