Spirit of Mission: Bringing Scripture to Life

Every day during my Peace Corps training in Seoul, South Korea, back in 1971, I would use a walkway over the frenetic streets to get downtown. And each time I’d pass a child about 8 or 9 years old sitting on the concrete. His face was down but his hands were extended for whatever coins a passerby might toss his way.

With the Gospel story of the Last Judgment on my mind (Matthew 25:31-46, where Christ separates the sheep from the goats), I always gave spare change to the beggar child. Seasoned volunteers pointed out that these kids are assigned their spot by an older beggar to whom the child turns over his daily take. 

One day I bought a deep-fried corndog on a stick from a street vendor and placed it, stick first, into the boy’s open palm. Without looking up, he drew the corndog to himself and feasted. I told my skeptical colleagues I was merely bribing witnesses on my behalf for the Last Judgment.

Bringing the Scriptures to life should be every Christian’s daily goal. And going back to the last millennium, the Bible has been the all-time best seller worldwide. Yet, even with an estimated 6 billion Bibles in the world today, one might wonder: Why are we in such a mess? Clearly, simply owning a Bible is not enough.

Reading the Bible and understanding it are different, as well. In terms of biblical literacy, we Roman Catholics have had to play catch-up with Eastern Orthodox and Protestant denominations. It was only in 1943 that Pope Pius XII issued his encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (By the Inspiration of the Spirit), opening the door to Roman Catholic scholars to study the Scriptures in the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. They began to examine closely what the authors wrote, and they classified the types of writing — stories, letters, psalms, legends, etc. — to better understand their meaning. 

The Bible is actually more a library than a single book. Written over millennia by various authors, the Bible is the record of the evolution of the human understanding of God: who God is and what God did for us. The ancient Israelite tribes had a very different understanding of God than we do today. God didn’t change. Our understanding did.

For Christians, the four Gospels take pride of place. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of the Word of God in human form. He is the measure by which we weigh the other books of the Bible. The Good News of Jesus Christ is the lens through which we read the story of salvation history.

Through the life, miracles, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus, we understand not only the other books of Scripture, but also the meaning and goal of our own lives. 

At solemn Catholic Masses, the Book of the Gospels is borne in dignified procession to the altar. Unlike the lectionary (which includes all the readings), often the Book of the Gospels is incensed and a candle or candles are held while the passage is read. After the Gospel is proclaimed and its meaning expounded in the homily, the book isn’t included in the final procession. It already fulfilled its role of transmitting God’s word. Now it’s up to us listeners to carry it out. The Gospel leaves in our hearts.

The hardest thing about the Scriptures is not only believing them, but putting them into practice. Yet, each day affords us countless opportunities to bring Scripture to life in today’s world.

Somewhere at this very moment, Jesus in disguise begs at the side of the road, waiting for us, his followers, to act.

Featured Image: A young woman reads the Bible in a church in Mbale, Uganda, in this 2018 file photo. (CNS photo/Tonny Onyulo)

 

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About the author

Joseph Veneroso, M.M.

Father Joseph R. Veneroso is the former publisher and editor of Maryknoll magazine. He served in mission to Korea and now lives at the Maryknoll Center in Ossining, New York, and also ministers to a Korean Catholic parish community in New York City. His is the author of two books of poetry, Honoring the Void and God in Unexpected Places, a collection of columns from Maryknoll magazine titled Good New for Today, and Mirrors of Grace: The Spirit and Spiritualities of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.