Scripture was written by people reflecting on the implications of God working in their lives.

Even when the Sacred Authors appear to be narrating factual, eye-witness history, they're actually giving us editorials on history, editorials based on the faith dimension from which they view everything around them. Their experience of faith is far more important than their knowledge of history.

This faith dimension is especially clear in this Sunday's first and third reading. Though both passages are rooted in historical events -- the Babylonian Exile and Jesus' death -- the authors are more interested in conveying meaning than facts. And each writer presumes his readers share the faith which prompts his reflection.

Moral choices

The author of this part of II Chronicles, for instance, is especially concerned that his community understand the basic cause of the Exile (II Chr 36: 14-16, 19-23). According to His faith-viewpoint, God brought about this disastrous deportation because the Chosen people "added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord's temple which He had consecrated in Jerusalem."

Though experts in ancient Middle Eastern history would probably pinpoint bad alliances, poor military decisions or ineffective leadership as the causes of Judah's defeat by the Babylonians, our author is interested only in the moral choices which the Jews made. In his opinion those choices alone brought about the Exile.

In a similar way, the author of the Gospel (Jn 3: 14-21) not only "editorializes" Jesus' well-known conversation with Nicodemus, but also adds some undisguised, overt comments as the middle-of-the-night dialogue ends.

"For God so loved the world," the author first tells his readers, "that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life."

Then, as his reflection continues, the evangelist explains why, at the end of the first Christian century, so many refuse to accept and follow Jesus. "The light came into the world," he writes, "but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil."

Just as the author of II Chronicles judged his history against the background of his faith in Yahweh, so the author of John judged his experiences against the background of his faith in Jesus. Those who don't share their faith don't share their judgment.

Listen carefully

That's why we must be careful in how we hear many parts of Scripture. The books of the Bible weren't written for everyone; they were directed to a specific group -- people who had made the same decision about Yahweh and Jesus as their authors had.

We especially experience the latter in the second reading (Eph. 2: 4-10). Paul expressly states that he's directing these words only to those who had imitated Jesus' dying and rising. "Brothers and sisters," he writes: "God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love He had or us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ,... raised us up in Him, and seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus."

If someone has not accompanied Jesus through death and resurrection, that person will never understand what Paul means when he speaks about "grace" being God's gift.

Perhaps some of us consistently daydream during the liturgical readings not because the lector does a bad job of proclaiming God's word, but because we've done a bad job of believing that God could actually be the essential part of our lives. We're probably listening to someone else's book! (03-30-00)