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Sunday of the Word of God: A Story of God's Love For His People

Author: Allegra Mutanda

Picture: Pexels

Sunday of the Word of God: A Story of God's Love For His People

God is still speaking and revealing the depths of His love for us through His word, but unless we become familiar with the Bible, how can we hear His promises? Allegra Mutanda explains the importance of the Sunday of the Word of God.

This Sunday, 22 Janury, we celebrate “Sunday of the Word of God” which Pope Francis instituted in 2019. His desire is for us all to grow in love and faithful witness to God. He said, ‘devoting a specific Sunday of the liturgical year to the word of God can enable the Church to experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world’ (Aperuit Illis, 2).

Every time we are at Mass, we hear Sacred Scripture: not only in our reading of Old Testament texts (first reading and psalm) or New Testament texts (second reading and Gospel), but Scripture tends to form the basis of most of the prayers in the Mass. And it is easy to forget that most of our hymns, especially the more traditional ones, are based on Scripture.

So, as Church, we are fed very well on the word of God in our liturgies. But Pope Francis reminds us, in Aperuit Illis, that a day devoted to the Bible should not be a yearly occurrence, but rather a year-long event: ‘We urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord’ (para 8).

A Whistle-Stop Tour of The Bible

As Catholics, we are not always very familiar with Sacred Scripture. Some of us may even feel daunted by the prospect of reading the bible. Where do I start, what does it mean, why are some parts so gory, why is it that God sometimes seems so harsh or unrelenting? What does it have to do with me today, in my situation? These are only some of the questions we may pose ourselves but, before we carry on, let’s take a whistle-stop tour of the Bible.

Put simply, the Bible is a book. It looks like a book but actually, it’s more than that: it is a collection of books. I have heard it referred to as a ‘library’ of books. It was written by various people (of both Jewish and Christian tradition), in different locations, over many centuries but always under one architect: the Holy Spirit - for the Bible is God-inspired.

The Bible is split into two sections: the Old testament and the New testament. The Old Testament reveals a people’s developing understanding of God and who He is as well as their relationship with Him. Those relationships bore marks of joys and great blessings, pain and anguish, cries for justice and liberation, hope and despair…an exact description of the human condition, not just in those days but as we experience it today.

Although the New Testament is easier to read and understand - we are all familiar with the life of Jesus and to some extent, the Apostles and what comes next - we cannot understand the New Testament without the Old. For us Christians, the New Testament is the fulfilment of the Old Testament. In other words, the Old Testament gives the context in which the messianic prophecy (prophecy of a saviour) is fulfilled. Therefore, we need the Old Testament to understand the New.Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matt 5: 17).

Prophecies fulfilled through God's Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour

For example, in the Gospels, there are many references to the Old Testament: lineage, prophecies being fulfilled and of God as liberator seen through His Son Jesus Christ our Saviour. The first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel gives us Jesus’ genealogy taking us back to Abraham where God says to him, ‘I will make a covenant between us and I will give you many, many descendants’ (Gen 17:2). Abraham’s willing sacrifice of his son Isaac was a precursor of God so loving the world that He willingly gave His Son. Even when God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son to him, he provided a lamb as oblation instead.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who becomes the oblation. Jesus’ 40 days in the desert mirrors Israel’s 40 years wandering in the desert. And what about the institution of the Eucharist and its prefigurement in the Old Testament? Firstly, in the symbolic use of bread with which God fed the people in the desert (manna); Jesus is to become ‘manna’ for His people. Secondly, Jesus’ blood shed on the cross for our redemption; the angel ‘passed over’ any house that had blood of a lamb on its doorpost thus saving them from death.

What binds the two testaments and the collection of books we find in the bible is the story it tells: of God’s love for His people. Even with its gory and sometimes violent themes, the bible is written as a love letter from God to His people, a self-revelation of God to His people.

'Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ'

And today, God is still speaking to us through His word, revealing Himself to us, revealing the depths of His love for us. BUT unless we become familiar with His word, how can we hear His promises? St Jerome is famously known for boldly stating that 'Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ'.  Because, unless we became familiar with the word of God, we cannot claim to know the Word of God [Jesus]. Through the word, we encounter the eternal Word [person of Christ], and are touched by Him. The word of God proclaims the 'Word of God'. ‘In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning…’ (John 1:1).

So, my invitation this Sunday is for us to ask the Lord to give us a new hunger for His word so that we may grow in knowledge and love of Him, the Incarnate Word of God. Pope St Gregory the Great (6th - 7th century) taught that the Bible is accessible to everyone without exception, and yet contains unfathomable depths. He compared it to a river deep enough for an elephant to swim, yet shallow enough for a lamb to wade through.

So, if you do not know where to start, try resources like ‘The Bible in a Year’ podcasts with its helpful timelines and reflections. Or commit yourself, each day, to reading the Gospel of that day. I’m part of a Gospel reading WhatsApp group and, each day, we read the following Sunday’s Gospel. At the weekend, we share with one another how it has spoken to us; it’s like having ‘mini homilies’ from people who have been digesting the word all week, and is such a blessing.

But, whatever you choose to do, simply make space for God to bless you through His Word in whichever way He chooses to do so. And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary who ‘treasured these things in her heart’ to pray for us, and walk with us, as we listen to the God who speaks.

‘When your words came, I devoured them: your word was my delight and the joy of my heart’ (Jeremiah 15: 16).

NOTES


[1] The title ‘Aperuit Illis’ is based on this verse in the Gospel of Luke: ‘Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures’ (Luke 24: 44).

[2] This celebration also falls during that part of the year when the Church is encouraged to strengthen its bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian unity.

 

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