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8/21/2008
WORD OF FAITH
Understanding a Gospel
REV. ROGER KARBAN


My recent encounter with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has given me a deep appreciation of the medical discoveries and advancements achieved throughout history.

For instance, those involved in my chemotherapy assured me, "This isn't your parents' chemo. Treatment has changed drastically in just the last ten years."

It doesn't take long for medical discoveries to be integrated into medical practice.

Clinging to past

But, when I look at my own field of expertise -- Scripture -- I'm embarrassed to admit that we, as a Church, more frequently employ my great-grandparents' explanation of Sunday's well-known Gospel (Matthew 16:13-20) than even that of my parents'.

We completely ignore the discoveries of the Gospel redaction critics that took place during the mid-195Os, when Dr. Jonas Salk's polio vaccination started to eliminate that dreaded disease. We also seem to forget the Vatican's Pontifical Biblical Commission's 1964 statement on the historicity of Gospels, issued about the same time cholesterol was discovered.

Both Scripture advances showed us that Gospels aren't "Jesus biographies," written by eye-witnesses of the events they narrate. Rather, they're theological documents, composed by the evangelists to help their communities understand the implications of imitating the dying/rising Jesus, who was alive in their midst.

To say, for instance, that the Gospel shows Jesus setting up the papacy and the hierarchical structure of the Church is to ignore some of the most basic discoveries and insights of biblical scholarship achieved over the last century-and-a-half:

1. Matthew wrote not for us Gentile/Christians, but for a Jewish/Christian community, who faithfully attended synagogue every Sabbath, followed all 613 Laws of Moses, and would have understood both Jesus' command "to bind and loose," and His comment about the "keys of the kingdom" in the context of Jewish rabbinical practice, not against our background of confession or excommunication.

That's why Sunday's first reading (Isaiah 22:19-23) referring to "the key of the House of David" is taken from Hebrew Scriptures.

2. If the Gospel contains an essential element of Church structure, why isn't it in every Gospel -- as the Eucharist is? Instead, it is found only in Matthew.

3. The powers Jesus bestowed on Peter in chapter 16 were bestowed on the entire community later in the Gospel.

Faith first

Perhaps a better approach to Sunday's Gospel would be to emphasize what Jesus emphasizes: Peter's faith that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God." That forms the foundation and rock of the Christian community.

It's faith in a person, not a structure, that we should deepen every day.

Paul says it beautifully (Romans 11:33-36): "For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be glory forever!"

Had my oncologist started my treatment by applying leeches to my infected lymph nodes, I would have asked for a second opinion.

08/28/08

 












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