The Church and the Word of God

The Church and the Word of God
The Vision of the Catholic Bible Foundation of SA is:

to help people enter into a living and dynamic relationship with
the Word of God, Jesus Christ, through the Word of God in Scripture.

The nature of this relationship is echoed in the opening paragraph of the Apostolic Letter, Mane Nobiscum Domine, 2004.

“Stay with us, Lord, for it is almost evening” (Lk 24: 29).  This was the insistent invitation that the two disciples, journeying to Emmaus on the evening of the day of the resurrection addressed to the Wayfarer, who had accompanied them on their journey.  Weighed down with sadness, they never imagined that this stranger was none other than their Master, risen from the dead.  Yet they felt their hearts burning within them (cf. v. 32) as he spoke to them and “explained” the Scriptures.  The light of the Word unlocked the hardness of their hearts and “opened their eyes” (cf.v.31).  Amid the shadows of the passing day and the darkness that clouded their spirit, the Wayfarer brought a ray of light which rekindled their hope and led their hearts to yearn for the fullness of life.

Amid our questions and difficulties, and even our bitter disappointments, the divine companion continues to walk at our side, opening to us the Scriptures and leading us to a deeper understanding of the Mysteries of God.

It is in the Scriptures that we will find meaning for the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of life.  It is in the Scriptures that our relationship with Christ will grow and be nurtured.  “31With that their eyes were opened and they recognised him, but he vanished from their sight.  32Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us.”

In 1996 Pope John Paul II  spoke of the place of  the Word in our spirituality;  “The Word of God is the first source of all Christian spirituality.”  The question is, “Do we believe this or not?”  Pope John II makes it quite clear that the Word of God is not the only source of our spirituality, however his words indicate clearly that the Word is the first source.  His statement must surely make many of us feel just a little disturbed when we admit that we seldom go to the Scriptures apart from hearing them read at Sunday Mass.  Do not be too disturbed.  NOW is the time to start.  Read, a little; reflect, a little; pray, a little; each day and very soon you will notice the impact the Word is having on your life  Even if you do not notice this, those around you will!

John Paul II continues, “The Word of God gives rise to a personal relationship with the living God and with his saving and sanctifying will.”  It is this personal relationship that we are all called to.

Holiness, that is, an intimate personal relationship with Jesus is inconceivable without a renewed listening to the word of God. (Novo Millennio Ineunto 16)  “It is especially necessary that listening to the Word of God should become a life giving encounter … which draws for the biblical text the living Word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.”  It is there, in fact, where the Master reveals himself and educates the mind and the heart:  It is there that the vision of faith matures, learning to look at the reality and events of life through the eyes of God, to the point of having ‘the mind of Christ’.  1 Cor 2: 16

The Word of God is nourishment for life, for prayer and for the daily journey.  How is it then that we so often forget to expose ourselves to it. As with all nourishment, it is necessary to have our daily intake.  The Church has given us a most wonderful gift in the readings of the lectionary.  Here we have readings for each day.  Do not try to do all the readings.  There is far too much to take in at one reading.  Remember there is no hurry to get our reading of the bible finished.  Start by going to the Word and taking just a little bit for reflection and prayer.  The important part about our Journey with the Word, it not how much we read, but, that we start and then continue each day. We do need a help.  Having read or heard read the stories are so familiar; they begin to feel like last night’s leftovers.  The help we need is for somebody to present us with a fresh and exciting approach – “You did not dish up to us the same old insights that we have heard for the last fifty years.”
This year we are reading the Gospel of Mark.  You will find many useful insights in the “New Collegeville Bible Commentary – Mark by Marie Sabin.

Go to the website of Catholic Bible Foundation of SA:  www.catholicbible.org.za
Let us take up the Bible!  Let us receive it from the Lord who continually offers it to us through his Church.  Let us devour it, so that it can become our very life.  Let us savour it deeply:  it will make demands of us, but it will give us joy because it is sweet as honey.  Filled with hope, we will be able to share it with every man and woman whom we encounter on our way.  (Ecclesia in Eurpoa 65)

Scripture Part 3

SCRIPTURE

What is recorded in the Bible text?

