One of the most significant insights I've received by studying Scripture is the realization that our biblical writings weren't produced by immediate divine dictation. I no longer take literally those famous pictures of a dove perched on a sacred author's shoulder, whispering God's word into his ear. Scriptural inspiration is a more complicated process.

Biblical books are produced by people who spend time reflecting on how their communities live the faith they profess. Our sacred authors never write in isolation; they're not rugged individualists. They create their works in the midst of a community, a group of believers who are trying to understand the implications of their unique way of life.

Biblical writers presume the dove whispers into the ears of al the faithful. They write for inspired communities, certain their writings are correct because the theologies they develop are continually verified by their communities faith experience.

Community

That's why Jeremiah so convincingly proclaims, "Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from Yahweh" (Jer 17: 5-8). Because of his community's experience, the prophet is just as certain of this statement as he is of the parallel one: Blessed is the one who trusts in Yahweh, whose hope is Yahweh.

Jeremiah's audience has already felt both the curse and the blessing, otherwise he wouldn't be proclaiming them.

Luke operates from the same premise when he has Jesus deliver the blessings and curses of His famous Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6:17, 20-26). These inspired words are more a reflection on past experiences than a program for future action. Luke's community already knows the implications of freely chosen poverty, hunger, sorrow and persecution. These four contradictory beatitudes only make sense because someone Luke knows has already reached life by embracing them.

When Luke's community reflects on the opposite lifestyle, it concludes that those who strive for wealth, food, happiness and honor eventually find death, not life. Such individuals deserve a big Woe!

Jesus' followers also discover something else. When they integrate His death and resurrection into their daily lives, they find they not only break through death's limits at the end of their earthly existence, they also touch a level of life right here and now which most people never reach.

Just as death couldn't hold Jesus, neither can this life hold His followers. Long before their physical deaths, they step into a new world, one which values the very things the other world despises.

Now and then

Yet no matter how appealing or contrary to our modern catechism faith, one must be careful not to zero in only on this life and ignore the future life with Jesus. Paul notices some in his Corinthian community are doing exactly that: restricting the life they receive from Jesus just to this world (I Cor 15: 12, 16-20). If for this life only, he writes, we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.

It's interesting that the Apostle doesn't defend his belief about a future heavenly life with rational or philosophical arguments. He simply reminds his readers that Jesus' followers identify with Jesus. Working against the current of most modern apologists, Paul contends that if we dont eventually rise after our death, then the person we identify with, Jesus, never rose after His death.

The Christian and the Christ are bound together more tightly than the Corsican Brothers: What happens to one happens to the other. If theres no eternity for the Christian, neither is there an eternity for Jesus. Those who experience part of Jesus triumph today will experience all that triumph when they physically die.

Though we've rarely reflected on it, what happens to us in our everyday life is actually part of the inspiration with which God blesses God's people.

(02-08-01)