1/22/23 Homily: Sacred Scripture
Updated: Feb 27
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
In our gospel from Matthew today, we hear the summons of the first four disciples: Simon, Andrew, James and John. Jesus called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father, and followed him.
There’s a power to the Word of God that demands an immediate response, and there’s no substitute for that Word. You may have noticed at Mass that I often proclaim the gospel relatively slowly, and it’s for that very reason: There’s no homily, gimmick, or hymn that has the power of God’s Word as a summons to discipleship. I can’t convince anyone to be a disciple of Jesus. Only Jesus can do that. And he does so directly through the proclamation of the Word. Anything else we do merely assists us in being receptive to his word.
Today, we celebrate the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, which is devoted in particular to the Word of God, referring to Sacred Scripture—compiled in this book we call, the Bible. On our website and near the holy water fonts, you’ll find a handout on this topic. In the brief space of this homily, I’d like to share with you two perspectives relating to Sacred Scripture, which I’ve shared with you before.
The first perspective is this: I ask you to compare the Bible somewhat to a history book, but with God as the editor. Just as every historical account has an editor—and it’s the editor’s job to sort and sift through vast amounts of information, and select which events communicate their account best—God has done so with the Bible. The Bible is the history book of our salvation.
World historians might focus on certain civilizations, empires, migration patterns, people and events; Hawaiian historians may include certain cultural practices, aspects of Hawaiian hierarchy, and pivotal persons; but no historian can include every detail that falls within their respective time periods. There’s too much data.
Neither can every detail that has ever happened in the history of creation be recorded here [gesturing to the Bible]. But these are recorded, because from God’s perspective, these are the details and persons that matter most, and best tell the story that matters most: the story that is the drama between God and creation; the story of our identity and our salvation.
World history should not care one whit about a migrant from ancient Chaldea who went to dwell in a small strip of land divided by many peoples. But in God’s plan, he is Abraham, our father in faith. What historian would take note of one of twelve sons who was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt? Only God could draw our attention to him. That man was Joseph, who became second only to Pharaoh and preserved his family from famine. Why do we remember a murderer who fled his homeland to live in the land of Midian as a shepherd? To believers, he is Moses, who returned to Egypt and confronted Pharaoh at the age of eighty and led his people during the Great Exodus.
These figures and so many more would certainly have fallen into obscurity and disappeared from history altogether had not God preserved them in memory in this history book that is the Bible. That’s the first perspective about the Bible I want to share with you.
The second perspective is this: I ask you to think of the Bible as a letter written to us by God, and to appreciate this letter accordingly. Imagine the reverence with which we might handle a hand-written note from someone we love. That’s the kind of care we give to the Bible.
When we hold and gaze over a letter from a loved one, we might examine its physical properties: the paper, the ink, the hand-writing. In physically handling a letter, in a sentimental sense, we enter into the moment it was written, and we can feel with the other person. We might also ponder over that person’s choice of words, pronouncing each word slowly so as to take in its full meaning. How one chooses to express themself can be quite revealing of the heart and mind.
On one occasion, I attended Mass on the Greek island of Tinos. I was able to follow along, because the structure of the Mass was the same as any. But what struck me was when we prayed the Our Father together. The accent was different from what I was familiar with, but the exact words were the same.
Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·
ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς·
… And so on.
The version of the Our Father we were praying was identical to the original biblical Koinē Greek. It was so moving to hear God’s choice of words prayed at Mass without translation. There's an alliteration and rhyme to the original text that's somewhat lost in translation. That’s why translation of an original text is an art, as well as a science. It takes a deep respect and appreciation of an author to adequately convey his or her sentiment in a different language.
I remember a quote from Saint Therese of Lisieux: “It distressed me to see the differences in translations [of the Bible]; and had I been a priest I would have learned Hebrew [and Greek], so as to read the Word of God as He saw fit to utter it in human speech.”
When we reverence the Bible, as one might a letter from a loved one, we then read or proclaim it accordingly: deliberately, unrushed, and to be moved, as if we’re reading poetry.
In poetry, we savor the sound and allow the images to penetrate us. That’s our approach with Sacred Scripture when publicly proclaimed. Unlike the news, which we might read for information; we read and proclaim scripture for formation; to be formed by his word.
Just like something like concrete needs time in a mold to be formed, we need to spend time meditating on Sacred Scripture; it shapes us. Through the grace of this Mass, may we fall more deeply in love with God’s Word. God bless you.
Saint Jerome, by Caravaggio, c. 1606, oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese [Public Domain]