Sunday Sermon for January 24, 2016, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1Cor 12:12-30; Lk 1:1-4, 4:14-21
At the beginning of the Gospel reading today St. Luke states that many have undertaken to compile narratives of the events that had taken place regarding our Lord and His work of redemption and salvation. What is important for us to note in this regard is that of the many narratives, only four of them were determined to be inspired by God.
Unlike the various books that have been written over the centuries and of which we can say that some are classics, must read books or just simply better written that others, the books of the Bible are not judged on literary prowess. In fact, some of the books are rather poorly written from a literary, grammatical, or syntactical perspective. It may be that some of the works the Church determined were not inspired by God were of better literary quality that those we have in the Bible. None of that matters; all that matters is that we have the Word of God, not just stories and narratives that arose from human genius.
Having said this, I am not suggesting that there are not elements of truth in these non-Scriptural works, I am simply stating that they are not Divinely inspired. If we consider the works of St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, St. Clement, or the Didache (all from around the turn of the second century) anyone would recognize these as holy, inspiring, and filled with truth. However, they are not inspired by God.
Perhaps we tend to take the Bible for granted; we just know that what is contained within it is the Word of God. But how much does it really mean to us? The Church spent many years working to determine which books belonged in the New Testament. The Lord never told anyone that there were 27 books in the New Testament, let alone which 27 books they were. This was for the Church to determine. It was not until the year 397 that the final determination was made and the present canon of 27 books was finalized. Even with this, it was not until the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century that the Canon of Scripture was stated infallibly. It was accepted universally until Martin Luther rejected seven of the books contained in the Old Testament.
Why am I making such an issue of this? For two reasons: first, because in the first reading we hear about the assembly of Israel hearing the words of a book that had been found hidden in the Temple. These were people who had come to Israel after a 70 year exile, so they had never heard these words before. The book from which they were being instructed was determined by the Prophetess Hulda to be divinely inspired; today it is known as the Book of Deuteronomy.
The people wept as they heard the words, in part because they are truth, and in part because they lay out clearly the blessings and curses for following or failing to follow what God had revealed to the people of Israel through Moses. They realized that the exile from which they were returning was caused by the disobedience of their ancestors. God made everything clear; the people simply refused to do the will of God as it was presented to them in the pages of the Sacred Scriptures.
The second reason is that we have been given this gift of the Scriptures and we, like the Israelites, will be held responsible for following the precepts of the Lord and failing to do so. In the second reading today, St. Paul speaks about the various parts of the body of Christ and how each part is necessary for making up the whole. He speaks of some, like the Apostles (and we can certainly include the Evangelists) that are no longer living members of the body on earth. They are both necessary and serve as a foundation upon which everything else is built, but it is no longer necessary that we have Apostles and Evangelists, in the strict sense of those terms.
These men have done their jobs and have been rewarded for their fidelity to our Lord. Now it is our turn to accept our positions in the Mystical Person of Christ. Each of us needs to pray in order to discern just was God wants us to do. But each of us has a specific position and role to fulfill. Regardless, of what we are to do, every person who is part of the Body needs to know the Lord. The only way this can happen is through the reading of the Bible, adherence to the teachings of the Church, and through prayer. Pray, read and discern that you may know God’s will and carry it out.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.