Part three

Take just a few moments to refresh your memory by reading Mark 6: 45 – 53 once again.  Do this slowly savouring every word and phrase.  It is just possible, even likely, that this story will strike you in a completely new way.  Give God time to work with you.  There is a wise saying that says, “The first message you get from a text is almost certainly not the message that God has in mind for you.”  I am not sure why God works this way with us, but he certainly likes to make us wrestle with the Word before he gives us new insights.  I am sure he knows that this is good for us and he wants only the best for us.  He wants us to be the very best persons we can possibly be.  Time now to read, and reflect.

45Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side towards Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.  46And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.  47When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on the shore.  48Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them.  About the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them walking on the sea.  He meant to pass by them.  49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out.  50They had all seen him and were terrified.  But at once he spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”  51He got into the boat with them and the wind died down.  They were (completely) astounded.  52They had not understood the incident of the loaves and fishes.  On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.  53After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret and tied up there.

Ever the since Jesus’ death and resurrection Mark and his community have thought and prayed about the Life of Jesus.  There have been many conversations during which memories of Jesus were shared.  Some told and re-told their favourite incident from Jesus’ life.  Others would mention a saying of Jesus, a wisdom saying, that really touched them and had such an impact on their life.  Some of them would be asked to share what it was like to have known Jesus during his life-time.  These special memories were treasured.   With time there was a subtle change in the pattern of sharing.  Gradually those who had never met Jesus started to talk about how Jesus had touched their daily lives now, in the present.  Others spoke of the changes for the better that they observed in family and friends as they grew in knowledge of Jesus.  They became aware that Jesus was alive and active in their own lives, in the lives of those near and dear to them and in the community itself.  They could see the impact Jesus was having on their lives – “he is risen”.

27They were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”  (Mt 8: 27)

Mark is sharing the understanding that he and his community have come to during the many years that have passed since Jesus’ death and resurrection.  More than thirty years have gone by but the message of Jesus is just as alive as it ever was.  This is the story of the impact of the Risen Christ on Mark and his community.

Remember: “There is history behind the text and theology in the text.”

This may come as a surprise to you.   Your earlier understanding of Scripture may be challenged.  In such circumstances it is always wise to check with the teaching of the Church.

From the results of recent investigations, it is evident that the life and teaching of Jesus (history behind the text) were not simply reported, so as not to be forgotten. 1
This was done with that clearer understanding which they enjoyed after they had been instructed by the events of Christ’s risen life and taught by the light of the Spirit of truth.   The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, summarising some, explaining others in the light of the situation of their churches, and preserving them, always, in such a way that they told us the honest truth about Jesus.  2 (The theological truth – the truth about who Jesus really is for us – not all the literal details about what Jesus said and did.)

* * * * * * *

Just for a moment let us travel back in time using our imagination.  We are in a small house in Ephesus.  The date is sometime between 90 and 100 AD.  The writer of John’s gospel is looking back on the life of Jesus and the impact it has had on his life.  He has travelled a long way in his growing understanding of the God of Jesus.  Over the years he has moved from a blood and thunder, avenging God.  Jesus has brought him to a new understanding and relationship with God.  He starts to tell us his story.

14Jesus said to Nicodemus:1  “16Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.  17For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.  (John 3: 16 – 17)

1        An Instruction Concerning the Historical Truth of the Gospels;
2        Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation; par 19

Mike Chalmers

1          Greek name meaning conqueror of the people.

Scripture Part 2

SCRIPTURE

What is recorded in the Bible text?

Part 2

We return to Mark 6: 45 -53 which we used last month.

45Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side towards Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray. 47When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on the shore. 48Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out. 50They had all seen him and were terrified.  But at once he spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” 51He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were (completely) astounded. 52They had not understood the incident of the loaves and fishes. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened. 53After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret and tied up there.

If Mark had intended to record precise historical facts the very least we would expect of him is to get the time right.  Let’s look at this aspect of our story.

It was necessary to feed the ‘five thousand’ because “it was already very late.”  Never-the- less the people were organised, fed, the clean-up done and only then are the disciples sent to the other side.  Meanwhile Jesus is busy saying good-bye to ‘five thousand’ people’; “when he had taken leave of them.”

