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3/23/2006
WORD OF FAITH
Finding its meaning
REV. ROGER KARBAN


Two people can experience the same event, yet come up with two different interpretations of it.

I often remind my students that when one opens the Bible, one isn't dealing with a book of history or science or biology; one is opening a book of faith, whose authors aren't concerned as much with passing on facts as they are with giving theological interpretations of those facts -- how their belief in God and their relationship with Him influence whatever happens in their lives.

That is an interpretation that often differs from author to author.

What does it mean?

The author of Sunday's first reading (II Chronicles 36: 14-16,19-23), for instance, interprets Cyrus' decree permitting exiled Jews in Babylon to return to Israel and rebuild their temple as fulfilling a direct command of Yahweh.

Some historians interpret it from a different perspective, pointing out that Cyrus was obsessive-compulsive about the after-life, fearing one day, on the brink of eternity, he'd come face to face with a god or goddess whose people he'd stopped from worshipping him or her.

To overcome his fear, the Persian emperor granted religious freedom to any people he conquered -- Jews and non-Jews alike -- simply requesting, "Say one for me!" in return for the favor.

Did Cyrus carry out Yahweh's direct command, or was he just a victim of his own psyche? It doesn't make a big difference. If we share the faith of the sacred author, we're invited to share his or her interpretation.

As Christians, we buy into the faith-interpretation of Jesus' death that both Paul and John offer in Sunday's second reading (Ephesians 2:4-10) and Gospel (John 3:14-21). Each explains the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning as a sign that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from a death that had cut short His life and ministry.

That the tomb was empty is a "fact;" that the empty tomb means its former occupant has risen from the dead is a faith interpretation of the fact.

Meaning for us

Yet, it's not quite that simple. Even the interpretation has interpretations. What does Jesus' resurrection mean for us?

Fortunately, Paul and John seem to agree on the meaning they offer. Each looks at the life the risen Jesus provides as something we could never earn by our own "works." Paul believes such life is a sign of the "great love God had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions." In the same way, John states, "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life."

Instead of just taking a few steps back and thanking God for the favor, each author gives us some of the implications of living that new life.

For Paul, "we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them." For John, "Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that their works may be clearly seen as done in God."

For each of these first-century Christian theologians, faith is more than just believing in the "things" God has done. They also interpret it as demanding that we live our lives in a different way because of those things.

(3/23/06)












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