RESPONSE TO FAITH WITH THE BIBLE
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
October 10 29th Sunday of the Year (Year 1)
A. INTRODUCTION TO SUBJECT
We live in an age and country where fundamental issues of faith are being discussed. Believers need to be alert and informed of matter of faith and practice. Such discussion has been part of the Christian Church since it foundation. For Jesus’ day an example in today’s Gospel reading (Jesus in discussion with Pharisees and Herodians). It continued through the early years of the Church and later. A good example in the letter 1 Peter, written the Christian in danger of harassment and persecution in present-day north-western Asian Minor (Pontus, Bithynia etc.), possibly or probably written between AD 70-90. The Christian attitude advised in 1 Peter, is evidence of its practice in the roughly contemporary letter of Pliny the Younger. The relevant texts given here:
1 Peter 3:13-17 (about AD 70-90)
13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear,* and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence.* Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you* to God.
PLINY THE YOUNGER (GOVERNOR OF PONTUS/BITHYNIA 111-113 AD) LETTER TO THE EMPEROR TRAJAN ON CHRISTIANS
Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
The Church recalls the central Role of Scripture in our Christian Lives
DOCUMENTS OF VATICAN II: DEI VERBUM. DIVINE REVELATION (1965)
SACRED SCRIPTURE IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH
21. The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and “it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).
22. Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation; of the Old Testament which is called the septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones especially the Latin translation known as the vulgate. But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them.
23. The bride of the incarnate Word, the Church taught by the Holy Spirit, is concerned to move ahead toward a deeper understanding of the Sacred Scriptures so that she may increasingly feed her sons with the divine words. Therefore, she also encourages the study of the holy Fathers of both East and West and of sacred liturgies. Catholic exegetes then and other students of sacred theology, working diligently together and using appropriate means, should devote their energies, under the watchful care of the sacred teaching office of the Church, to an exploration and exposition of the divine writings. This should be so done that as many ministers of the divine word as possible will be able effectively to provide the nourishment of the Scriptures for the people of God, to enlighten their minds, strengthen their wills, and set men’s hearts on fire with the love of God. (1) The sacred synod encourages the sons of the Church and Biblical scholars to continue energetically, following the mind of the Church, with the work they have so well begun, with a constant renewal of vigor. (2)
24. Sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinizing in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word. For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology. (3) By the same word of Scripture the ministry of the word also, that is, pastoral preaching, catechetics and all Christian instruction, in which the liturgical homily must hold the foremost place, is nourished in a healthy way and flourishes in a holy way.
25. Therefore, all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become “an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly” (4) since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy. The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”(5) Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.” (6)
It devolves on sacred bishops “who have the apostolic teaching”(7) to give the faithful entrusted to them suitable instruction in the right use of the divine books, especially the New Testament and above all the Gospels. This can be done through translations of the sacred texts, which are to be provided with the necessary and really adequate explanations so that the children of the Church may safely and profitably become conversant with the Sacred Scriptures and be penetrated with their spirit.
Furthermore, editions of the Sacred Scriptures, provided with suitable footnotes, should be prepared also for the use of non-Christians and adapted to their situation. Both pastors of souls and Christians generally should see to the wise distribution of these in one way or another.
26. In this way, therefore, through the reading and study of the sacred books “the word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1) and the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, may more and more fill the hearts of men. Just as the life of the Church is strengthened through more frequent celebration of the Eucharistic mystery, similar we may hope for a new stimulus for the life of the Spirit from a growing reverence for the word of God, which “lasts forever” (Is. 40:8; see 1 Peter 1:23-25).
THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (1992)
Mainly citing the documents of Vatican II
131 “and such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigour, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life.”109 Hence “access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful.”110
132 “Therefore, the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology. the ministry of the Word, too – pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place – is healthily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture.”111
133 The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.112
VATICAN II. CONSTITUTION ON THE LITURGY (1963)
7. To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross” (20), but especially under the eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes (21). He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20)
Bible texts: www.biblegateway.com
GOOGLE: (a) Documents of Vatican II; — (b) Catechism of the Catholic Church;–(c) Oremus Bible Browser
B. SUNDAY READINGS
(a)Mixed Sunday Congregations; very young to very old; diverse occupations (shopkeepers, farmers, tradesmen; unemployed etc.); different interests;
(b) biblical readings with a message for all, as word of God; Christ present in his word etc.
(c) together with the liturgical (human) homily, each reading is in a sense a “homily” by Christ; in the readings it is Christ himself who speaks (Vatican II, Liturgy)
(d) necessary to help all understand readings, requiring at times explanations;
(e) Aim of liturgical readings is to give consolation ands confidence; to strengthen faith in Christ and the Church; on Christ’s presence with his Church, and each individual.
