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This Sunday’s readings (The third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C) show what it looks like to take Scriptures seriously.
The Gospel tells the story of how Jesus stands up at his local synagogue, unrolls the scroll, and reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Then he rolls the scroll up, hands it back to the attendant, sits down, with all eyes on him, says: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Next week we will see the reaction this announcement caused, but for this week we are given just the essentials of what happened.
What happened was one of the most extraordinary moments in the history of the world.
This is bigger than the restoration of Jerusalem, which we hear about in our first reading. In that reading, from Nehemiah, when Ezra unrolls the Scripture scroll and reads, the reaction is extreme: “Amen, amen!” the people shout. “Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the LORD, their faces to the ground.”
It’s almost as if they had read the Catechism, which says: “The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body” (No. 103).
But this moment with Jesus is even bigger than that. This is a moment God has been preparing for ever since he told Adam and Eve that their sin has consequences and that he has a plan.
All of scripture has led up to this moment when God the creator enters his creation and announces himself. The power of it will get Christ killed eventually. But it will also send waves of reaction throughout time that reach even us.
The power of Scripture had not diminished between the time of the priest Ezra and Jesus of Nazareth. And it still hasn’t diminished today. It is important that Jesus does this not in Jerusalem but in his local synagogue: It is not Jerusalem that is central to the story this time, but Scripture itself.
Catholics sometimes take the importance of Scripture for granted. We have a healthy understanding of the key role the Church plays in our faith: We have the Catechism, the Councils of the Church, the papal encyclicals and the magisterium to tell us about the mysteries of God. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that Scriptures are the only inerrant, inspired works we have.
The Church compares Scripture to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in its importance for the faithful: “She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body” (No. 203). In the First reading and the Gospel we see that kind of reverence for Scripture, on Christ’s part.
St. Jerome says “Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” By the same token, starting to learn Scripture can be the start to a love affair with the Lord who we meet in the Word.