Ezra Leads the Israelites back to Worship and the Scriptures
The background for the first reading today is quite possibly the most devastating event in the history of the Israelites: the Babylonian Exile. The Israelites thought that they were untouchable with the Lord watching over them, and for years they were. But slowly they drifted away from God and began living unholy lives. The state of things deteriorated so much that when the Babylonians attacked, the Lord did not intervene and the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, including the glorious Temple built by Solomon. The Israelites were captured and taken to different parts of the Empire so that they would never be able to unite and revolt. The exile ended generations later when Persia conquered Babylon and allowed the Israelites to return home. Many lost their Israelites abandoned their faith and stayed, but some returned. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were shocked to see the city in ruins. Immediately, they began the rebuilding project and resurrected houses, businesses, the city wall, and most importantly the Temple. It is at this point in time that the first reading is situated. The Priest Ezra gathered the people in the fully restored city and read from the Torah, the first five books in the Scriptures, something many of them probably heard for the first time. The people wept for what ancestors who abandoned the Lord and were overjoyed that the Lord had brought them back. For them, the reading of the Scriptures signified the re-unification of the Lord and his chosen people and the return of authentic worship.
St. Luke’s Gospel in the Scriptures is a Faithful Guide
In the Gospel of Luke, we hear once again of the importance of Sacred Scripture in the life of believers. After Jesus Ascended back into Heaven, Luke says that some accounts of his life were written. After his own experiences and what he heard from following St. Paul, Luke gathered as much information about Jesus as he could and began himself compiling an orderly account of his life. He does this, he says, “… so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” St. Luke wanted to show the early Christians that the teachings of the early Christians were directly connected to Jesus and not fabrications or inventions. Christians were to faithfully pass on the teachings of Jesus to the next generation, not adding to them or changing them. St. Luke wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and is a reliable source, in what would later be recognized as Sacred Scripture, as a true guide to knowing and living as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
How can we read the Scriptures?
For both the Israelites and the early Christians, the Scriptures were important because they were a true connection and direct link to God. The same is true for us today! The Scriptures are a sure link to Jesus. This makes the reading of Scripture something very important because it is there that we hear the voice of God. Some have asked, how do we read the Scriptures? Is it the same as reading a novel or history book? I would like to offer you a three step method for getting the most out of your prayer with the Scriptures, which involves the whole person: head, heart, and hands.
1. Ask what do the words say, in context? This is the head work. Here we examine the account to see what was going on at that time. Looking to the historical realities we can come to understand much about what was happening at that time.
2. What does this say to me? Now comes the heart. The reason God gave us the Scriptures was so that He could speak to us through them. Whenever we read them it’s important to ask, “What does this passage say to me?” It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean we determine what Jesus means for ourselves and that we can make our own truth. Always our interpretation has to fit the context of the entire Scriptures as well as the teachings of Jesus, which is the same as the teachings of the Church. If ever we encounter confusion or doubts, as Catholics, we look to the Church for clarification because she is the authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture.
3. What must I do? Finally, and perhaps most important, the hands. We can’t forget to ask, “How does all of this affect my life, who I am and how I live?”, “What action is God calling me to?” And “How is He challenging me?”
To get the most out of our reading of Scripture we need all three: Head, Hands, and Heart.
The Scriptures form us into the Image of Jesus Christ
From my own life I can testify to the significant impact the Scriptures have had in guiding me and forming me more into the image of Jesus Christ. It’s surprising how many times, despite being familiar with a particular verse, at this particular moment in my life it took on a deeper meaning, something that I needed at this very moment. For all of us as Christians we strive to be more like Jesus, to imitate Him in everything. What better thing can we do than read about Him in the Scriptures, learning who He really was and what he really said? The Word of God is inspiration and nourishment for our souls, helping them to more resemble Christ.
Everyone Can Read the Scriptures and Benefit from it
Some peoples response to reading the Scriptures is astonishment, “You can’t expect me to read all of that? It’s huge! It’s so complex.” You don’t need a degree to read Scripture. It’s not an insurmountable task. It has been given to us by the Lord so that we could hear his voice, all of us, no matter who we are or what state in life we are at. Every time we read the Scriptures God speaks to us. And reading the Bible isn’t just for Protestants, it’s for Catholics too – and how much more so since the Bible is our book. I encourage all of you to try to read a little bit of the Scriptures each day, it doesn’t have to be a lot, a chapter will do. In doing this prayerfully, you will find it to be one of the greatest aids to becoming more like Jesus.
Finally, I would like to end with a strong endorsement from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 133):
The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.