Over the last 20 years, more and more students of Scriptures
have replaced the familiar, pejorative terms "Old Testament" and
"New Testament" with "Hebrew Scriptures" and
"Christian Scriptures." That switch was prompted by biblical, not
Obviously, Jesus never referred to the writings on which He
based His reform of Judaism as the "Old Testament." He spoke about
them as "the Law and Prophets."
It was many generations after His death and resurrection that
some Christians began to employ "Old" and "New" to
distinguish the two collections of writings.
The vast majority of Christologists
(scholars who study Jesus' ministry) contend that He never used such old/new
categories about His faith. Rev. John Meier, for instance, believes that,
even when Jesus spoke His Last Supper words over the cup (I Corinthians 11),
He simply said, "This cup is the covenant in my blood." The word
"new" was added to "covenant" by later disciples.
According to Father Meier, Jesus had entered into a unique
covenant with God, one all good Jews were expected to enter. It was that
covenant that He expected His followers to imitate, demonstrating they had
done so by drinking from the cup of the covenant during the Eucharist.
The concept of biblical covenants and testaments is far more
complicated than the terms "Old" and "New" lead us to
believe. Hans Walter Wolff, flying in the face of common wisdom, often
mentioned, "There's no wall between our two collections of sacred
writings. A stream of faith runs between them, a stream which constantly
changes direction. Each helps us understand the other."
That's certainly the case with Sunday's first reading (I Kings
19:9a,11-13a). All people of faith can identify with
Elijah's discovery of Yahweh speaking to him in "a tiny whispering
sound." But, on a deeper level, both Christians and Jews can also
identify with what Yahweh tells him from that whisper.
Yahweh demands to know, "Why are you here?"
Unbelievably, the God who helped the prophet walk hundreds of miles to Horeb (Sinai) doesn't want him there! Yahweh sends him
back, beyond the spot where he originally started his trek.
How often we finally reach a point in our lives where we're
certain God wants us to be, only to discover He actually wants us to go back
and restart our faith journey, almost from scratch.
That appears to be one of the reasons St. Matthew in the Gospel
this weekend makes a big thing of Peter sinking when he breaks concentration
on Jesus and starts to notice "how strong the wind is" (Matthew
The evangelist insists his readers understand that, just as
their ancestors in the faith followed a person, Yahweh, so they follow a
person, Jesus. It's far more secure to follow a religion or even a theology
and never worry about ending up in the wrong place or having to start over.
lament in the second reading (Romans 9:1-5) makes more sense without the
Old/New dichotomy. He is complaining that many of his fellow Jews somehow
never used all the experiences of faith Yahweh has provided them to
eventually share in the faith of Jesus.
I presume, could the Apostle have foreseen how followers of
Jesus would later marginalize the Hebrew Scriptures he so loved, Paul would
have directed that lament to us, not to his fellow Jews.
We're often guilty of not taking advantage of God's full word.
I always remind my students that it was only due to the reforms of the Second
Vatican Council that, in 1970, we began to have readings from the Hebrew
Scriptures in our weekend liturgies.
Before then, the reasoning went, "Why read the Old when
you have the New?" The bishops of the Council realized that God's word
is always new -- no matter in which collection of Scriptures you discover it.