Tuesday, 30 June 2015

On the reading and re-reading of scripture

I have been prompted to post these thoughts following something that was said during a session with some students as part of our School Mission, which is being led by the team from Soli House. It was said that even though scripture is the same each time we hear it, we, as the listeners or readers, are different from when we last heard or read that passage. I originally wrote this down a while ago, and so the 'today' being referred to is actually the 15th February 2015, the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

We must not take any section of scripture for granted. I thought of those psalms and readings which occur regularly in the office, but the same is true for those stories and parables which we hear regularly in the mass, and even those referenced in popular culture.

The second reading from today's Office of Readings ties in with this thought magnificently, St Ephrem, in a commentary on the Diatesseron, share with us an analogy of Sacred Scripture as a living spring. God's word has so many different facets that one man cannot hope to grasp them all; each will comprehend what he is able to from a passage, and this comprehension will change with one's circumstances. One could look at a child's interpretation of scripture to see this in action. When I ask my daughter on the way home from mass "why do you think Jesus cured the leper in today's Gospel?" And she answers "to be nice to him". That isn't any sort of failing on her part to understand what Jesus had done; and although we often take such discussions further, I do not perceive it to be my failure if she doesn't understand massive depths by the end of the discussion. Nor indeed do I consider it a failure if I myself do not know every depth to the passage. But what I would perceive to be a failure on my part would be if I didn't try to perceive or understand any new depths to a passage. Ideally this would mean that every mass' readings would be considered and contemplated in detail. In practice this is near impossible for most people, and frequently the only time we have is during the actual reading itself. Assuming that we genuinely cannot find time during the day we hear a passage, we have two options; approach the reading with an open mind from the beginning, and latch on to an important idea which speaks to us and which we can then consider in the time we have, or we can listen reverently to the homily, and try to see in that the keys to unlocking some of the depths of the passages we have heard. Both have fantastic merits and I would not try to suggest one above the other. 

This again is echoed by St Ephrem in his extract. He uses his analogy to say that one should not look to quench the spring of God's word with his thirst, but to quench his thirst with the spring. If the spring is quenched when someone drinks from it, it is gone, and nothing further can be gained from it. However if someone drinks and quenches his thirst but does not drain the spring, he can return to it again and again as his thirst requires.

Combining these two thoughts leads us to the idea that God's Word is both multi-faceted and eternal in its ability to impart wisdom to those who read it. Therefore we should not be down when we see or hear a passage we believe we know extremely well. Rather we should be looking for a new interpretation, or a new idea within that text. And when we find it, we will know the wisdom of St Ephrem's words.

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