Irecently heard a National Public Radio review of a book whose author attempted to
track down how we learned the Scripture we purport to know.
Her thesis that very few people actually learn the Bible by reading the Bible
wasnt surprising to us who teach Scripture. The vast majority who claim to
know Scripture have acquired their knowledge from catechism proof-texts, biblical quotes
used in homilies and sermons, and old-time Bible histories, but rarely from the Bible
itself. I find, for instance, that almost no Catholic brings a Bible to a
"first-time" session on the Bible!
The authors insights especially apply to Sundays Gospel (Mt 25: 31-46).
Before 1970, we never heard it proclaimed during any weekend Eucharist. And if we depended
on our grade school Bible history to give us Matthews message, we might never have
Most of us Catholic school old-timers learned our Scripture from Bishop Gilmours
"Bible History." Its title page assured us that it was sanctioned "for the
use of the Catholic schools in the United States." Yet, we didnt always learn
what our sacred authors actually taught on a given subject even when the late Cleveland
bishop actually treated that subject.
He begins his treatment of Sundays Gospel judgment passage, for instance, by
stressing something contrary to Matthews theology: "The negligence of men, and
the little influence that the mere love for God has to change the mind, rendered it
necessary to add fear to the other motives for serving God."
He continues, painting a picture of the worlds last judgment: the good on
Jesus right; the bad on His left. He quotes Jesus words to the good,
"Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world," and finally ends with Jesus command to the wicked:
"Depart from me, ye accursed into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the
devil and his angels."
But never once in his entire treatment of Matthew 25:31-46 does Bishop Gilmour mention
the criteria which Jesus employs for determining the sheep and the goats "I
was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you
welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited
Were we to hear Sundays three readings in the context of the Scripture which
presents them to us, wed see three different pictures of Gods care and love of
Images of God
Ezekiels picture of Yahweh as a shepherd who "tends His flock when He finds
Himself among His scattered sheep," shows one dimension of Yahwehs concern for
His exiled people (Ez 34: 11-12, 15-17).
Paul shows a different aspect of that concern when he creates the image of the
"new Adam" and applies it to Jesus (I Cor 15: 20-26, 28). Just as the Genesis
Adams actions gave all people the experience of death, so the new Adams
actions offers all people an opportunity to experience life. Paul believes that the good
which brings life is always more powerful than the evil which brings death. And for him,
theres nothing more powerful than the force of Jesus love.
Matthews reflection on such deep love eventually leads him to an even more
insightful dimension of Gods concern. Not only does God step into our world to help
and shepherd us, as both Ezekiel and Paul proclaim, but Matthew believes that we have a
God who, through Jesus, actually becomes one with us. "When I was hungry, thirsty and
Which of these three biblical images is correct? The Sacred authors believe they all
are. Perhaps the most important insight which a study of Scripture from Scripture conveys
is that whenever one speaks of God, one must always employ a "both/and." Of
course, "rational" thinking people prefer an "either/or" catechism or
Bible history God-image. It makes much more sense.
The only problem is that such an image doesnt correspond to reality.