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7/31/2003
WORD OF FAITH
Imperfect followers
REV. ROGER KARBAN


One of the most interesting side effects which comes from studying Scripture is the realization that our sacred authors often interpret the same biblical event in diametrically opposed ways. Each writer feels free to examine the happening from a different perspective.

No incident in the Hebrew Scriptures is more important than the Exodus and its sequel — events essential to Jewish faith. Yet different writers give different interpretations of the Chosen People’s 40-year trek through the wilderness. The prophet Hosea, for instance, in the second chapter of his oracles, depicts that period as Yahweh and the Israelites’ honeymoon experiences. The two are as intimate and loving as a husband and wife immediately following their marriage.

Complaints

On the other hand, the author of the Yahwistic source of the Torah regards the same period as a time of testing. Yahweh’s continually doing things that irritate the Chosen People. They grumble and gripe, never satisfied with God’s actions on their behalf. This is one of the reasons we know the author is responsible for Sunday’s Exodus passage (Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15).

"The whole Israelite community," the writer tells us, "grumbled against Moses and Aaron... ‘Would that we had died at Yahweh’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread. But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!’"

God provides quail and manna; the griping stops. But the message is clear: "Those who follow God aren’t the most perfect individuals on the face of the earth.

The same is true of those whom Jesus feeds in the Gospel (Jn 6: 24-35). Even after they’ve been fed, they still don’t understand the meaning of what happened. Their first reaction is to search for Jesus so they can get more food. "You are looking for me," Jesus reminds the crowd, "not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled."

Bread of life

Like the wilderness-roaming Israelites, John’s crowd is so imperfect that they miss the significance of being part of an action that people would reflect on for centuries. No doubt they’ll also begin to grumble and gripe if Jesus produces no more food, never understanding how they fit into this essential piece of John’s theology: "I [Jesus] am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."

John explicitly ties the miraculous feeding into the Eucharist. But, faithful to his biblical roots, he gives us a different angle from which to view the Lord’s Supper than the ones his theological predecessors gave us. Unlike Paul or the other evangelists, he forces us to focus on the actual bread and wine as one of the major places to encounter the risen Jesus in our lives. Most scholars believe we’d have no tabernacles in our churches if it weren’t for John’s unique take on the Eucharist.

No matter how we interpret God working in our lives, Paul is convinced our interpretation effects the way we live those lives. In the second reading (Eph 4:17, 20-24), he encourages the Ephesians to "put away the old self of your former way of life...and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth." Because we’re imperfect, our renewal of spirit is an ongoing process. We can’t see everything at one time.

If the ancient Greek philosophers were correct in their contention that the "unexamined life" isn’t worth living, our sacred authors are even more correct in their contention that "unexamined faith" isn’t worth believing. We simply have to be prepared for the diversity which results from our examination.

(7/31/03)










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