Pope Francis invites us to dedicate the third Sunday in Ordinary Time to the Word of God. Accompanied by today’s Gospel, let us try to see how we can study Scripture in a way that also leads us to pray about it and celebrate it.
How do we read Scripture? We dive in and look closely at the details. We zoom in. In our Gospel today, we see that “when Jesus heard that John [the Baptist] had been arrested, [Jesus] withdrew to Galilee.” We commonly understand withdrawal as retreat. Was Jesus afraid that he would be arrested also? Was this why he went to Galilee?
But John the Baptist was ordered arrested by Herod Antipas (see the story in Matthew 14: 1-12), and Galilee was ruled by the same Herod. If we connect these two details, it becomes clear that instead of fleeing from danger, Jesus was actually flying straight into it. What did Jesus do in Galilee? He started preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” No, Jesus did not withdraw to Galilee because he was afraid. This story makes Jesus’ courage shine all the more.
How do we read Scripture? We try to see the bigger picture. We zoom out. We can connect Jesus’ marching into Herod’s den to another time he risked life and limb – when he entered Jerusalem. Jesus was not stupid. He knew that going to Jerusalem was courting death. So why did he still do it?
How do we read Scripture? We read it not only to spot curious things but to get to know God more deeply. We read Scripture to look straight into our Lord’s eyes and ask him, “Why do you do the things that you do? Who are you?”
Practicum: Drop this article for a while, and read the rest of our Gospel today from Matthew 4: 12-23. Try to apply what we have learned about reading Scripture, and then let’s compare notes…
When I read the rest of our Gospel today and saw how Jesus called his first disciples, what struck me was how they responded to Jesus’ invitation: Peter and Andrew left their nets at once. James and John left their boat immediately. I zoomed in on at once and immediately. How could they do this? They hardly knew Jesus! What a chance they were taking leaving their livelihood and family! Then I zoomed out a bit and realized how Jesus was also taking a chance on them. No interviews were conducted, no transcripts of records were needed, and no psychological testing was requested. Even when Jesus had firsthand experience of how unreliable his disciples were when they abandoned him at the cross, he still gave them a second chance when he called them again to join his mission after his resurrection. Jesus taking chances on untested disciples and then entrusting the spreading of the kingdom of heaven to people proven weak – isn’t this Jesus courting danger and risking everything again? And I find myself asking God, pleading even, “Why do you do the things that you do? Who are you?”
How do we read Scripture? We read Scripture humbly admitting we have blinders on. While our prejudices limit what we see, they also allow us to focus on what is probably important to us. Maybe I was struck by the words withdrew, immediately, and at once, because I am afraid of trials and difficulties, I evade what I know I cannot really avoid, and even when I finally make a decision, I delay taking the first step and ask for more time.
What you may see in Scripture is not always what I will see. What you and I are going through are different. Scripture can hit us personally if we allow it not just to scratch the surface but cut us and wound us… then heal us and give us new life. We read Scripture to allow God to talk to us, to show us who we are, and to tell us who he is. While our Gospel today may have laid bare to me my faults, it also revealed to me God’s strengths. How amazing that despite my many withdrawals, he continues calling me – immediately and at once. Now how will I respond to this great gift?
An 800-word article cannot exhaust what we can say about reading Scripture. But hopefully, this will inspire us to read Scripture. Maybe we can start with the Gospel offered to us every day (a good website is http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/). We will sometimes make mistakes when we read the Word of God, but if we share what we have seen with others and learn from what has been given to others, the possibility of making mistakes can be lessened. We cannot know everything about the Word of God, just as while on this earth, we will never know everything about God. But doesn’t this make the adventure of reading Scripture more exciting? May we now take a chance and open God’s Word at once!