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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Great and Good News...

I was reading up some news on the recent completed synod on the Word of God and came across this item about one of its propositions that is to be considered for the post-synodal document to be done later by Pope Benedict XVI (and also for steps in making the Word more accessible and relevant to our times).

It is Proposition 16, where the bishops asked for a review of the current Lectionary that we are using now. The question brought forth was: "Is the current selection and ordering of readings... truly adequate to the Church's mission in this historical moment?" The bishops were pondering whether the Old Testament could do with a little more attention.

This is a good question and also a very pertinent and fascinating one.

It is a good question because, it carries with it this sense of a need for people today for divine transformation and not just for intellectual answers. This is because the amazing anthology of books and letters we call the Bible is all for the sake of astonishment. The biblical revelation invites us into a real and new experience! Our problem is that we have made the Bible into a bunch of ideas, about which we can be right or wrong, rather than an invitation to a new set of eyes. In doing so, most people don't see or even expect anything good or new from the momentous revelation exuding from the Bible. We don't really believe that God could naturally know and love what God has created (us, too) or that we could actually love (or even like) God back. However the great wonder of the biblical revelation is that God is much different and better than we thought! God is not bad news but, in fact, overwhelmingly comforting and good news.

This is where the Old Testament comes in and the pertinent and fascinating part. The theology that spans the entire Hebrew Scriptures speaks about the "credo of five adjectives". This God that Israel (and Jesus) discovered is consistently seen to be: merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving and steadfast in love. Sure, when we do ever even glance at the books of the Old Testament section, we can just wish that they could offer us some kind of "7 habits for highly effective people": just give us the right conclusions. Instead we have to plough through all those books of Kings, Leviticus or Chronicles. Then we have to read about the wars, weak and sinful people and kings, the killings and many other colorful scenes there that seemingly flaunt themselves against all manner of common sense, ethics and moral judgement that we (people of good will) hold on to today. We can also ask what is all of this in those books of the Bible got to do with anything that matters today?

This is why a lot of people tend to give up on the Bible and some don't bother with it. But, when we allow the texts of the Bible and especially those in the Old Testament to help us build an inner experience of how God works in our lives, we will begin to see how the texts charts our own human travail, tribulations and frailties. They offer us both the mature and immature responses to almost everything within the rhythm of human life and experiences, and we have to learn to know that difference. In life, there is no straight line to God, even though many of us wish and have been told that it should be.

In the Old Testament, indeed in the Bible, we see God using the wounded lives of very ordinary people who could never have passed the tests of the Roman canonization process for saints we have today. Moses, Deborah, Elijah and Esther were all, at least, involved directly or indirectly in murdering. David was both an adulterer and a liar. We have 'neurotic' prophets in the likes of Ezekiel, Obadiah and Jeremiah and an entire history of ridiculously evil kings and warriors. Yet, all these are the ones God works with!

From what we can glance at the Old Testament passages, we see that the Hebrews did not repress their reality. They did not distance themselves from their own contradictions or the contradictions of life, from the horror and pit of human history, i.e. harsh realities already presented in the stories of Job, their own experience of exodus and exile, and their constant invasion or occupation by foreign powers. Thus, the genius of the biblical revelation gives us permission to acknowledge concretely our own story at all levels and parts of our lives and experiences today, so that God will use all of these (yes, even the negative ones) to bring us to life and love. It is about transforming history and individuals so that we don't just keep handing the pain onto the next generation.

That's really great and good news!

(the reflections here were a collage of ideas and sharings from "Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality" and "Theology of the Old Testament")


Anonymous said...

I agree. If more were to read the OT, we might get a better understanding of certain troubling topics in the Church today. Ecumenism for example. What better role model can we have for ecumenism than the Prophet Elijah (who the Carmelite Order claims as the founder of their Order btw) who challenged the prophets of Baal to a 'religious duel'. Even liturgical abuse is covered - the sons of Aaron who burned a strange fire before the Lord (no doubt referring to those in our day who persist in using electric thuribles), causing them to be consumed by the fire of the Lord. It also covers those who decide or intend to rise up against God's lawful Vicar claiming 'equality'. They should be cautioned by the consequences of Korah's rebellion against Moses.

All in good fun of course =P

Anonymous said...

*whom the Carmelite Order claims

Unknown said...

@michael: of course! :-D

Anonymous said...

Will you be back in Singapore for the Christmas break?

Unknown said...

michael: will only set foo in S'pore once I finished my studies in Rome. So, that's by June 2009... :-)

Unknown said...

'foot', I mean! :-D


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