In Dialogue with questions of the Day
(a) Dialogue can be part of Sunday homily;
(b) Questions of the day, theoretical (e.g. creation, Darwin, Dawkins), and others (e.g. current drive towards a secular society)
(c) Attention to be paid to different groups
(d) Questions and problems to be examined in some depth, with answers or reactions from the point of view of the faith community.
Readings for 29th Sunday of the Year (Year 1)
Helpful to have general idea of chief dates in Israelite history: (Exodus from Egypt, Moses), David ca. 1000 BC; United kingdoms of Judah and Israel 1000-931 BC; Fall of Israel to Assyrian Empire 721; Destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonians (Nebuchadnezzar) 586 BC; Babylonian Exile 586-539 BC; Cyrus the Persian (non-Semite; Indo-European) conquers Asia Minor and is about to conquer Babylon 540 BC; Judah and Jews ruled by Persians 539-312; Jews ruled by Greek empire 312-63 BC; ruled by Rome 63 BC onwards.
The First reading has Cyrus’s conquests as background. The God of Israel is presented (by the Jewish prophet known as Deutero-Isaiah) as addressing Cyrus directly, telling him that behind his victories stands the God of Israel, who is using him to set Israel free, and return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. This Cyrus did in 539 BC. A message of the reading is that divine providence works quietly to achieve its aims.
SECOND READING (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5).
The significance and message of this brief reading is probably best appreciated when set in its historical and theological context. It is a letter that can be accurately dated: AD 51, thus the oldest piece of Christian literature that has come down to us. (The contents of the Gospels were being assembled and preached earlier, but not written down as we have them.) The date AD 51-52 shows the rapid progress of the Christian message. The crucifixion of Christ, the resurrection and descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) occurred in Ad 30 or 33. Paul was converted abut three years later with the mission to bring Christianity to the pagans (gentiles, non-Jews), in three missionary journeys. The second of these brought Paul and companions to Troas in Asia Minor, opposite Macedonia (Northern Greece) and Europe. There he had a vision of a man in Macedonia calling him “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Paul had success in Philippi and Thessalonica, but persecution forced him to go to southern Greece (Athens). There he attempted to bring the saving message of the Gospel to the learned body of Athens (Areopagus), but was greeted at or politely dismissed at mention of the word “Resurrection” (anastasis) of Christ (Acts 17). Dispirited, he went on to nearby Corinth. Writing to the Corinthians about AD 57 he tells them: “1 Corinthians 2:1-5
New International Version (NIV)
1 Corinthians 2
1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
Dispirited at Corinth Paul is reassured by God (Acts 18:9-11). Acts 18:9-11
New International Version (NIV)
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.
While at Corinth in the course of disputed with the Jews intervention with the Roman proconsul Gallio, to be dated AD 51-52, his declared non-involvement in Paul and Jewish legal matter possibly Spring 52.
The divine power of which Paul speaks in 1 Cor and today’s second reading is the divine power of the Holy Spirit, of grace, that gives full conviction. The gospel and Christian message is not just words but also the power of the spirit that bring belief and inner conviction in the message.
Note the points made in the reading: divine election, the three theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) at work in the believing community, the centrality of prayer.
A reflection on the reading, or basis for dialogue from it, would be that the message is still central to our religion.
THE GOSPEL READING (Mat 22:15-21).
In context this is one of four dialogues between Jesus and Jewish groups and individuals: Pharisees and Herodians, Sadducees, a lawyer (learned scribe) of the Pharisees, a question of Jesus to the Pharisees. As background to today’s gospel reading: the setting is in Jerusalem, in Judea. Judea was directly ruled by Rome since deposition of Archelaus in AD 6, and a tax of one denarius coin (with the image of the emperor regarded as divine, then Tiberius) on it. It was a yearly tax, levied on everyone, children and slaved included. Jewish sentiment in Judea would be anti Roman, by Pharisees and many others. The Herodians (of the family of Herod the Great, no longer in rule in Judea, unlike Galilee) were pro-Roman and would report any evasion of tax to the Roman authorities. The Pharisees align with them to see if they can get Jesus into difficult with the Roman authorities. He sees through and avoids their trick.
His reply “render to Caesar” (i.e. the Roman Emperor) and “render to God” has provided material for reflection and discussion over the ages, in the debates on Church and state included. The early had to be careful no to get into unnecessary trouble with the Roman authorities in as far as possible. On some issues it could not compromise, e.g. honouring the Emperor as God and denying (cursing) Christ. “Render to God” in Jesus’ day could have many implications. In early Irish interpretation (Gospel commentaries) it was understood rendering oneself, as image of God, to God, this by Christian life. At all times would imply rendering to God one’s life in keeping with Christ’s radical teaching regarding his own person and the demands of the kingdom, for instance “any one who loves father or mother, brother or sister, family, friends… more than me, is not worthy of me …” (Mat 10:37).