Sunday, 20 October 2019

The Bible, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

2 Tim 3:14-4:2; Ex 17:8-13; Lk 18:1-8
Today I want to talk to you about why and how the Bible is USEFUL, as we just head St. Paul say in our second reading, it’s so useful that it merits being called “PROFITABLE”(2 Tim 3:16).
Most of us, however, don’t find it useful -we find it strange.
We read bits of it and it puzzles us.
We read names like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and we think: that’s not my world, that’s strange, that’s difficult to understand.

The Bible, it’s true, is strange and unfamiliar to us.
But the point I want to make to you today is that one of the reasons it is useful to us is precisely connected with the fact that it is strange.
The Bible tells about something amazing, namely, God.
We should expect that to be beyond our usual experience.
Yes, I experience God daily, BUT He is BEYOND the limitations of my personal experience.

Let me rephrase the issue differently:
One of our dangers is that we reduce God to something that He is not.
One of our dangers is that we reduce God to our own individual experience.
In contrast, when I read the Bible I hear of God OUTSIDE my own personal experience -and this is a major part of why the Bible is so USEFUL to us.

We all need to be taken out of ourselves.
We need to know what God has said ABOUT HIMSELF, not what my personal experience says of Him.
The Bible tells us of a set of experiences that are not mine and are not yours, a set of experiences of what is called “Salvation History”, a set of experiences with a people He chose as His own.  
In that history God acted and revealed Himself.
He acted and revealed Himself so completely that He said EVERYTHING He has to say.
He spoke His “Word”(Jn 1:1), namely, His Son, and, to repeat, quoting the Catechism, He said everything He has to say, “In Him He has said everything” (Catechism n.65; 73).
So, if I want to know what He is like,
if I want to know the meaning of life, and how to live it,
Then I need to know what He has said.

Let’s have an example.
Prayer, intercession.  Most of have the experience of asking for things and not getting them.
Every week you ask God to win the lottery, and it doesn’t happen.
What does God’s Word in the Bible say about intercessory prayer?
What is revealed in the events of salvation history?
Our first reading gave the example of the Amalekites (Ex 17:8).
You might ask, Who were the Amalekites?
and immediately we are taken out of ourselves, into a strange world, the world of the Bible.
They lived in Canaan before the Jews, and, very briefly, they were bad people.
The Canaanites sacrificed their children to false gods, made them walk through fire, and more.  ("It is because of these detestable practices that the Lord is driving these nations out before you"(Deut 18:1-18).)
More directly, the Amalekites repeatedly attacked the Jews, the true God’s chosen people, who were coming with a different religion and a different a way -and authentic way of life.
The key point is this: when Moses prayed, God heard, and the Amalekites were defeated.
God heard THAT prayer.  Prayer changed things.
In this example, an example in the definitive history by which God has revealed Himself, prayer was heard. 
Then, add to that what Jesus taught: pray, He said.  Keep praying, He said.(Lk 18:1)
So, one example, if I want to learn, I need to be taken outside myself by entering the world of the Bible, and I learn something I wouldn’t know if I limited myself to my own experience.
I know God, and know life, more fully, more truly.

But what is the Bible useful FOR?  For what purpose?
St Paul gives a long of purposes it serves, but, most of these are not things “modern” people want.
It is useful for “correcting” -but we need to want to be corrected.
It is useful for “refuting error” - but we need to want to be refuted.
It is useful for “calling to obedience” - but we need to want to obey.
It “guides” us to be “holy” and “equips” us with what we need to be holy.
But all of this takes us out of our normal world.

That, to come back to where I began, that makes the Bible strange to us.
The Bible doesn’t tell us what price milk is at Tesco.
The Bible doesn’t tell you the weather forecast.
The Bible takes you to a world outside your normal experience.
That’s why it feels strange, that’s why it can be hard to understand.
But it’s also why it essential that we make the effort.  
It’s about what gives MEANING to everything else.

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