The Twenty – Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2019 – Cycle C
Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2; Luke 18:1-8
When I was in seminary my spiritual director advised me to figuratively always carry in my pocket a piece of sacred scripture. This way I could take it out periodically and chew on it. Sort of a spiritual power bar filled not with antioxidants with God’s guidance and strength.
What do you think of the image of eating God’s Word? How might that image open new ways of approaching the Sacred Scriptures for you?
The Bible is a book. Like all books we read it. We listen to it read to us in the sacred liturgy. We take in the stories and teachings intellectually. But eating is not an intellectual exercise. Eating involves taste and smell, texture and appearance. We start salivating just smelling a pie baking in the oven. To eat food is to take it fully into ourselves. What we eat becomes part of us, nourishing us, strengthening us – becoming one with us. We eat to live and not die. But eating is also more than simply sustaining our physical life. The act of eat a meal is an occasion to share life with other people. Can you image a wedding, a graduation, a funeral, a birth – Thanksgiving and Christmas without eating?
It seems then to make sense within the Eucharist doesn’t it? We eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ; why not eat the Word of God?
This image of eating the word of God is found throughout the bible. In a vision, the priest-prophet Ezekiel is given a scroll and told to eat it before speaking God’s word to the house of Israel. The word of God was sweet as honey in Ezekiel’s mouth [Ezekiel 3:1-3]. The apostle John in the Book of Revelation is given by an angel a scroll to eat. For John the word was sweet in his mouth but sour in his stomach before he was called to prophesy [Revelation 10:9-11]. As the prophet Jeremiah rants and complains against God for his mistreatment by the people and his perceived betrayal by God, cries out, “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart” [Jeremiah 15:16].
Do you and I anticipate hearing the Word of God when we gather for Eucharist or pray with the bible at home? Is it a joy to hear? A sour challenge that causes us to rethink, repent and return to God? Is the Word of God a source of happiness for us? Is it a presence of Christ for us? The Second Vatican Council taught, “Christ is present in His word, since it is Christ who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the church.” [SC #7]
Last week when there was no priest to preside over the Holy Eucharist, did you understand that Christ was present in all of you gathered and in the Word proclaimed? Do you understand that though you were unable to offer sacrifice and thanksgiving and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, you did receive Christ in his Word?
The Word of God is at the heart of Judaism and Christianity. So much so that Muslims call us, Ahl al-Kitāb, the People of the Book. Thus the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council desired and decreed, “The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the [people] at the table of God’s Word.” [SC #51] Notice the food words the Council used: richer fare, table, lavishly? If a Catholic worships God each Sunday and listens attentively; over the three-year cycle of readings, we hear all four Gospels, all the letters of Paul and a wide selection from the Hebrew Scriptures (what we have called the Old Testament) in addition to the psalms we sing.
Why is the Word of God at the heart of our faith and liturgies?
As Paul wrote to the early Christian leader Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God…” To say that the bible is inspired is to say it is “breathed by God” into the heart and mind of the human author. It is therefore a word that can be trusted. Scripture is more than just information or fanciful stories. It has a value beyond the wisdom of human beings. It is useful for guiding our lives, for reproving and calling us to repentance. Scripture is essential to the Christian life for as Saint Jerome taught, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
These ancient writings that we consider sacred are not always easy to understand because they come to us from different cultures and times, with literary structures foreign to us. Yet the story of God’s care for us, and our relationship with God and each other has not changed. A love story is a love story, is a love story.
The Bible therefore needs to be read, listened to, pondered and studied with guidance from our tradition and our willingness to engage God’s Word. We need to ask, what did the human authors mean? What was going on at that time in the life of Israel or the early Christian community? What is God saying through the ancient author to us now?
This is not to say that the meaning of the Bible is immediate or effortlessly clear. It is not to say that the Bible gives detailed directions and addresses every contemporary human situation or need. The Bible is not an answer book absolving us from the hard work of reflection, forming a moral conscious, and entering into a deeper relationship with God, Jesus and discerning the movements of the Holy Spirit.
I therefore encourage all of us, whether at home or gathered in the liturgy, to approach the Sacred Scriptures with a sense of anticipation. What is God going to say to us, to you, to me?
I encourage all of us to read a piece of scripture every day. Just a few verses or a psalm. Reflect on them. Repeat a phrase like a prayer mantra throughout the day. What is God saying to you?
Instead of a power bar, most of you have smart phones in your pockets to which you can down load the site for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – USCCB.org. There you will find a calendar that will lead you to the daily readings, 2 minute video meditations, and assists for understanding the bible.
Why do I encourage this? “…so that the person who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work…in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus”.