This third Sunday in Ordinary Time marks the newly instituted “Sunday of the Word of God”. This is a special day, at the beginning of the year, to acknowledge and celebrate the power of the Word of God in our Christian living. Pope Francis established the “Sunday of the Word” in 2019, in his apostolic letter Aperiut Illis, to conclude the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Understanding the Bible is understanding God
Here is an excerpt from the letter, which reminds us to spend time reflecting on and appreciating the “inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue between the Lord and his people”.
“1. “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:45). This was one of the final acts of the risen Lord before his Ascension. Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples, broke bread with them and opened their minds to the understanding of the sacred Scriptures. To them, amid their fear and bewilderment, he unveiled the meaning of the paschal mystery: that in accordance with the Father’s eternal plan he had to suffer and rise from the dead, in order to bring repentance and the forgiveness of sins (cf. Lk 24:26.46-47). He then promised to send the Holy Spirit, who would give them strength to be witnesses of this saving mystery (cf. Lk 24:49).
The relationship between the Risen Lord, the community of believers and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians. Without the Lord who opens our minds to them, it is impossible to understand the Scriptures in depth. Yet the contrary is equally true: without the Scriptures, the events of the mission of Jesus and of his Church in this world would remain incomprehensible. Hence, Saint Jerome could rightly claim: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (Commentary on the Book of Isaiah, Prologue: PL 24,17B).”
Here, at the beginning of his apostolic letter, Pope Francis reminds us how intertwined understanding of the scriptures is with understanding the heart of our God who loves us. We can truly encounter Jesus in a new way, by simply opening up this book of life, which has the power to inspire and to transform!
“Here, we are reminded of the teaching of Saint Ephrem: “Who is able to understand, Lord, all the richness of even one of your words? There is more that eludes us than what we can understand. We are like the thirsty drinking from a fountain. Your word has as many aspects as the perspectives of those who study it. The Lord has coloured his word with diverse beauties, so that those who study it can contemplate what stirs them. He has hidden in his word all treasures, so that each of us may find a richness in what he or she contemplates” (Commentary on the Diatessaron, 1, 18).”
The Bible is good for our relationships with our neighbours
Taking time to read our Bibles allows us to “grow in love and faithful witness”. Pope Francis even points out that our reading of the Bible can even help in our appreciation of and ties with our Jewish brother and sisters, as well as having an ecumenical element, creating closer solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters of other denominations, as the Bible is such a key part of our understanding of the good news to which we all bear witness.
“4. The return of the people of Israel to their homeland after the Babylonian exile was marked by the public reading of the book of the Law. In the book of Nehemiah, the Bible gives us a moving description of that moment. The people assembled in Jerusalem, in the square before the Water Gate, to listen to the Law. They had been scattered in exile, but now they found themselves gathered “as one” around the sacred Scripture (Neh 8:1). The people lent “attentive ears” (Neh 8:3) to the reading of the sacred book, realizing that in its words they would discover the meaning of their lived experience. The reaction to the proclamation of was one of great emotion and tears: “[The Levites] read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep’. For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’” (Neh 8:8-10).
These words contain a great teaching. The Bible cannot be just the heritage of some, much less a collection of books for the benefit of a privileged few. It belongs above all to those called to hear its message and to recognize themselves in its words. At times, there can be a tendency to monopolize the sacred text by restricting it to certain circles or to select groups. It cannot be that way. The Bible is the book of the Lord’s people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division towards unity. The word of God unites believers and makes them one people.”
The Bible is for everyone
Pope Francis is reminding us that, rather than being for the select few, reading and growing in understanding of the Bible is for everyone! Faith comes from hearing. We are all like the ordinary disciples of Luke chapter 24, who encountered the risen Christ – but did not recognise him – on the road to Emmaus. Once Jesus opened out the scriptures, and the disciples took time to listen, it created a scared moment of encounter and of greater insight into the mystery of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. And, when those same disciples invited Jesus to share a meal with them, their eyes were truly opened to who Jesus truly is – which reminds us of the “unbreakable bond between sacred Scripture and the Eucharist”, where we are invited to come to share a meal as one body in Christ.
So, Jesus wants to walk alongside us – Let us dive into scripture and allow him to accompany us, through prayer, along our road in life. Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts through the words contained in the Bible. Let us be encouraged to open the door and letting him in:
“Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me” (Revelation 3:20)
Let the Bible speak to you
Finally, let us put our trust in the Holy Spirit, in whose power the Bible is lifted from simply being a set of written words. The Spirit breathes life into the scriptures and can help us, as we meditate on the words of scripture, to be stirred and renewed in our appreciation of the power of God’s Word to transform. Put simply, reading the Bible can speak into every aspect of our lives and speak life even into the darkest and most messy areas of our personal circumstances!
“God’s word constantly reminds us of the merciful love of the Father who calls his children to live in love. The life of Jesus is the full and perfect expression of this divine love, which holds nothing back but offers itself to all without reserve.”
All quotes taken from Aperiut Illis
So, to help us celebrate scripture in our lives and to inspire us, here are a few resources that you may find helpful:
You can say this prayer of blessing over Bibles:
when he read in the synagogue at Nazareth,
your Son proclaimed the good news of salvation
for which he would give up his life.
Bless all who will read from these sacred texts.
As they read, listen and reflect on your words of life,
strengthen their faith
so that what they read in hope,
they may live in love and charity.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
- Ordinarily, we would do a commissioning of our Readers in church. As this is not currently possible, you may like – if you are a reader – to take time at home to renew your commitment to this essential ministry.
- There are some excellent Bibles, which you might like to purchase, for all members of the family. Find some recommendations here: There is a Bible for everyone (PDF)
- So many Bibles … which one to choose? Learn about the differences between Protestant and Catholic Bibles
- If you haven’t already, you may feel moved to join some of us in following a reading plan for reading the Bible in a Year
- The excellent website “The God who speaks” has a wonderful selection of articles helping the understand Bible basics: