Sermons

Summary: Our respect for the Word of God must always be subject to our understanding that the Bible is the Church's Book.

Monday of 4th Week in Course

30 January 2012

Verbum Domini

In the OT, there are very few persons who are totally devoted to listening to and living out the Word of God. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and then this wonderful, conflicted soul David, were four of them. Yes, they all had their weaknesses, and David, worst of all, was guilty of covetousness, adultery, lying, theft and murder. But when David heard the word of God convicting him of these sins, when Nathan said “You are the man!” he responded to that word, not with excuses, but with repentance.

David also lived out the Word of God in doing penance for his sin. The Word of God had also told him that “the sword will never depart from your house.” (2 Sm 12:10) David’s oldest son, Amnon, raped his step-sister, Tamar. Two years later, Tamar’s brother, Absalom, had Amnon murdered. In the run-up to today’s reading, Absalom has engineered a rebellion, gotten most of the people to follow him, and marched on Jerusalem. David is fleeing with a reduced army–even his major general has defected. Then this cursing fellow appears, still angry after over thirty years that David is king instead of his relative, Saul. But pay careful attention to the reverence David holds for the word of God. Suppose the word of God has come to this Shimei, telling him to curse David. Instead of resisting, David gave the man the benefit of the doubt. He assumed that his persecution was God’s will, and he said, in this way, Thy will be done, O Lord. Now, in time, Absalom was defeated and David was restored, and, most wonderfully, we are left with a parable of divine justice and mercy, and of David following the plan of God.

The Holy Father reminds us that God loved us so much that He gave us His Word, His Son. How did He do this? By consigning this word to us “in a definitive way, so that the proclamation of salvation can be communicated effectively in every time and place.” The apostles received the Word of God, indeed lived with the Incarnate Logos, and handed on everything they received. They learned the Word by hearing it from his lips, by watching how he lived and what he did, and by coming to know it fully through the work of the Holy Spirit in their own ministry. Then they preached the Word and, only later, wrote it down or commissioned their disciples to do so. The Bible, then, is truly the Church’s book. The Sacred Tradition preceded the written Word, and informs that Word, so that it is really impossible to know the Scriptures fully without knowing them in the Church.

The Second Vatican Council also states that this Tradition of apostolic origin is a living and dynamic reality: it “makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit”; yet not in the sense that it changes in its truth, which is perennial. Rather, “there is a growth in insight into the realities and the words that are being passed on”, through contemplation and study, with the understanding granted by deeper spiritual experience and by the “preaching of those who, on succeeding to the office of bishop, have received the sure charism of truth”.

In fact, how is it that we know that the Letter of James is part of the canon of Scripture, while the wonderful Letter of Clement to the Corinthians is not? “by means of the same tradition, the full canon of the sacred books is known to the Church and the holy Scriptures themselves are more thoroughly understood and constantly made effective in the Church. [58] Ultimately, it is the living Tradition of the Church which makes us adequately understand sacred Scripture as the word of God. Although the word of God precedes and exceeds sacred Scripture, nonetheless Scripture, as inspired by God, contains the divine word (cf. 2 Tim 3:16) “in an altogether singular way”.

So it is critical to the mission of the Church that the people of God be properly taught and trained “to approach the sacred Scriptures in relation to the Church’s living Tradition, and to recognize in them the very word of God.” That’s why, for instance, Bible study groups need to be led by men and women steeped in the Word of God as the Church’s book, and they must subject their personal opinions of the Scriptures to the guidance of the bishops. Specifically, only Church-approved study courses should be used, lest they spread error in faith or morals. After all, when you go to the Internet, Google gives you an atheist’s perspective and interpretation of the Bible on the very first page of search results! That’s one thing we can all live without.

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