Often, our expressions of faith seem to conflict, even to the point of contradiction. This is especially clear from the tensions which arise between apologetics and Scripture.

In his best-selling book, "Catholicism," Rev. Richard McBrien gives the accepted "seminary" definition of apologetics: "The systematic attempt to show the reasonableness of faith and to refute, at the same time, the principal objection raised against Christian belief."

Apologists, in demonstrating the reasonableness of faith (or a particular denomination's articulation of faith), must deal with the fact that, even after hearing the logical explanation, many people continue to reject or remain indifferent to the faith. Father McBrien offers the well-known "apologetic response" to that objection: "They are either too lazy to examine the evidence fully and carefully, or because, having examined the evidence and having recognized its truth, they find it too difficult to change their lives in order to conform with the truth they now perceive."

Deeper

Our Sacred Authors gladly would have given anything to be able to demonstrate the reasonableness of the faith they conveyed. But, as we see in Sunday's three readings, they never regarded biblical faith as a process of getting one's thoughts or arguments lined up in the proper sequence. Rather, they thought such faith was a matter of forming, continuing and depending a relationship with God.

Deutero-Isaiah's community-in-exile, for instance, probably judged his message to be completely unreasonable (Is 43:16-21). Totally helpless after almost 50 years in Babylon, most Israelites weren't even dreaming of returning to the Promised Land. Then this unnamed prophet breaks into their complacency announcing, "We're going home!"

His reason for giving this ridiculous message? "Yahweh has never broken His relationship with you." What Yahweh once did 700 years before in the Exodus, Yahweh continues to do today.

Their relationship demands that they always use the present tense when they speak of God's actions. "Thus says Yahweh," Deutero-Isaiah proclaims, "who opens a way in the sea...and leads out chariots." Yahweh is a God who does, not a God who did. He finally shouts out the theme which runs through all his oracles: "Remember not the events of the past....See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" True relationships always challenge logic.

Forgiveness

As though continuing last week's Prodigal Son parable from Luke, the Gospel (Jn 8:1-11) is the oft-quoted "Prodigal Jesus" narrative from John. (Actually, many Scripture scholars believe this story originally was part of the Lucan tradition, which was accidentally copied into some ancient manuscripts of John.) Accustomed to having our sins forgiven through a reasonable prescribed process, we're shocked both by Jesus' defense of an obviously sinful woman and His forgiveness of her even before she repents.

Such unreasonable behavior challenges even St. Thomas Aquinas' "liberal" 13th-century teaching that a penitent's sins are forgiven, not when the priest says the sacramental words of absolution over him or her, nor when the penitent competes the assigned penance, but the instant the penitent is sorry for his or her sins.

Notice the sequence Jesus follows. He first forgives, then says, "From now on, avoid this sin." This illogical chronology can only be explained by the evangelist's belief that Jesus forgives because He relates, not because the penitent fulfills the necessary requirements.

Perhaps we should make an exception to the usual liturgical order today and transpose the second and third readings. I can't imagine anyone adding anything to Paul's emotional proclamation of faith (Phil 3:8-14). The Apostle says it all, in a way every Christian can understand -- not because it's logical, but because it reflects the ties he has with Jesus, the prize of his existence.

These three readings supply no ammunition for apologetic wars. Our Sacred Authors' faith is a commitment to a relationship, not a belief in an intellectual process.

(03-26-98)