Each Sunday we come to Church and we listen to the Word of God. Perhaps we come to Mass every day and we listen to the Word of God. Maybe we have a bible at home and we read the Word of God. The Word of God is all around us and yet how often do we stop to think about why we have the Word of God. Why is it given such prominence in the liturgy, in our homes , in our schools and in our lives?
The obvious first thought is not so much what is the Word of God but who is the Word of God and that is, as St John’s Gospel teaches us: The Word became flesh; so Jesus is the Word of God. Here, however, I’m talking about Scripture itself. The written words of the Bible which we read and hear proclaimed before us.
The Council Fathers teach us, in a document called Dei Verbum, which is Latin for the Word of God, three clear principles to guide us. Firstly we needed to consider the context in which scripture is written. In other words, whilst God is the author of the bible he speaks to us through the words and writings of humanity. This is portrayed beautifully in Caravaggio’s painting of St Matthew writing the Gospel. An angel whispers into his ear clearly revealing to him what is to be written. It is, however, Matthew's hand which writes the words. In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to listen afresh to the parable of the Good Samaritan. A typically Ignatian approach to scripture might be to immerse yourself into the situation which is described. Within the context of this parable we might put ourselves in the place of the Lawyer: are we familiar with our faith, do we seek to test Jesus in some way, perhaps we are deeply searching for something within that will justify why we are the person whom we have become.
Or perhaps we might think what was it like to be the first listener to Jesus as he spoke this parable. What would we have thought of this story? We certainly, within the context of being a first century Jew, would hear the shock of a seemingly impossible hero emerging. The Samaritans were not, as they are today, good people who listen to the woes of others. They were the enemies; they were those who were likely as not to be the attackers, they were certainly not someone upon whom you modelled yourself. Perhaps there are people in our own lives whom we know to be good people yet our culture dictates they are not to be trusted and we, therefore, struggle to accept their heroic virtue.
The second principle to guide us is to consider scripture as a whole. We are, at all costs, to avoid becoming fundamentalists. In other words we are not to take scripture out of context to fit our own agenda. Typically this might be to take the passage an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth to mean that we can take revenge upon someone who has harmed us. People use this kind of fundamentalism to justify their stance of favouring the death penalty. It was Ghandi who is said to have noted the policy of an eye for an eye simply leads to a blind world! When we hear today’s reading from Deuteronomy we could be mistaken for thinking that ‘keeping those commandments and laws of his that are written in the Book of this Law’ meant only the Jewish scripture handed down through Moses, yet that very quote begins ‘obey the voice of the Lord’; a voice we hear proclaimed at every Mass in the Word of God.
Finally, and most importantly, we ask ourselves, what is God teaching us for our salvation? The Word of God, like the totality of our Christian lives, is for the sole benefit of leading us to Heaven. Each and every thought, action and deed is to bring about our salvation, nothing less. This is what God asks of us and teaches us in the Word of God. When we hear scripture today, and every day and in every reading, we ask: Lord what are you teaching me today? St Paul teaches us ‘God wanted... all things to be reconciled through him and for him’.
So ask yourself – what does God ask of me this day?