Modern Scripture scholars are just as focused on surfacing
the mindset of the sacred authors as they are on explaining the words
they've written. One's frame of mind best demonstrates the faith one
In today's short Philippians passage (4:12-14.19-20), for instance, Paul
is referring to a practical, specific situation. The Philippian
community wanted to help Paul financially in his ministry. The Apostle
thanks them for their concern, but also assures them, "I know indeed how
to live in humble circumstances, I also know how to live in abundance...I
have the strength for everything through him who empowers me."
Bend to conquer It's that adaptability to changing circumstances which most
distinguishes early Christianity.
Jesus didn't give His followers a handbook of instructions on how to
construct the Church. He simply left them with an example of His own
dying and rising, commanded them to continue His ministry and trusted
them to be adaptable in carrying it out.
And they did! As we know from our written Gospels, they immediately
changed Jesus' Aramaic into Greek when they encountered perspective
converts who didn't speak Aramaic. They weren't trapped or restricted in
preaching about an historical person who lived in Palestine between 6
B.C. and 30 A.D. They preached the risen Jesus, so they weren't limited
by any time, culture or geography.
As long as they were faithful to His teachings and example, Jesus
presumed His followers would know what to throw away, keep or change.
This unique frame of mind demands that we're constantly "reading the
signs of the times."
But we Christians don't have a corner on this market. It's clear from
our Hebrew Scriptures that some followers of God were gifted with this
same adaptive outlook long before Jesus' birth.
Ancient adaptors Isaiah (25:6-10), for instance, sees a beautiful future in which
"Yahweh will destroy death forever." But he also includes in that
glorious future "the peoples" and "the nations," a polite biblical way
of referring to Gentiles.
Considering that he's proclaiming these oracles when the Assyrians are
threatening to wipe Jerusalem, the city built on the "mountain of Yahweh
of hosts," off the face of the earth, I presume most of Isaiah's
original hearers were scandalized by the prophet's vision.
Yet even in this conflict, Isaiah sees an opportunity to offer the faith
to the very people who want to annihilate his people.
Faith's freedom Matthew (22:1-14) shows us a Jesus who is more than uptight with
individuals who don't take advantage of the opportunities God sends. His
well-known parable of the refused wedding invitations was probably part
of His basic "stump speech."
It perfectly summed up the situation he daily faced, synagogue to
synagogue, town to town. Instead of regarding God's invitation to reform
as an opportunity for new faith experiences, many simply became experts
in developing excuses to continue in their personal "status quo."
Rarely do we surface leaders like John XXIII who embody such an adaptive
frame of mind. Remember the talk he gave at the opening of Vatican II?
He basically told those bishops who didn't want to be there that morning
that he called the council not to rehash what they already believed, but
to explore what the Church could gain from what was going on outside the
Church. Our Church hasn't been the same since.