Sunday, October 24, 2021

Read the Bible with Me!

Welcome to the Pauline Family's "Year of the Bible"! We've been reading the Bible clear through this year. We've reached the New Testament, so read along with me. But first, let us pray: 


When the fullness of time had come, you sent your Word in the One who said, “Whoever sees me, sees the Father.” No revelation can surpass this, until Jesus comes again in glory. 

Open my mind today to the gift of life and truth your Word offers me through the Church. By your Holy Spirit, grant me wisdom and strength to put this Word into practice and to become, myself, a presence of Jesus for people who are looking for you.

Jesus, eternal Word and Son of the Father, live in me with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.


Today's chapters are John 5-7 and (because it is Sunday) Psalms 134 and 135.

Things are moving quickly as we run three chapters a day through John's "Book of Signs" (1:19-12:50; basically from the beginning until the opening scene of the Last Supper). The "Signs" are the great miracle stories around which John structures his Gospel. They are not "mighty deeds" as they are in Mark's Gospel; they are "signs": divine events packed with meaning. And they grow in intensity as we move forward in the story: Jesus starts out manifesting power over nature, turning a created element, water, into a similar, but richer (and biblically more significant) drink. Then he reveals power over the forces that threaten life: over sickness (the healings at Capernaum and at the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem). The Jerusalem healing (on a Sabbath) in its turn gets the wheels moving that will lead to Jesus' own death. Every one of Jesus' signs in the Gospel of John is followed by a lengthy teaching. We should pay attention to the link between the sacramental image in the miracle (that is, the external "sign" that draws our attention to a deeper reality that is present) and the homily that follows.  Because the Bible was not written with chapter and verse divisions, that "homily" sometimes appears in the next chapter. 

The multiplication of loaves and fish and Jesus' nighttime walk on the sea are two great signs which together play a central role in John's Gospel. They set the stage for Jesus' lengthy (almost the whole chapter) sermon on the "Bread of Life," a bread that is much better than the miraculous bread with which he just fed the crowds (which he well knows is the real reason they are listening to such a long sermon). This "living bread come down from Heaven" is even better than the manna that sustained their ancestors all those years in the desert, because all those people died, even after eating miraculous bread from Heaven at Moses' hands. At first, Jesus is describing the same kind of bread Moses did when he preached that "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Dt 8:3). But then he changes the verbs he uses. He switches to a very graphic word for eating, words akin to "gnaw on": It is clear that he is talking about a very substantial sort of food here. 

And then he says, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven... My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Unless you eat [gnaw] the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." There is no metaphorical off-ramp for those words. Not then, not now. Jesus watched people walk away from him, shaking their heads and asking, "Who can accept this kind of thing?" Notice carefully how his closest disciples reacted. Their faith was shaken, too. As usual, Peter is the spokesperson.

Psalm 134 is a beautiful (and brief) night prayer, worth memorizing! Join your heart and your prayer with all those around the world (and in Heaven) who are praising God while you sleep. In the last line of the Psalm, God's blessing is invoked on all who praise him.

Psalm 135 puts us in the middle of a liturgical celebration (but of what feast?) in which the people and the Levites (who "stand in the house of the Lord"), in effect, offer resounding cheers over some of the more outstanding moments in the Exodus and entrance into the land, when the Lord of heaven and earth proved that they were his own special possession, and that "the idols of the nations" are worthless. 

Start reading John here and the Psalms here.

For additional background

This year for "Buy a Nun a Book Day," one of the first books I received was Dr John Bergsma's Jesus and the Old Testament Roots of the Priesthood. As I read it, I saw how many of the Old Testament "types" and institutions we read about through the year were fulfilled (super-abundantly) in Jesus and in the Church. This is especially clear in the Gospel of John, which in a way is the most "priestly" of the four Gospels. 
If you have questions about the priesthood in the Church, or about the difference between our baptismal participation in the priesthood of Christ and that exercised by our ministerial priests, or even simple questions like why Catholics call priests "Father" (when Jesus said, "Call no one on earth 'father'"), or if you would like to see in a fuller way how very many Old Testament types were pointing to Jesus and to the Church, this very readable book is for you.

I am happy to recommend this volume of The Four Gospels in an edition directed to young readers and their parents. The text of all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) in the New Revised Standard Translation is accompanied by FAQs that a middle-school reader might ask (or, to be honest,  anybody reading the Gospels for the first time). The footnotes were prepared by a team of Scripture scholars for parents and guardians, making the book ideal for family Bible reading. 

A look inside; I translated the FAQs 
(above the eagle) and footnotes for Mt 16-28!

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