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8/7/2008
WORD OF FAITH
Faith: Old, new, now
REV. ROGER KARBAN


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 political, correctness.

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.

Covenant

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 14:22-33).

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.

Always new

St. Paul's 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.

 08/07/08

 

 












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