FROM A READING FOR DEC. 19, FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
'It's bad enough for you to wear out the patience of people - do you have to wear out God's patience, too?' -- Isaiah 7:13

Those who study Scripture today don't interpret some parts of the Hebrew Scriptures as the authors of the Christian Scriptures interpreted them.

They didn't have the tools modern scholars possess to recreate the world of these ancient sacred authors. Often, they had just the writers' words, and knew nothing of the context.

Neither did they see the necessity of reading any author's entire work. It was sufficient for them to read only a verse or two, often taking the passage out of the writer's context and slipping it into their own. This is the case with Sunday's first and third readings (Isaiah 7:10-14; Matthew 1:18-24).

Rev. Raymond Brown once disturbed some priests by stating, "There are no predictions of Jesus, as such, anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures."

Hands flew into the air. Father Brown replied to each objection, especially the ones which sprang from Matthew applying Isaiah's famous "virgin-shall-conceive-Immanuel" quote to Mary and Jesus.

Just by putting verse 14 back in the original context of Isaiah's chapter 7, Brown demonstrated that Ahaz needed an immediate sign, not one that would take over 700 years to be fulfilled.

He then said that the pregnant girl - not necessarily a virgin - was probably Mrs. Ahaz, and the Immanuel, their son, Hezekiah.

Old habits
Yet, last week, I was reminded that old interpretations die hard. A student showed me a "Pocket Catechism." Question 22 read, "How do we know that Jesus is the promised Savior?" The answer: "Because all that the prophets had foretold about the Savior was fulfilled in Jesus."

Father Brown acknowledged that biblical Israelites were waiting for a Messiah. But he assured his Jewish friends, "The specific Messiah you're expecting has yet to come."

Scripture passages which speak about a Messiah don't point people in the direction of Jesus unless we put our meaning into the text instead of taking the author's original meaning out of the text.

We must do more than just realize our Christian authors didn't know the historical context of the Hebrew authors. We must also admit that many of us know little about the faith context of our Christian authors.

Faith in Jesus
Before these writers even began searching the Hebrew Scriptures for Jesus "proof texts," they'd experienced Him alive and active in their everyday lives. The biblical texts they employed in their writings didn't create their faith in the risen Jesus; they helped surface different dimensions of Jesus' presence in their midst.

Their belief in Christ among them was an essential part of their lives even if no Hebrew Scriptures existed. Paul (Romans 1:1-7) employs no scriptural text to back up his belief that Jesus "was made Son of God in power, according to the spirit of holiness, by his resurrection from the dead," even though he just stated the Gospel he proclaimed was "promised long ago through [the] prophets, as the holy Scriptures proclaimed."

He obviously experienced Jesus before he checked the Scriptures.

We who both preside at Eucharist and also study Scripture don't usually proclaim the second Advent preface that reads, "His [Jesus'] coming was foretold by all the prophets."

Instead of quibbling over prediction/fulfillment passages, we should be leading our communities to experience our sacred authors' faith - in and outside of the Eucharist.

(12/16/10)