10/2/2008 WORD OF FAITH The why behind the Biblical what
REV. ROGER KARBAN
The why behind the
Biblical what by Rev. Roger Karban
truly appreciate our Sacred Scriptures, it’s not enough just
to know what our Biblical authors wrote, we must also understand why
they wrote it. No one wrote in a vacuum. Our Scriptures are composed
against the background of real life faith communities experiencing real
life problems in living that faith.
Scripture only comes into existence when someone in the community
notices that the faith which is professed isn’t the faith
which is being lived. That insight, together with the determination to
correct the discrepancy, forces our authors to write.
There’s no doubt what triggers today’s Gospel
passage. John L. McKenzie’s 1966 book, “Authority
in the Church,” laid out the background. When I was growing
up in a close-knit hierarchical Church, the emphasis revolved around
obedience and obligation. Never were we encouraged to question or
critique those in authority.
No wonder we miss some of the major problems our sacred authors
surfaced in their communities. We were led to believe such problems
could never exist.
McKenzie’s book showed that, almost always, when early Church
authors brought up questions about authority, it involved a situation
in which those exercising authority were doing so counter to the
teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth.
Today’s gospel narrative is classic (Matt. 21:33-43). The
historical Jesus has no problem conveying his message to the religious
leaders of his day and age. He simply goes back to Isaiah’s
image of Israel as the vineyard of Yahweh (Is. 5:1-7), pointing out
that little has changed from the days of that 8th century B.C. prophet.
Some in authority still believe they “own” the
faith given them as a trust, responsible to no one, not even God, for
an accounting of what they’re producing. Since they refuse to
help others surface God working in their lives (the “kingdom
of God”), God’s rental property will be
“given to a people that will yield a rich harvest.”
So soon after Christ
Before we get ourselves off the hook by pointing out that Jesus is
castigating Jewish leaders, we must remember, as McKenzie pointed out,
that if Christian leaders weren’t showing the same tendencies
50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, this passage
would never have ended up in a Christian gospel. Matthew’s
complaint is against Christians, not Jews. His Jewish/Christian readers
would have instinctively understood this.
Paul’s Philippians selection (Phil. 4:6-9) shows how
insistent he is that Jesus’ followers accept Jesus’
value system. “Whatever is
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and
received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with
you.” Imitating Jesus’ dying and rising is a
It’s interesting that the Apostle points to himself as
someone to imitate. Takes lots of chutzpah to do that.
Might be good today to make our own list of those in the Church
we’d like to imitate. Perhaps we’ll discover that
only a few of them are in official leadership positions. If so, is that