“Readers, Hearers, Doers and Sharers of the Word”, by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM on January 26/27

How many of us have copies of the Bible? More importantly, how many of us read these copies of the Bible regularly or even everyday?

A survey conducted by the LifeWay Research some years ago indicated that 80% of Churchgoers do not read the Bible.

The Rasmussen Poll recently did a survey about Bible-reading in the US. According to the poll, 25 % of Evangelical Protestants read the Bible daily, as do 20 % of other Protestants. Only 7 % of Catholics read the Bible daily.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer last week reported, on the basis of the report of Nora Lucero, Secretary General of the Philippine Bible Society, that in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, “the Bible is not only facing stiff competition from romance pocketbooks, horoscopes, feng shui (Chinese geomancy), it also is facing the challenge of the Internet.”

According to another survey, many people spend at least four hours every day using the internet and other forms of modern communication and mass media, including cellphones. A daily prayerful reading of the Scripture may take only at least 15 minutes. What is 15 minutes of prayerful Bible reading everyday, which can help change our lives, compared to four hours of internet, text messaging, phone calls, TV and radio?

Is the Bible or the Sacred Scripture, which we consider as the living Word of God in human words, really important in our lives? I think we can only truly appreciate the value of the Word of God if we appreciate more the value of the human word.

From our day-to-day life experiences, we know the power and the importance of the human word. Words can build up or destroy. We can praise or curse others and these will have different effects on them.

When we make vows, we commit ourselves using words. Persons who are getting married say: “I take you as my wife or husband… I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health until death do us part.” We who are priests or religious also use worded formulas for religious professions and priestly ordinations. These are not just words. These are words that bind. These are words that must express our deep sense of commitment and our integrity to be true to ourselves, to others and to God.

Words also provide possibilities for us to encounter another person. This is what we experience when we read, for example, a letter from another person. The person becomes present in our minds and in our hearts.

Words form, challenge and transform. A child soaked with loving words will most likely grow into a well-adjusted and confident person. When a child always hears that he is good for nothing, he will most likely internalize this and will become truly a good for nothing person.

Those of us who are married, when was the last time you said, “I love you” to your spouse? Those of us who are parents, when was the last time you said, “I love you” to your children? “I love you,” when said with sincerity, right motivations and sentiments, are among the most powerful, if not the most powerful, words in the world. “I am sorry” are another very powerful words. They can melt an indignant heart. o we know how to say, “I am sorry!” to people we sometimes hurt or offend?

If human words are very powerful and important, how much more are God’s words. The Sacred Scripture has four main functions: fundational, sustaining, critical and contact point with God.

What do we mean by the foundational function of the Scripture? If a house is not built on good and solid foundation, it will not last. It will be shaky. It will collapse when it gets subjected to the forces of nature. The life of a person is the same. It has to be built on the solid foundation of the Word of God. If God’s Word is in the mind, the heart and the life of a person, the person will be strong and firmly grounded as he goes through the journey of life. To build one’s life on the Word of God is to build it on God who is Rock.

The Word of God has also a sustaining function. We need to be guided, strengthened, affirmed and assured as we go through life. In the face, for example, of life’s difficulties, the Word of God will remind us that we are not alone. Our God is a God who is with us and who promised to be with us until the end of time. The Scripture is filled with the reassuring and strengthening Word of God.

The Word of God also serves a critical function. The Word of God criticizes and challenges us when we go astray, when we become unfaithful to God and to His ways and teachings, when we neglect others, especially the poor and the needy. The Word of God can warn us of our own destruction if we persist in our wicked ways and continue to live lives that are apart from God. The Word of God can jolt and must disturb us to conversion and to a new and more godly way of living.

Finally, the Scripture is a primary contact point with God in Jesus. We encounter God in and through the Scripture. The Scripture brings God’s presence to us and it brings us to God’s presence.

In the Old Testament, creation came into existence because of God’s words. God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” This is what we mean when we say that God’s words are performative. They make happen what they say. When Jesus tells a sick man, “Be healed,” the man gets healed.

St. John tells us that the Word, referring to the Son of God, became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is God’s Word who became Incarnate in our midst. God sent His greatest Word of love to us in the Incarnate person of the Son of God.

God’s Word does not only communicate a message about Jesus. God’s Word makes present the very person of Jesus Christ. In fact, God’s Word is Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is God’s definitive loving Word to us.

St. Jerome, who translated the Septuagint or Greek Bible to the Latin Vulgate and who is considered the father of Biblical studies, said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Jesus Christ.” The Scripture, especially the Gospels, is our primary way of knowing Jesus. And knowing here does not only mean intellectual knowing. It means encountering Jesus and having a personal relationship with Him. Together with the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Jesus, the scripture gets a primary place through which we encounter the Lord.

In the Gospel today we see Jesus as a man of the Scriptures. In beginning his public ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, he opens the sacred scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reads the passage that talks about God’s loving offer of total salvation and liberation for humanity and creation. God’s offer of total salvation is now taking place in the person, words and ministry of Jesus Christ.

In the first reading from the prophet Nehemiah, after experiencing captivity in Babylon, the Jews listen to Ezra as he reads and explains the Word of God. Through the preaching of the prophet Ezra, the people realize their infidelity to their covenant with God and are led to conversion.

The Holy Father talks about the Year of Faith as “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the World.” Faith is not only about the beliefs that we need to believe in; it is, first of all, believing in and having a deep and personal relationship with God and following in his footsteps.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his document Verbum Domine (The Word of the Lord), highlights the centrality of Jesus in the life of the members of the Church and the role of the Scripture in having a personal relationship with Him. He writes: “With the Synod Fathers I express
my heartfelt hope for the flowering of “a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faith-filled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus.” The
Holy Father clearly reasserts that the Scripture leads us to a deeper relationship with Jesus.

The logic is very clear. If Jesus Christ is the center of our Christian faith and if the Scripture is indispensable to knowing, loving and following Jesus Christ, then, as Christians, we must really take the Scripture seriously in order to grow in our
relationship with Jesus and in our Christian faith, to be truly transformed by him unto his likeness and to be instruments of transformation according to the Kingdom values.

As Christians, we are asked to be readers, hearers, doers and sharers of the Word of God. The Holy Father, in the same Verbum Domine document, states: “only those who first place themselves in an attitude of listening to the word can go on to become its heralds” (VD 51).

We end with the words of one of the first followers of St. Francis Assisi who also became a saint. St. Giles of Assisi said, “The Word of God is not in the person who preaches it or listens to it but in the one who lives it.” We should become what we prayerfully read.
May we truly become living Bibles in the world for we might be the only Bibles that other people may read in their lifetimes. As St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and you must, use words.”

About Fr. Robert and his reflections