Next Jesus “went off to the mountain to pray.” Did he have far to go?  My guess is that he spent some considerable time at prayer, perhaps an hour or two.  I will leave it to you to calculate at what time Jesus returned to the shore of the lake.   It was probably approaching midnight or later, but the text says the next event took place, “when it was evening,” which it clearly was not.  Mark is not trying to report an exact sequence of events like we do when a soccer match is reported:  Team A scored in the 32nd minute; Team B equalised in the 55th minute.  The winning goal was scored by Team B in the second minute of extra time. “When it was evening” must not be referring to the time at all.  Perhaps it takes us back to Gen 1: 1 “there was darkness over the deep”.

If we continue to read this story strictly according our understanding of time we land in a deeper mess.  Jesus first saw them “When it was evening”. How did he see in the dark?  He saw they were in trouble, so why does he sit watching them struggling all night until “the fourth watch (dawn)” before he goes to their assistance? Mark is using symbolic language teaching us some profound truth.  Of course Jesus came at the dawn.  He has told us so often that, “I am the light of the world.” (Jn 8: 12)
There are two other links to the Hebrew Scriptures;

About the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea,

Job 9: 9

9He alone stretches out the heavens and treads upon the wave tops of the sea.
It is God who walks on the water. So what is Mark saying here about Jesus?

* * * * * * *

50They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”

Exodus 3:  13 – 14

13“But” said Moses to God, “when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”  14God replied, “I am who am.”

Frequently you will find the name of God expressed in this way in the Gospels – “It is I.”
Fantastic!!  “It is I” means far more than, “Hi, it is me, surprised.”

* * * * * * *

Our troubles are not over yet!
The gospels testify eloquently that the disciples never really came to a full understanding about Jesus, his teaching (wisdom) or his mission here on earth. If you do not believe me here are a few texts.

Luke 24: 21, 25

Two despondent disciples return home all their hopes dashed to pieces.
21We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.
25And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are!  How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”

Can you see Jesus shaking his head and muttering to himself, “You still don’t get it!”
This not understanding gets worse.  Just four verses from the end of Matthews’ Gospel we read:

17When they saw him, they worshipped, but some doubted.
How is it possible then for Mark to share so profoundly about Jesus, with such conviction?  What happened between Jesus’ death, resurrection and the moment when Mark first put pen to paper, to make this possible?

In next month’s article I will respond to this question.

Mike Chalmers

Scripture Part 1

SCRIPTURE

What is recorded in the Bible text?

Part One
Note:  The actual author of Mark’s gospel is unknown. It was during the second century that the names of the evangelists were added.

The Gospel of Mark

When Mark sat down to write his gospel he probably spent some time gathering stories, memories, insights and experiences from the members of his community. Having gathered all this material he had to decide how best to use it. It would not have crossed his mind to write an eyewitness account even if that was possible. Nor would he have attempted to write a conventional biography as we understand it today.  He certainly did not set out to write Jesus’ life history. Well then, what did he want to do?
He wanted to present us with something far richer. Remember, he was Jewish and would have followed the pattern of writing that other authors of his time would have used.  He interprets Jesus in the light of the Hebrew Bible. He places Jesus within the context of the Hebrew Scriptures. Again and again we will find Mark using his knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures to give us a deeper understanding of Jesus. He then portrays Jesus as reinterpreting Scripture.

Mark offers us a Wisdom book.
Jesus offers this Wisdom in parables, riddles (4: 22;  4: 24b) and short pithy sayings (aphorisms 2: 27 Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath; 9: 49;   9: 50;  4: 24a;  7: 15;   8: 34 – 38;   9: 38 – 41;   9: 42 – 50.  Often Mark will teach us profound truths by using figurative language and the language of scripture.

Mark shows Jesus, the central figure, to be a teacher of Wisdom but Jesus is also wisdom itself.  Jesus calls us, his followers, to a new way of living our lives.  This way of living, Jesus demonstrates by his own life style.1

The Wisdom of this Gospel constantly challenges us to re-examine our values, our relationship with God and how we relate to others.

Let’s see how much of this we can find in Mark 6: 45 – 53.
45Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side towards Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.

46And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.

47When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on the shore.

48Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them.  About the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them walking on the sea.  He meant to pass by them.

49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out.  50They had all seen him and were terrified.  But at once he spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”

51He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were (completely) astounded.  52They had not understood the incident of the loaves and fishes. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened. 53After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret and tied up there. “he went off to the mountain to pray.”

