One of the major questions covered in "Scripture 101" is "Why are these particular books included in the Bible and others left out?" Biblical books aren't always the most ancient works, some aren't written by the famous people they're attributed to, and almost none of the authors were eyewitnesses of the events they narrate.

During a Catholic Biblical Association meeting more than 30 years ago, the late Father Dennis McCarthy gave an excellent explanation of why these specific writings became Scripture and others didn't.

"These books," the Jesuit Scripture scholar said, "helped the most people over the longest period of time to understand their faith."

Faith first

Those who originally saved and collected these writings didn't get their faith from them. According to Father McCarthy, they had faith before they read the bible. The insights of the various Sacred authors simply helped people of faith understand a phenomenon they were already experiencing. It's important to remember this when we hear Sunday's Trinity Sunday readings proclaimed.

Each author writes against the background of his community's experience of God. The biblical writers, like their readers, are more concerned with events than definitions. Both author and reader are united in the belief that one only understands who God is by knowing what God does.

It's not surprising then that the doctrine of faith which we celebrate on Sunday wasn't officially defined by the Church until the council of Nicea in 325 -- 200 years after the last book of the Christian Scriptures was composed! People of the Christian Scripture era didn't have time to worry about defining someone they were daily experiencing.

Does their experience parallel our own?

As we hear in the first reading (Ex 34: 4-6), people of faith always come into contact with a God who accepts us just as we are, "a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity," a God who is always "in our company" even though we're a "stiff-necked people."

Like Moses, we must continually ask God to "pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own." Our personal experiences of God, not words in a book, tell us that God is always present, working in our lives.

Our ancestors in the faith saved and passed on the book of Exodus only because their lives mirrored the lies of the Israelites who trekked with Yahweh through the wilderness.


In a similar way, Paul finds God in the Corinthian church (2 Cor 13:11-13). Though the community needs lots of improvement, Paul still experiences God in their midst -- in the life which all the community's believers have received, in the love everyone shares, and in the vitality and power which keeps the faithful bound together in one community. He ends with a prayer that what he has already experienced, the community might continue to experience: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

John, writing about five years before the turn of the first Christian century, also reflects on what coming into contact with Jesus means for him and his community (Jn 3:16-18). "God so loved the world," John's Jesus proclaims, "that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him may not die but may have eternal life." God offers life to everyone through Jesus, even to those who reject that gift and "do not believe."

I trust those who display "John 3:16" signs at important televised events understand that only someone who has already experienced God's love through Jesus will benefit from their effort. John's powerful words weren't written to convert; they were written to remind.