This past week, Pope Francis named the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time as “Word of God Sunday.” The announcement was made through an apostolic letter on the feast of Saint Jerome, revered in the Christian tradition for his love of the Sacred Scriptures.
But how are we to understand this new Sunday designation? Why did the pope do it and where can we turn in our efforts to try and understand its value? And, in raising these questions, let’s ask the broader and more pressing question: How can the Bible help us to live our faith today?
Pope Francis gives us some direction. He begins the apostolic letter by taking us to the Emmaus account at the end of Luke’s gospel. So, for answers to our questions, we should follow the pope’s lead and turn to this account of the disciples on their way to Emmaus. The story highlights many aspects of our endeavor to love and serve the Lord Jesus as his disciples.
The story is familiar to many of us. After Jesus’ passion and death, two disciples left Jerusalem and were on their way to Emmaus, a journey of about seven miles. As they were walking, they talked about all the things that happened, and while they were discussing these matters, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them. He asked the disciples, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?”
The disciples stood still, looked sad, and said to Jesus, “Are you the only visitor who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Jesus asked, “What things?” and the disciples recounted the events of the passion and death. The disciples expressed dismay because they had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel.
In response, Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, and from Moses to the prophets, he showed them how the Christ was to suffer these things in order to enter his glory.
Yes, it’s hard to believe but the very first Christian “Bible study” was given by the Lord Jesus on the road to Emmaus. As Pope Francis comments, “Christ is the first exegete!” And it is powerful that the Lord used the Scriptures to show the disciples the plan and providence of God. It’s as if the Lord said to them (as he says to us): If you want to know what God is up to, read the Bible! It’s all in there.
By reading the Bible, we can understand the work, the ways, and the teaching style of God. We can understand how we are called to live as his children and how he draws close to us to accompany, correct, encourage, and guide us to a deeper relationship with him.
As Christian believers, we need to see the utter importance of the Sacred Scriptures in our discipleship. We need to read and study the Bible, memorize its passages, and seek to understand and live its truths. The Bible is God’s love letter to humanity.
It is a syllabus for us on the purpose and meaning of life, and a disclosure of the essential truths of human life given by God. Many people approach God as a stranger, and so his ways seem strange. Through the Scriptures, Jesus showed the disciples the truth about his passion and death.
In reading the Sacred Scriptures, we too can come to know Jesus Christ better, discern the ways of God more deeply, and see how he works in our lives and in our world today. As we dive into the Bible, we realize more fully how it is truly a living Word, and how God uses it to speak to us and show us his presence and providence every day.
Pope Francis teaches us: “We should never take God’s word for granted, but instead let ourselves be nourished by it, in order to acknowledge and live fully our relationship with him and with our brothers and sisters.”
As believers, we are called to “take up and read” the Bible. The depth and richness of the sacred narrative contained within it is a light to our feet in the darkness and a source of surety and consolation in a difficult and changing world.
This new Word of God Sunday is a reminder to us that we are called every day to read, study, pray, and interact with the Bible. Its wisdom and worldview are to shape and mold all that we do, from how we spend money, to the way we forgive, to how we vote, to the way we treat the poor. Everything is to be enlightened and elevated by the deeds and words contained in the Sacred Scriptures.
And so, in the twists and turns of life, we should slow things down and acknowledge this new Sunday designation as a gift and use it as an encouragement to draw closer to the Bible.