This reflection is for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Cycle B, 4/8/2018.
Today’s Gospel ends with what I consider the MOST important line for understanding the place of Sacred Scripture in the Church, namely, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (JN 20:31)
I once heard someone say, “The only thing I believe is what is written in the Bible. If it’s not in here, I don’t believe it!” The statement struck me as quite narrow, and I hope it does to you too. Are we to believe that Jesus never went to the bathroom because Scripture never mentions it? Nowhere in Scripture do we read, “…and then Jesus went to a deserted place in order to relieve himself…”
Some may even be so bold as to suggest that because he was God, Jesus didn’t have to go to the bathroom–but that would be the heresy of Apollinarianism, a 4th century heresy that denied the true and complete humanity of Jesus.
To ask Sacred Scripture to tell us every moment of Jesus’ earthly life simply asks too much of the Sacred text–and is anti-Biblical! Scripture itself affirms that there was much more that Jesus taught his disciples and signs he performed that are not written in this book!
Of course, there is another error out there that would lead us into trouble as well, namely, that we can’t believe any of what the Gospel writers claimed to be true–from miracles, teachings, or even to the accounts of the resurrection. But if these signs/miracles never occurred, if the resurrection was just a figment of the disciples’ imagination, then there is no such thing as Christianity, and NO SALVATION in Christ.
St. Paul tells the Church in Corinth in his first letter addressing this very issue. He says, “For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” (15:16-19)
We would be foolish to deny the eye-witness testimony to Jesus’ miracles and resurrection, and equally foolish to suggest that the only thing we should believe about Jesus’ life and teaching can be found within the pages of 4 gospels and 23 epistles! So, what’s a Christian to do?
Sadly, this is, of course, the very issue that divides Orthodox and Catholic Christians from reform-era Christians. “Scripture alone” for the truths of faith sought to provide an important corrective to the clerical abuses of Martin Luther’s day, but I believe it radically truncated the fullness of the Christian witness to Jesus’ life and teaching.
Don’t you ever wonder what Jesus spoke to his disciples about while they toasted s’mores around the camp fire? What were the little insights he shared with them about the proper Christian attitude, outlook, and way of living? What did he say to them that gave rise to the amazing community that we hear about in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles? “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” (4:32-35)
More than that even, is to consider not just what Jesus said that was never written, but also the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Christian community’s reflection about what was written, and what was not, and what they are to do in each generation in order to advance God’s Kingdom. Jesus told his disciples that there was much more to come! He said, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” (JN 16:12-13)
This is why Catholics are so adamant about Scripture AND Tradition. It must be both if we are to remain faithful to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples and open to the ongoing guidance by the Spirit. Does it simplify things to stick only to what can be found in Scripture? Yes. Absolutely! It’s no wonder that such great biblical work is coming out of the Protestant community,and why so many Protestants know their Bibles so well! Those communities stand as a witness to the fruitfulness of immersing oneself in God’s Word!
But the faithful Catholic does not seek to simplify but must instead magnify! He or she must immerse himself/herself and be nourished by God’s Word, but must also be faithful to the Tradition–the preservation of what was not canonized in the Sacred texts of the 1st century, and to the ongoing guidance received through the magisterium, councils, and theologians guided by the same Holy Spirit that guided the Biblical authors.
I believe that’s as good as it gets! I believe that is the fullness of what Jesus came to reveal. More difficult? Yes–but well worth it. This path is covered in gems dropped in every generation. It begins with the treasure that is Jesus and the 1st century’s testimony to him and the spirit at work in their midst, and it continues right up to our present day. We too are charged with dropping a gem or two of our own! Maybe this blog post may someday be counted among them!
Mary Elizabeth Sperry, on the US Bishops’ website, writes, “Today’s Catholic is called to take an intelligent, spiritual approach to the bible.” She offer the following 10 points for “fruitful Scripture reading.” I think they are helpful as we take a responsible but courageous look at Sacred Scripture today.
Remember, the Bible wasn’t written to tell us EVERYTHING, but rather some things were written down so we might come to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and through this belief have life in His name. That’s the meat and potatoes! Step 1. Believe! Everything else is pure gravy for those who believe and have life. Amen? Enjoy the meat, potatoes, and the gravy…maybe even some veggies too.
Below are 10 helpful tips to understanding Scripture that every Catholic should know.
1 Bible reading is for Catholics. The Church encourages Catholics to make reading the Bible part of their daily prayer lives. Reading these inspired words, people grow deeper in their relationship with God and come to understand their place in the community God has called them to in himself.
2 Prayer is the beginning and the end. Reading the Bible is not like reading a novel or a history book. It should begin with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the Word of God. Scripture reading should end with a prayer that this Word will bear fruit in our lives, helping us to become holier and more faithful people.
3 Get the whole story! When selecting a Bible, look for a Catholic edition. A Catholic edition will include the Church’s complete list of sacred books along with introductions and notes for understanding the text. A Catholic edition will have an imprimatur notice on the back of the title page. An imprimatur indicates that the book is free of errors in Catholic doctrine.
4 The Bible isn’t a book. It’s a library. The Bible is a collection of 73 books written over the course of many centuries. The books include royal history, prophecy, poetry, challenging letters to struggling new faith communities, and believers’ accounts of the preaching and passion of Jesus. Knowing the genre of the book you are reading will help you understand the literary tools the author is using and the meaning the author is trying to convey.
5 Know what the Bible is – and what it isn’t. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with the people he has called to himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation.
6 The sum is greater than the parts. Read the Bible in context. What happens before and after – even in other books – helps us to understand the true meaning of the text.
7 The Old relates to the New. The Old Testament and the New Testament shed light on each other. While we read the Old Testament in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it has its own value as well. Together, these testaments help us to understand God’s plan for human beings.
8 You do not read alone. By reading and reflecting on Sacred Scripture, Catholics join those faithful men and women who have taken God’s Word to heart and put it into practice in their lives. We read the Bible within the tradition of the Church to benefit from the holiness and wisdom of all the faithful.
9 What is God saying to me? The Bible is not addressed only to long-dead people in a faraway land. It is addressed to each of us in our own unique situations. When we read, we need to understand what the text says and how the faithful have understood its meaning in the past. In light of this understanding, we then ask: What is God saying to me?
10 Reading isn’t enough. If Scripture remains just words on a page, our work is not done. We need to meditate on the message and put it into action in our lives. Only then can the word be “living and effective.”(Hebrews 4:12).