Here we have ‘biblical language’. This is telling us that he went into the presence of God.  We too can go “to the mountain”. When we take time to pray, we enter in a special way, into the presence of God. “He meant to pass by them.”

Remember how we said that Mark places Jesus within the context to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).  1Kings 19: 9 – 19 tells us about the Elijah’s experiences on the mountain of God (Horeb or Sinai).  We are immediately aware that Elijah is in the presence of God.  Elijah is told, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.”  The Lord passed by as a tiny whispering wind.   Twice Elijah is asked, “Elijah, why are you here?”  Clearly God expected him to be somewhere else.  Remember, Jesus sent his disciples to the other side, so I wonder what they were doing in the middle of the lake.  I can easily imagine Jesus thinking, “Why, are you here?  I am sure I sent you to the other side.  What has gone wrong?”

Well now, what had gone wrong?  Oh yes, the wind was against them.  Perhaps we need to ask:  “Was the storm on the lake or in the boat?”  Jesus had sent this group of good Jewish men to the ‘other side’ – the pagans.  Can you imagine the argument between those who thought they should go and those who had no intention of going?  Incidentally, Mark’s own community was battling with the question of admitting pagans into their number.
Here is the challenge to us.  All of us South Africans come from a history where we look down upon others simply because they are a different colour or speak a different language.  We all know about apartheid and xenophobia.  How is Jesus challenging me when he says, “Mike, why are you here?”

Let me offer you one last challenge.
52They had not understood the incident of the loaves and fishes.
This refers to the feeding of the five thousand in verses 34 – 44.  Mark must be hinting at something far deeper than the obvious feeding of five thousand people; actually there must have been many more because we can be sure there where many women and children there as well.

Well now.  What other possible meanings could there be for the incident of the loaves and fishes?
1.  Sabin, Marie Noonan:  New Collegeville Bible Commentary; Volume 2, The Gospel according to Mark

Mike Chalmers cfc

The Word of God

THE WORD OF GOD

The Johannesburg Synod calls us to satisfy the ‘spiritual needs’ of our people. While this objective was addressed in many of the resolutions passed it was in the response of the youth that it was addresses most directly. They clearly encouraged us to strive to:
•  Enter into a deeper “personal relationship with Christ”;
•  Have a life-giving “encounter with Christ”.

Our youth echoed the words of John Paul II.
“It is especially necessary that listening to the Word of God should become a life-giving encounter.. (Starting afresh from Christ. 2002 (24))

I will use the logo of the Catholic Bible Foundation of South Africa as a parable to broaden our understanding of the “Word of God”

 

The four orange W’s and the four books represent the Word of God.
We experience the Word of God:

•  When we meet Christ; “We spend time with Jesus as with a friend.”
•  We meet Christ in the Eucharist; “It is primarily in the Eucharist that we celebrate the presence and action of God in our lives.”
•  When we go to the Scriptures in prayerful reflection; “We need time each day for personal prayer and pondering the Word of God in the Scriptures.”
•  When God speaks to us in the events of our lives. “In the ebb and flow of human interaction God truly speaks to us through others.”

The design is centred around a star, representing the cosmos; our God speaks to us through the wonders of creation. We find two scripture texts reflected here. “Those who instruct others to justice will shine like stars for all eternity.” Dan 12:3 “I am the light of the world”. Jn 8: 12

It is time now to let the scriptures speak to us. Remember that this should be a life-giving encounter with Jesus – the Word.

Take time to read this text several times, out loud. The scriptures were originally written to he heard. As you read be aware of the tone of used to express the ideas. This adds greatly to our understanding of the Word.

READ
Mt 22: 34 – 40
34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking, 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart , with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” The Law refers to the first five books of the Bible. We call then the Pentateuch, Jesus would have known them as the Law. The second part of the Hebrew scriptures was the books of the prophets.

RECOGNISE

Many think that Jesus introduced something quite new in this teaching. He is quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures in both instances. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deut 6: 5
There is no escaping that this is directed at each of us; “you” is repeated five times. Our God is not one for half measures; “all” is repeated three times. God asks us to love him with every fibre of our being.

“You shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.” Lev 19: 18Again the importance of “you” is emphasised. This is a two way process. Neighbour and self can be interchanged, just as God and neighbour can be substituted. In Isaiah 61: 1 – 2 we are taught how to put these commandments into practice.

