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Center for Action and Contemplation

From the Specific to the Universal

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Scripture: Week 1

From the Specific to the Universal
Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Israelites gradually learned the transformative power of God’s action in their lives, as we see often in Isaiah and so many of the prophets. What formed a prophet was their ability to really trust that YHWH was actively and practically involved in the ordinary history of the Jewish people. One has to wonder where such confidence came from.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do. —Isaiah 55:10-11

Israel’s history is the womb for the world’s initial sense of divine incarnation (God’s practical involvement in this world). In other words, they saw the patterns and connected the dots so well, that they could trust the same would continue to happen all the time and everywhere. The love and presence of God, when it is planted in fertile soil, will always have an exponential yield. In gradually accepting the daring initiative of actual intimacy from God, the Hebrew people became a true community of faith. It was not so much that God loved Israel more than all the other peoples of the earth, but somehow they were a people who learned how to hear and trust God’s initiatives better than almost anybody else. That is their eternal glory and privilege! So they were in the best position to hand the message of divine intimacy on to the rest of the world. They produced a worldview in which a Jesus could emerge.

The Hebrew Scriptures—what Christians unfortunately call the “Old” Testament (implying it is out of date)—were assembled over two thousand years of history.  The New Testament or Christian Scriptures include the four Gospels, the Book of Acts, the many letters of Paul, John, Peter, James and others, and the Book of Revelation. These twenty-seven books of the Christian Scriptures were probably written over a period of a mere one hundred years of history. Yet together they have defined Western spirituality and even culture.

Catholic Bibles include forty-six books. Some of these are “apocryphal” and their inclusion in the canon of Scripture has often been debated. These books include First and Second Maccabees, Tobias, Judith, Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and parts of Daniel, which our Protestant brothers and sisters do not include. In essence, the foundational message is the same no matter which version of the Bible we accept.

The fact that Christians include the Hebrew Scriptures as part of our Bible should show us that Christianity was never intended to be an exclusionary religion. We include another religion’s Scripture in our own Christian Scriptures—as two thirds of our Bible! Jesus, who was an observant Jew, brilliantly thin-sliced his own tradition and sacred texts, giving us a truly expert lens by which to discover the deepest Hebrew wisdom. And Jesus’ very selective interpretation of his own Scriptures represents the interpretive key.

In the stories of the Hebrew people we see YHWH, the God of Israel, gradually showing God’s Self to be the hope and the promise of all those who search for more. The principle of incarnation is this: start with the concrete, the specific, the personal—and then universalize from there. God is saving us as one people and, as Pope Francis has made clear, God’s covenant with Israel is permanent and enduring (Romans 11:1f) and never out of date. What was true for them is true for all.

Gateway to Silence:
Astonish me with your love.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (Franciscan Media: 1988), 1-3.

Image Credit: Photograph by mercucio2
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