The Story of the Bible In 2000 Words
CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING
Think of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, SpongeBob, or for Gen X folks, The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island. Find the theme song on YouTube and listen to it carefully. You will notice it is actually the backstory, the broader context behind that single episode. Why do these shows have to begin each episode with the backstory?
We need the story because it sets the premise of the show.
It is because of the human need for perspective; to call to mind the big picture. Why is this SpongeBob fellow living in a pineapple? How did the street-smart Fresh-Prince end up in luxurious Bel-Air? How did all these strange Brady kids become one family? Why are these people living in huts on an island? As the saying goes context is everything.
This is why we are sometimes bored or distracted at Mass. We hear about Jacob, Samuel, Sarah, David and Esther but we can’t attach any of them to a framework or reference of knowledge. Our brains don’t know how to categorize and order these people, places and things without understanding the 73 books of the Bible as one whole story. The average adult Catholic sits through the Liturgy of the Word on Sundays and takes the readings out of context. This is not because he or she mistakes one story for another, but it is because they have no context. They don’t know the story. That’s a problem. So imagine the following script as a theme song that introduces the Liturgy of the Word at Every Mass. Here it is. Ready?
In the beginning God created the world out of nothing. It began with the Spirit of God, the Lord and giver of life, hovering over the primordial waters. He created everything good. The pinnacle of his creation, our first parents, were placed in a lavish garden in God’s presence. He gave Adam and Eve, who were created in his image, a command to not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden.
Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit. She gave some to Adam. In choosing to disobey God, Through eating this forbidden fruit, they brought upon themselves exile and banishment from the garden. That original sin brought about pain, suffering and death. To this day we are all born with a hole in our hearts, because we are missing what we should have had. God showed that he still loved them. God promised to send a Savior who would crush the head of the serpent and reverse the effects of sin.
The ‘sin disease’ spread rapidly. It began with fratricide, the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Later God told Noah that the world had become so wicked that he wanted to start over. It was through their entering the Ark, that God saved Noah and his family from the devastating flood. The rest of the Bible tells how God went about to fulfill His promise by entering into a series of covenants. Covenants are sacred pacts or agreements between God and his people sealed with blood as a reminder of death and of family bonds.
These ritual sacrifices marked every major turning point in the story. Beginning with Abram, God entered into a covenant with his people and made promises. To Abram he promised descendants, land and a universal blessing. God changed his name to Abraham, the father of nations.
As a sign that God would fulfill his promise he gave Abraham a miracle child Isaac. His name was Isaac which means laughter because his mother, the barren old lady, Sarah laughed when she heard God’s plan. Isaac had two sons Esau and Jacob. The younger son, Jacob, tricked his father Isaac to give him the family blessing. Later Jacob wrestled with an angel and then God changed his name to Israel which means ‘he who wrestles with God’. Israel had twelve sons.
The youngest son, Joseph, was his favorite. Joseph told his brothers about a dream he had. In it they bowed down to Joseph. The brothers were jealous and sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Joseph interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh and rose to become his right hand man. When a famine hit the land the sons of Joseph migrated to Egypt and reunited with their brother whom they failed to recognize. Joseph revealed himself and forgave his brothers. The sons of Israel and their families became known as the Israelites. They lived in Egypt and prospered.
The Israelites, the twelve tribes of Israel, grew so numerous and so strong that the pharaoh who came later became afraid of them and ordered that they be enslaved. He ordered that the first born males be killed. Moses, a Levite, was a male baby that was saved from this edict by being put in a basket and floated down the Nile. He was adopted by Egyptian royalty and grew up in the pharaoh’s court. When he was an adult he killed an Egyptian and was exiled from the land. He went to the land of Midian in the Sinai wilderness and there he encountered an angel and a burning bush. God spoke to him and revealed His name ‘Yahweh’, the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. He commissioned Moses to go back to Egypt and set his people free from bondage. At first Moses tried to get out of it but God insisted. Moses returned to Egypt and with God’s supernatural help he liberated the Israelites through ten plagues. During the tenth plague, the death of the first born, Moses smeared lamb's blood on the doors of the Israelites. As they waited inside, eating the Passover meal, the angel of death swept across the land and killed the firstborn Egyptians but he ‘passed over’ the houses of Israel. The next day Moses led the Israelites in the exodus from Egypt. They crossed the Red Sea and the sea swallowed up the Egyptians who pursued them.
Moses took them back to Mt. Sinai, where he encountered God again and received the Ten Commandments. When Moses came down the mountain he saw that Commandment number one was being broken with the worship of the golden calf. This led to an ordained priesthood of the Levites. Moses and the Levites built an ark, an earthly, chest-like throne for God. They built a portable temple, the Tabernacle, as well. God dwelt with his people in the desert for forty years. The Heavenly Father provided Manna, water and quail for his people. Before Moses died he commissioned Joshua to be the spiritual and military leader of the Israelites.
Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, modern day Israel. After they crossed the Jordan River, they encircled Jericho and the walls collapsed. They went on to take over all of the land by force and with God’s help. Spiritual leaders called ‘Judges’- people like Jephthah, Deborah and Samson ruled over the people and called them to avoid the Israelites’ bad habit of falling into worshiping false Gods.
After a while the people asked Samuel to anoint for them a king. They wanted to be like the nations that surrounded them. Samuel anointed Saul. Saul became a bad king. After Saul, Samuel anointed David. David had already proven his worthiness by smiting Goliath. David’s kingdom was strong and he wanted to build a temple for God in his new capital, Jerusalem. David died and Solomon, his son, took over as king. Solomon was known for his wisdom and his leadership. The kingdom expanded and Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem. When Solomon died the Kingdom split in two.
The northern tribes fought the southern tribes. The Assyrians and then Babylonians conquered the land. This led to the deportation and exile of the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II. The temple was destroyed. During this exile much of the Old Testament was written down and the synagogue style of worship took hold.
When the Persians defeated the Babylonians they allowed the Israelites to return to the land and to rebuild. During this time a beautiful heroine arose named Esther and she saved her people from an evil man who wanted to destroy all the Jews.
When the Greeks conquered the Persians they forced the Jews to become like them through hellenization and intermarriage. When an evil ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple the rebel band of Jews called the Maccabees engaged in guerilla warfare and defeated the Greeks. They went in and cleaned up the Temple and lit the lamps with the last bit of oil. Miraculously they burned for eight days. This is why the Jews celebrate Hanukkah (re-dedication) with an eight branched menorah.
The Jews had self-rule for a while until the Romans came. During this Messianic period of hope, the Romans inserted a puppet king named Herod to rule on their behalf. He collected taxes from the Jews and stationed troops in Jerusalem. God sent the angel Gabriel to a young woman in Galilee named Mary. The angel announced God’s plan for Jesus, the promised Messiah to be born. Mary said Yes! Like the evil pharaoh before him, Herod ordered the death of the first born baby boys. Jesus, after his birth in Bethlehem, was taken to Egypt to be saved from this slaughter.
When Jesus was an adult he was baptized by his prophet cousin John in the Jordan River. He went off to the desert for forty days to prepare for his mission of salvation. When he returned he performed his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. The water turning to wine signified what he was about to do for the whole world. He called twelve apostles with Peter, the rock, as their future leader. Jesus performed miracles of nature, healing miracles and exorcisms. He taught the people God’s will and he promised to prepare a place for them in heaven. When Jesus was preparing for death at the Last Supper, he gave the Church the priesthood and the Eucharist. The next day he gave his life as a sacrifice of pure love on the cross.
Three days later he rose from the dead and appeared to many people. By rising from the dead he proved that He was the divine messiah who reversed the effects of sin. In defeating the power of sin, Jesus fulfills the promise of crushing the head of the serpent. Forty days later he ascended into Heaven. Ten days later the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles and Mary in the upper room. They were transformed into the mystical body of Christ. This was the birthday of the Church.
The Church leaders gathered for the Eucharist and lived in harmony and love with each other. They eagerly anticipated Jesus' return and the final judgment. As time went on the Apostles spread out across the known world to spread the Gospel message. They established the church in foreign lands. Saul and other Jewish leaders persecuted them and arrested them. The Apostles were killed as martyrs. Saul had a conversion experience on his way to Damascus. He was blinded by a powerful light and the voice of Jesus told him to be baptized. This is how Saul became St. Paul. St. Paul became an apostle who brought the message of Christ to many gentile lands.
The Church continued to spread and the Bishops of the church continued an unbroken chain of apostolic succession. Eventually Peter’s successors, the bishops of Rome became known as the Holy Father, Papa (pope). Today, the Roman Catholic Church is the universal fulfillment of the promises made to all the mediators of all the covenants that came before. Through the sacraments, that Church has spread over two thousand years across the whole world.
We however, are not the end of the story. We are merely in its stream until time ends, and Jesus comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
When it comes to the story, we are not on the outside looking in. We are invited in and made part of it through becoming a disciple of Christ. You can be in this story too if you choose to be. Only God can fill the hole within. Only Jesus can fix your mess.
The ‘History of Salvation’ is not just about history but in some ways it's more about the present and the future. It's a true story from which all other stories that are true take their strength. In the liturgy we enter in a deeper way into this story. The sacraments, beginning with Baptism, are an extension of salvation history for us today. When we receive the sacraments, beginning with Baptism, we are standing in the stream of the story of the Bible. We inherit, through adoption, ‘The Big Story of the Bible’. It then becomes the context of our own personal story. Our lives take on a deeper meaning and we begin to see that hope is not only reasonable but necessary.