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HOW TO READ AND OBEY THE BIBLE

Father Francis's picture
Third Week of Ordinary Time

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

How many of us know how to read the Bible, or even listen to the readings? Two of our Scripture passages today address this very issue.

The reading from Nehemiah 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 when He read, and briefly explained, a passage from the prophet Isaiah.

The interesting thing is the response of both audiences. They were wrapt in attention. We are told, “the people listened attentively” to Ezra and 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. How many of us regard reading the Bible as an interesting or exciting matter?

In today's readings we notice that both audiences took the Bible personally. They saw it as something more than ancient history. They understood that the laws of God were written for them - and they were to apply them in their individual lives.

Reading from the prophecy of Isaiah Jesus applied it 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.

So it should be with us. The Bible 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 but something that happens in 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 or heard with that kind of awareness. 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 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 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.

Just think what would happen if we made the Bible come true in our own lives. 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, to be helpful to us when we are finding life hard and having problems. If we treated other people like that and they treated us in the same way, what a better world this 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.

Holy Spirit, when we hear or read the Bible, help us to see ourselves in it and to obey what it tells us – so that it will always be an exciting and interesting book for each of us.

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