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HOW TO READ THE BIBLE

Father Francis's picture
Fourth Week of Advent

Neh. 8:2-6, 8-10; Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

Let me begin by asking a question. How many of us know how to read or even listen to the reading of the Bible? Our Scripture readings for today address themselves to that very issue. Two of them have to do with reading and hearing the Bible. The Old Testament passage is from the book of Nehemiah. It tells of a time when Ezra, the priest, stood before the people and read aloud from the book of the law. In the Gospel we see Jesus visiting the synagogue in His hometown on the Sabbath. There He read and briefly explained a passage from the prophet Isaiah.

The interesting thing of both events is the response of both audiences. They were wrapt in attention. When Ezra read we are told, “the people listened attentively”. When Jesus read, Luke says, “All eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Him”. There we have two different audiences, hundreds of years apart, yet both of them utterly captivated by the reading of scripture. How many of us regard reading the Bible as an interesting or exciting matter? Is it true to say that the Bible bores many of us? Are we biblically illiterate? As a rule we are not interested in things we don’t understand. Perhaps all of us need to learn how to read the Bible.

In the scripture readings we notice that both audiences took the Bible personally. They saw it as something more than ancient history. When Ezra read the book of the law, it touched the people’s consciences and “they bowed down, and face to the ground prostrated themselves before the Lord”. They understood that the laws of God were written for them and they were to apply them in their individual lives.

It was the same when Jesus read from the prophesy of Isaiah. He applied the reading directly to His own life, saying to His hearers, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”. In other words Jesus found Himself in the Bible. “Where Isaiah wrote, “The spirit of the Lord has been given to Me”, Jesus filled

in His own name and took upon Himself the responsibility to bring good news to the poor and proclaim liberty to captives. No wonder Our Lord found the Bible an interesting book. It was about Him. He took it personally both for Himself and for His listeners.

I’m sure you have experienced going to a friend’s house for meal and ending up watching their holiday slides or photographs. For most people that is regarded as one of the dullest ways of spending an evening. Not many care to be part of a captive audience suffering through a slide sequence of someone’s recent holiday. It is a different matter if some of those shots happen to include us. When you find yourself in the picture, then it ceases to be a dull evening and it can become a very interesting experience.

So it is with reading and hearing the Bible. It will become a fascinating book when we realise that it was written by God for and about us. When Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son, He was not talking about some isolated event that transpired in the first century. He was talking about every century and every generation. He was in fact talking about you and me. The Prodigal Son and his elder brother is a personal portrait of us. The next time you hear or read it, look for yourself in the picture, because you are there.

The same can be said of any portion of the Bible. Each part has some personal application to your life and mine and should be read with that kind of awareness. A film becomes interesting when we can identify with a character and we see ourselves in it. The same is true of a novel we may read. It becomes interesting when we actually live the plot in our mind. The Bible should be taken just as personally. It is about people and their experiences with God. Look closely and you may start to recognise some of those people. There is every chance that you may find your name written on many pages of the Bible.

The next thing we must do is to read the Bible obediently. The people who listened to Ezra read from the book of the law fell on

their faces in repentance before God and then went and shared their food with the hungry. For them the Bible was not simply a history book to be studied. It was a book of instructions by which they were to measure and correct their lives.

Jesus read the prophecy of Isaiah with the same spirit of obedience. He took upon Himself the responsibility to fulfil in His own life, the words He had read. He would “bring good news to the poor”, “proclaim liberty to captives”, “to the blind new sight”, and “set the downtrodden free”.

Just think what would happen if we took the Bible seriously and made its message come true in our own lives. Let’s just take the words, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” We all want people to treat us fairly and kindly. We would like people to be helpful to us when we are finding life hard and have problems. If we treated people like that and they treated us in the same way what a better world this would be. Life would be full of peace, harmony and happiness. This is how Jesus would like us to live our lives. That is what the Bible should mean to you and me. So when we hear or read the Bible we should see ourselves in it, we should obey it and it will always be an exciting and interesting book.

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