Sunday, 24 January 2010
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
Lk 1:1-4;4:14-21; Neh 8:2-10
Often when I visit Catholic homes I can see the family Bible placed somewhere prominent and important on the bookshelf. Prominent, important and dusty. It may have been bought with good intentions, but like many things, reading the Bible can be a neglected part of our faith, and our Bibles can end up with years of dust built on top. Other homes may not have Bibles at all.
I went to the funeral of one of the more popular priests of the Dorset deanery yesterday, Fr Geoffrey Watts, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack age 63. And, as at every funeral, at the start the Gospel book was placed on the coffin and the word, “in life, Fr Geoffrey cherished the Gospel of Christ, may Christ now greet him with these word of eternal life: come blessed of my Father”. And I thought, as these words were said of my brother priest: someday those words will be said of me, but will they be TRUE of me –did I CHERISH the Word of God? Because I say those words over many coffins and it is sometimes less true and sometimes more true.
Today, both our Gospel and our First Reading give accounts of people readings from the Scriptures –and the Jews treasured their Scriptures highly. There was no chance of Jesus getting to Nazareth, asking for the Scriptures, and being told, “Now I’m sure we had one somewhere around the place”.
The Jews treasured their Scriptures with good reason –they knew that it was their Scriptures that recalled their identity to them. It was there that they had a RECORD of what God had done for them, how He had rescued them from Egypt, from Babylon, how He’d taught them, and given them the Law on Mount Sinai.
As Catholics, it is often said that we don’t read the Bible much. And on one level it is true that we are not “people of the book” in the way that Protestants are: as Catholics, we hold that Scripture needs Tradition and the Church with it. The Scriptures need a context in which to be interpreted and understood, so they need to be seen in the light of the Sacred Tradition of the Church. We also need to remember that there are truths of our faith that are passed down by spoken word and tradition as St. Paul puts it (2 Thess 2:15; 2 Tim 2:2), as well as in what was written in the Bible. In addition, as well as needing the tradition as the context to interpret the Scripture we also need an authority to give an authentic interpretation of the Scriptures, which is especially important for much debated texts, and this is why God gave us the apostles, and their successors the Pope and Bishops.
But we cannot forget the fact that we DO need to know the Scriptures, because otherwise we do not know the true God. We may have our own thoughts, our own memories and images, but the only way we know if they are true is if they measure up to the truth as we find it in the Scriptures. As the great St. Jerome put it, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. Christ is THE Word of God, the complete one Word spoken by the Father, and He has nothing more to say. If we want to know what He has said, then we must read and be familiar with the Scriptures.
This is why, when we come to Mass every Sunday we don’t hear some nice quotes from popular modern poets, and we don’t hear readings from great politicians. We hear readings from the Bible, the Sacred Scriptures, because this is the written record of God’s holy Word.
And we believe that the Scriptures are not JUST records of what Jesus did and taught, but they are the INSPIRED record –so that they are free from all error. While we need to analyse the context and meaning of different texts, distinguishing poetry and imagery in the Old Testament, from historical fact in the Gospel accounts –it is nonetheless all written for our good. As the Good Book itself says, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”(2 Tim 3:17)
If you don’t already do so, I’d urge you all to put aside some regular brief time to read the Bible, preferably daily. Find where that Bible is, blow the dust off it, and set yourself to learn more about the Christ who is eternal life. And if you don’t have one already –we can order you one in the bookstall. Jesus said that that text was being fulfilled even as the people listened –let’s make sure we know the text, so that we can know when it is fulfilled in our hearts.