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
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
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
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
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
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.