FROM A READING FOR MARCH 13, FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
'I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert...' -- Isaiah 43:19

One problem we encounter in reading Deutero-Isaiah in English is that we miss the prophet's frequent use of participles. Back in middle school, we learned the difference between a finite verb and a participle: When, for instance, I say, "I went to the store," the verb "went" closes the action. On the other hand, if I say, "Going to the store," the action continues. You're waiting to hear what's going to happen while I'm going to the store. The participle "going" presumes the action's continuing.

A better translation (maintaining the original Hebrew participles) of Sunday's Deutero-Isaiah passage's first lines (Isaiah 43:16-31) would be, "Thus says Yahweh, opening a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, leading out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army...."

Speaking to a people who've been exiled for more than 50 years, the prophet is forced to deal with their "we've seen or heard it all before" frame of mind. Yahweh's wonderful acts of salvation had taken place centuries before. In the captives' minds, Yahweh isn't doing anything here and now to get us out of Babylon.

Still in action
That's where Deutero-Isaiah's participles kick in. He's convinced that what Yahweh has done for Yahweh's people, Yahweh continues to do. The action's still going on. God's saving the Israelites in Babylon during the 530s BCE just as God saved the Israelites in Egypt during the 1200s BCE.

In some sense, this theology of God's constant salvation is also behind Sunday's Gospel (John 8:1-11). Our sacred authors never thought of themselves as historians: people dedicated just to maintaining records of the past so future people would know what happened. On the contrary, if parallel things weren't happening in the day and age of our biblical writers, they would never have narrated them in their works. They were only concerned about the past because it was being mirrored in the present.

In the situation of the woman taken in adultery, the evangelist is convinced that such encounters were happening in his day and age -- encounters demanding the same response to sin and forgiveness that Jesus gave during His earthly ministry. Whenever we're called upon to deal with sinners, we're never to forget that each of us is also a sinner: someone in need of forgiveness, not condemnation. Salvation never ends.

Keep it going
That's why Sunday's Philippians (3:8-14) passage is so important. Paul understands that nowhere in our history of salvation is salvation ever completely achieved. One of my favorite biblical lines is the Apostle's realization, "It is not that I have already taken hold of [the resurrection], or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus." Once we chose to let the risen Jesus take over our lives, salvation never ends. It's present in everything we do, everyone we encounter, every new day we experience. If our dying and rising with Jesus continues, so also our salvation continues.

It's a shame some of us learned our faith in such a way that we long to return to and participate in the ministry of the historical Jesus. We keep forgetting that no one who personally knew the historical Jesus ever passed on anything about Him that we can access today. All our Christian biblical authors knew only the risen Jesus. They could only pass on a "participial" faith.