Today's Gospel gives us both a parable and then an interpretation of that parable. I'm very grateful for this pattern in the 13th chapter of Matthew's Gospel. It indicates to us that not everything that Jesus says should be taken literally. Clearly the disciples were sometimes confused and needed some private coaching to bring them up to speed with what Jesus was on about.

As much as I respect the faith of our fundamentalist Christian brothers and sisters, it is at this point, on the way we interpret the Scriptures, that we cannot agree. The catholic community has always taken the process outlined in Matthew's gospel very seriously. We have always held that the full richness of the scriptures needs careful study and tested interpretations.

Unfortunately, in previous generations, the anxiety over people's private interpretations of the scriptures led Catholics to be suspicious of the Bible and the private reading of it. To read the Bible was often seen as a ‘very protestant thing to do'. Given that Jesus, Mary, the apostles and the disciples are all recorded in the New Testament as reading, meditating on, or hearing the scriptures, nothing could be further from the truth. To be a Christian is to ponder the Word of God.

That's why the Second Vatican Council encouraged us all to return to regular private reflection on the Bible. Along with this encouragement they also reminded us, however, that as strong as the feelings and revelations we experience in our private scriptural prayer may be, these may have little or no consequence for the wider community of faith. We believe that the whole Church has the task to discern where the Word of God is leading us.

To help this discernment, it's scholars who pay great attention to the history and the literary, textual and cultural issues in and around the Bible have always aided the catholic community. They look at how various interpretations and approaches of the Scriptures have helped or hindered the Church over the centuries. We place great weight on the 'here and now' of the faith community who listens to the Word of God and lives it out.

Our approach is a long way from those who hold that the entire truth of the scriptures is found in the text itself. Fundamentalist interpretations of the scriptures dismiss the importance of studying the scriptures by reducing it to a book of facts. In doing so they tie themselves up in all sorts of textual knots whenever the scriptures seem to contradict themselves.

We hold, however, that the scriptures are not books of facts, though they contain historical information. We believe we have seventy-three sacred books that ‘cannot err in leading us to the truth about God'. The Word of God is for us the pathway to faith, a series of revealed and inspired portraits of God and a distillation of God's saving love for us and our response to him.

When there are inconsistencies or differences in any two scriptural texts, rather than unsettle us, we see these differences as examples of the varying rich approaches to the truth of our salvation in and through Christ. This is nicely summed up in the verse, The Bible in 50 words.

God made
Adam bit
Noah arked
Abraham split
Joseph ruled
Jacob fooled
Bush talked
Moses balked
Pharaoh plagued
People walked
Sea divided
Tablets guided
Promise landed
Saul freaked
David peeked
Prophets warned
Jesus born
God walked
Love talked
Anger crucified
Hope died
Love rose
Spirit flamed
Word spread
God remained.

At this Eucharist let's give thanks that Jesus often used stories to communicate his truth and that he explained their meaning to those with ears to hear. Let's be grateful that we are inheritors of this intelligent legacy.

© Richard Leonard SJ.


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Next meeting: 7 August 2014

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Wis 12:13.16-19
God is mighty and gentle.

Rom 8:26-27
The Spirit overcomes our weaknesses.

Mt 13:24-43
Parables of the weeds in the field and the mustard seed.



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