A Grand Tour of the Bible
We learned last week that the Bible is God’s word to us. But if we sat down to read it all, each Mass would last several weeks at least! So instead we take a small selection each week. You might not know that the selection changes on a cycle of three years. Currently we are in Year A, so you will hear readings from Matthew’s Gospel. In Year B we read Mark and in Year C we read Luke. In the course of the 3 years, we read most of the Bible. In fact, there is so much scripture that regular attendance at Mass is itself a Bible study.
Some of our Christian brothers and sisters believe that all you have to do is read the Bible and do what is says. It’s not really that easy. The Bible is dense and complex and full of different layers of meaning. It can be carefully examined, compared and contrasted, and mined for meaning. Some of the Church Fathers compared this process to a cow chewing its cud. We should return over and over again to Scripture, each time meditating and asking God for new insights. If you don’t understand a particular reading, don’t worry – it will be back in 3 years! As time goes on, the riches of God’s word begin to enrich our lives more deeply.
Something Old, Something New
The pattern of readings is almost always the same: an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading, and then the Gospel. The Gospel is the most important of the readings. The Gospel was chosen first and then an Old Testament reading was picked to reflect the same theme and idea. This was once very controversial. Some early Christians believed that we should throw out the Old Testament. They said it was full of people killing each other, sinful behavior, wives getting stoned for adultery and lots of laws that don’t apply any more. Now that we had Jesus, they said, we didn’t need that old stuff anymore. But cooler heads won this debate. They pointed out that God used the Old Testament to prepare for the coming of Christ. The Church put it this way, God “brought it about that the New should be hidden in the Old and that the Old should be manifest in the New.” (DV 16). The promises made in the Old are fulfilled in the New, but they also explain the context of the New Testament. In the end, even the Old Testament is all about Jesus Christ.
We see this in today’s readings. The Old Testament reading tells us that God is just but also merciful. In our Gospel, Jesus tells us the parable about the weeds and the wheat. Jesus will not let them pull up the weeds for fear that they disturb the wheat. He is just, but also merciful.
The Psalms are a series of 150 inspired hymns that were sung by the Jewish people for various occasions. We use them to respond to the reading from the Old Testament. The New Testament reading wasn’t necessarily chosen to match the other two, but it can reveal some interesting things about them. After each reading, the reader says, “The Word of the Lord” and we respond, “Thanks be to God.” Wait; think about it. Through the lips of the lector we are hearing God’s own words! That is amazing and beautiful. Every Sunday God speaks to his people through the Scriptures. God is speaking; are we listening?
DV = Dei Verbum, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Divine Revelation; see www.vatican.va