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3/27/2003
WORD OF FAITH
Becoming the message
REV. ROGER KARBAN


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. Cahill’s 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. Sunday’s 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 centuries.

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-zar’s Chaldeans destroyed Jerusalem and dragged them off to Babylon; The Persian king Cyrus eventually issued the edict that permitted their return.

In emphasizing Yahweh’s “methodology,” the sacred writer opens one of faith’s most difficult dimensions. It’s 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. It’s 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 Paul’s letter to the Ephesians revolves around God’s 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.

Grace

We know from Paul’s 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: God’s 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 God’s 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 life.”

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. They’ve become the message they proclaim.

(03-27-03)












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