In the last Liturgy Corner (remember, you can read previous articles on the website under the Liturgy Blog), we talked about how Jesus Christ is the Word of God and that Scripture is the Word of God as well. Hence, there is a mystical sense in which Jesus is Scripture and Scripture is Jesus. Consequently, Church calls us to have a reverence for Scripture similar to our reverence for the Eucharist. Let us continue this line of thought by considering how Scripture is, in a sense, alive. As Christ is alive, so in some way is Scripture.
Let’s begin by reading Hebrews 4:12, a verse that has been very powerful and formative in my life for a long time.
“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
This verse gives further impetus to the idea that Scripture is ‘alive.’ It is not only alive; It is active. It is not to be approached as any other written text that we intellectually consume. When we read a normal book, we find ways that it relates to and applies to our lives. In such cases, we are the active ones. But with Scripture, the Word acts. We take a more passive role, seeking to be worked on and changed by the living and active Word of God. We do not only read or hear the text; the text, God's Word, reads us. It pierces our souls and opens us up to God and to ourselves. It strips away the veil covering things that we would like to ignore. It works upon us in ways that we often can’t even recognize. It carries not only intellectual meaning, which is only valuable insofar as we grasp it in our minds, but also a transformative Grace that affects us even when we don’t ‘get anything out of it.’ So, if you have ever said that phrase with regards to Scripture or the Mass, maybe reconsider it.
Another sense of Scripture being ‘alive’ is that it is dynamic. I do not mean that it changes its meaning or ‘evolves’ over time. Rather, when we read Scripture, we encounter a person, and a person speaks to other persons. A book of recorded thoughts or a powerful autobiography can never measure up to Scripture because they will always be chained to the context of their time. True, Scripture was indeed written in a particular time and context, and those things must be considered in reading and studying it (ex. Knowing the Jewish customs, culture, and beliefs of Jesus’ time is important to understanding what he says.) But Scripture is not limited in that capacity. The human authors of Scripture write to a particular time and people, but mystically God also speaks to us, to you. We do not manufacture the personal relevance of Scripture. God really can speak to you through his Word. We may say sometimes, when reading other spiritual books, that, “it feels like the authors are speaking to me in particular.” But with Scripture, it really happens.
So, Scripture works on us above and beyond the contextual designs of the human authors and the intellectual and moral lessons we can pull out of the text. But what does that above and beyond look like? Well, it is certainly a mystical reality, and so we are not going to be able to put our finger on it entirely. How can you explain the effects of a deep interpersonal relationship with anyone? Do we simply enumerate the lessons they have taught us or the observable benefits of said relationship? Of course not. An encounter with a person, and especially the deep on-going encounter of a real relationship, is an encounter with unfathomable depth. All the marvels of the universe are a drop in a bucket compared to the infinite individuality, complexity, uniqueness, and wonder of a single person. How much more so can we say this about Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
I will, however, leave you with something to reflect on with regards to the mystical effects of the living Word of God. When I was a child, my parents made me memorize Psalm 23 (thanks Mom and Dad.) Through my relationship with this passage, God has proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that Scripture is ‘living and effective.' When we memorize something, it physically changes us. Our brains ‘rewire’ to incorporate and store the new memory. So, when we memorize Scripture, our body is changed to incorporate the ‘living Word’ of God. Our bodies and minds ‘become’ the Scripture, the Word, which is Jesus. There is another parallel to receiving the Eucharist here, don’t you think?
Next time, I shall talk about how we can best pray with Scripture to be more open to God speaking to us and transforming us with his living Word.
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