1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the afflicted, to heal the broken-hearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners,
2To announce a year of favour from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God,
to comfort all who mourn.

You will find Is 61: 1 – 2 used in Luke 4: 18 when Jesus describes his life work. Mt 7: 12 sums up the teaching of the Law and the Prophets.Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets.

RESPOND – PRAYER
Having spent time with Mt 22: 34 – 40, read it once more being aware of the many ways in which it touches you. Once you become aware of God’s touch remain with that thought. Enter into prayer using the words of Scripture. Lord, I long to be good news to others. Set me free from the things that imprison me that I, in my turn, will set others free.
Catholic Bible Foundation offers programmes in your parish to lead you as you grow in “Intimacy with Christ”. (011 435 7488)  (031 3031919)  (021 461 7647)

Our Synod

Our Synod
The members of the Johannesburg Archdiocesan Synod are to be congratulated on how frequently the “Word of God” is mentioned in their final document under the headings of “Spirituality and Formation”.

Our Synod clearly draws a link between:

THE WORD OF GOD     –     SPIRITUALITY –     LECTIO DIVINA

“Bible sharing, Lectio Divina, Family Scripture, Enthroning the Bible in homes, Youth sharing the Word” appear again and again.  All these will bring about, in the words of the Synod, “Intimacy with Jesus and the knowledge of the Father.”

Our Spirituality“The Word of God is the first source of all Christian spirituality.  It gives rise to a personal relationship with the living God and with his saving and sanctifying will.”  John Paul II

If we believe this then we are being called to fundamentally change the direction of our own spirituality.  Our spirituality will become Word of God centred.  Using the Bible will be integral to our daily spiritual living.  The Bible will become our first Book of  Prayer.

Lectio Divina

The Synod Documents frequently make mention of Lectio Divina.  This is not just another “Bible Sharing Method”.  It is important that we are clear in our understanding of this most profound way of praying.  It is first and foremost a method of personal prayer (entering into a conversation with our God).

Lectio Divina, means, Holy Reading.

It is, in reality, prayer that has its source and inspiration in Scripture – the Word of God.
“Prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together for, ‘we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine sayings.  (lectio divina)’”  DV 25

Early on in the life of the People of God – lectio divina was the most common method of prayer.  Sadly this practice gradually fell into disuse.
Prayer using Lectio Divina
I introduce you to the concept of the prayer circle of  Lectio Divina.

Read
Respond  (Pray)

Recognise  (Reflect)

READ

We begin by reading our text for the first of many times.
44The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sell all that he has and buys that field.  45Again. The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  46When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.   (Mt 13: 44-46)

RECOGNISE – (reflect, meditate)
There are many ways in which we can enter into the text.  We will start by looking for the repetitions.

44The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sell all that he has and buys that field.  45Again. The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  46When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.   (Mt 13: 44-46)

RESPOND – (Pray)
What word or phrase resonates with you?
Repeat this phrase/word and again and again, savouring it and letting it enter into your being.
How does it touch you?
Respond using your word/phrase in your prayer.

We have now completed the first circle and once more return to our text.

READ

RECOGNISE – the emotions here.
44The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sell all that he has and buys that field.  45Again. The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  46When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.   (Mt 13: 44-46)
The obvious emotion is “out of joy”.  Perhaps you can find other emotions; surprise, enthusiasm…

Can you think of a text in scripture that reflects this emotion of JOY?
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
My spirit rejoices in God my saviour.” Lk 1: 46-47

RESPOND

Respond to Jesus in prayer, filled with joy and gratitude for the wonderful characteristics you have and all the marvellous things in your life.

As our prayer ends we return to the text once more, reading it; commencing the circle of prayer once more.

Conclusion

We need the Scriptures to become an integral part of our spirituality.  This is a life-long journey with the Word.  Each day we allow the Word to speak to us as we take time to saviour, chew on and digest the Word of Life.

“How can all this happen?”
“Use the available resources,” says the Synod Document.
The Catholic Bible Foundation and the Catholic Bible College will accompany you as you Journey with the Word of God.

Catholic Bible College offers Scripture Correspondence Courses.  (011 435 7997)
Catholic Bible Foundation offers programmes in your parish to lead you as you grow in “Intimacy with Christ”. (011 435 7488)  (O31 303 1919)  (021 461 7647)