Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
April 12, 2017
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21
In the customary Gospel read for this Chrism Mass, our Lord “breaks open” the scriptures not only for those who heard Him in the synagogue of Nazareth but also for us who hear Him today. For us who are called to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, we share in this proclamation. The scriptures are not merely read at our liturgies over which we preside. They are proclaimed, the living Word of God coming to us in the present, to nurture, inform and inspire us to action, both internal and external. Certainly this is the way our Lord understands them, for He says, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
The Sacred Scriptures are unlike any other written text. They defy genre and the categorization of literary criticism. They are, in fact, sui generis because their authorship and intent are not confined to an earthly end. And we must not miss the salient implication of the Word of God made flesh Himself proclaiming the message of the prophet (Isaiah 42), a point to which early Christians would not have been oblivious. Here is God’s Word made flesh speaking definitively, bringing to fulfillment a prophecy of long ago which is as present now as it was then, because the Author of the Word is proclaiming it Himself.
The Sacred Scriptures are proclaimed in words that originate in the cultural milieu of the human authors. Nonetheless, these same words reflect an elevated style of language that is sacral and hieratic. They befit the origin of the revelation expressed, namely God as the Divine Author. Written words have meaning and the Divine Word possesses implications that are both present and eternal.
Christianity as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, is not a “religion of the book” (CCC, 108). The Word is bigger than a “written” word precisely because of its Divine origin. “Christianity is a religion of the ‘Word’ of God, ‘not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living’” (CCC, 108, quoting St. Bernard). The Church and her sons and daughters cherish the Word of God the way a family might revere the letter of a distant ancestor passed down from one generation to the next and whose remembrance the family would be embarrassed to forget. However, the Sacred Scriptures are not heirlooms, because “… they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself” (CCC, 105, quoting Dei Verbum 11). The Sacred Scriptures proclaim a powerful Word that has a spiritual dynamism to enter hearts and minds and transform them into Christian action.
I am directing my message specifically to the priests, because you are the teachers who are handed the scroll to unroll, proclaim and interpret both according to a Sacred Tradition and in a language that is accessible to the faithful you serve. All of us as priests must bring to our preaching a deep faith in Jesus Christ, His Church, and the truths of our religion, rooted in the Sacred Scriptures which are near and dear to us.
There are those who have problems with the meaning of what Jesus said. They work from a hermeneutic which disregards the intent of the author, both Divine and human, and deconstruct the word within a context which is of their own making. They say, as I read in interviews and articles, that “the words of Jesus must be contextualized,” that “no one had a recorder to take down his words,” and that “the word is relative.” It were as though the proponents of this approach are asking us to deal with two different persons, “the real historical Jesus” and “the Jesus of faith.” And why do they maintain this dichotomy? One is tempted to conclude that they cannot admit the supernatural dimension that one unmistakably encounters in the divine identity of Jesus Christ, primarily His miracles and His Resurrection.
However, this line of thought ignores “… the simple fact that there is not one shred of real evidence for any other, earlier ‘historical Jesus’ than the one in the New Testament” (Peter Kreeft, I Burned for Your Peace, Ignatius, 2016, p. 132). Pope Benedict XVI in the “Foreword” of Jesus of Nazareth so well asks: “… what can faith in Jesus as the Christ possibly mean, in Jesus as the Son of the living God, if the man Jesus was so completely different from the picture that the Evangelists painted of him and that the Church, on the evidence of the Gospels, takes as the basis of her preaching?” (p. xi). In effect, the Sacred Scriptures have a deeper meaning, into which we are plunged when we approach them with the heart and mind of faith. They do not tell us what we want to hear. They proclaim to us what we must hear. Do not forget what happens immediately after this episode in the Gospel of St. Luke. The people in the synagogue are “filled with fury” and want to kill Jesus because the “prophet” (Luke 4:24) He proclaims Himself to be is not the “son of Joseph” (Luke 4:22) they think him to be. This misunderstanding continues to our own day. And for priests, who are stewards of the “mysteries,” it cannot be so.
Relativizing the Sacred Scriptures and adjusting them to match our discernment is not the example that our Lord gives us in the synagogue of Nazareth. His words are authoritative, direct, and clear. They cut to the heart of the matter, proclaiming Him to be the Messiah, and it is precisely because this proclamation does not fit the expectations of the listeners that they seek to kill him. But truth has a way of cutting like a double edged sword. And this example of truth proclaimed is part of our Lord’s legacy to His priests.
The Scriptures exist not for us to find a way around them. They exist to proclaim, in the words of our second reading today, “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5). And that is the truth about Him “who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6).
Bishop Glen John Provost