One of the first things students of Scripture learn is the disturbing fact that biblical events are not always presented to us in the order in which they actually took place.

For example, "call narratives" usually are the last part of a prophetic book to take form. Yet they're almost always placed at the beginning of the book.

The authors often rearrange historical or chronological order for readers to help us appreciate up front the meaning of events that the actual biblical participants wouldn't have understood until much later in their lives.

Called by God

For example, when Isaiah narrates his well-known temple call in Sunday's first reading (Isaiah 6:1-8), he's most probably sharing with us his reflection on his many years of prophetic ministry, putting pieces together that originally didn't seem to fit together.

Only toward the end of his ministry did he begin to understand the "otherness" and force of God's word in his life -- and his own unworthiness in proclaiming that word.

Something similar happens in the Gospel (Luke 5:1-11). Just when did this miraculous catch of fish take place? Luke places it before Jesus' Resurrection; John puts it after. Scholars believe both narratives basically describe the same event.

If it took place after, why does Luke locate it before, and vice versa for John? The answer lies in the greatest destroyer of chronology in the Christian Scriptures: Jesus' Resurrection.

The primary basis for human chronology is birth and death. But something gets thrown out of chronological kilter if death leads to a new birth. That is precisely what happened in the lives of Jesus' followers.

One He intersected their daily lives as the risen Jesus, they would never again look at life and death in the same way. That's why Luke could take a post-Resurrection event (and the call to ministry that's an essential part of it) and insert it into a pre-Resurrection environment.

Birth last

Having recently finished our Christmas celebrations, we might think that the first Christians evangelized others by initially telling them about the Bethlehem narratives.

Paul informs us in the second reading (I Corinthians 15:1-11) that the opposite took place: "For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins,...that He was buried,...that He was raised on the third day."

The first thing about Jesus that prospective converts were expected to believe was that He died and rose. Once someone said, "I believe in Jesus' death and Resurrection," then he or she found out about His public ministry, and eventually the circumstances of His birth and infancy.

With this "mixed-up" biblical chronology in mind, it might be good to reflect on the actual starting point of our own faith. Where we are in our beliefs now might be far removed from where we started.

I presume everyone has a different faith chronology. Yet we might have to live a lot of years before we actually begin to appreciate and understand our personal chronology.

(2/1/07)