Taking technology and Bible study to a new level, there’s a weekly chat on Twitter aiming to connect Christians all over the world. It’s Monday nights at 8 p.m. Central time. They are presently studying Hebrews. Says blogger Abbi Siler, “The goal of #biblechat is to bring fellow Christian tweeters together to build relationships, share encouragement, challenge each other and pray for each other via Twitter.” Makes sense. Those are some of the same benefits we’re enjoying through Catholic Biblical School.
Here’s a link to her blog, with instructions how to participate.
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In studying the Infancy Narratives, I am stunned by the power of the imagination. Most all Christians have vivid images of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, sheep and shepherds, kings and camels, star and angels. But none of these are true to the gospels, as we are now learning. Oh, I understood that St. Francis back in the 13th century had something to do with development of the crèche tradition. But conflation—the melding of varying stories into one—must go back much further than that. Take the star and the wise men from Matthew, the angels, shepherds, and manger from Luke, and you have one compelling story.
The readings and questions for this lesson keep confounding me. Mary and Joseph may have lived in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus? Surely not. The wise men may have visited Jesus as a toddler rather than an infant? Surely not. My confusion brings home the importance of what Gene has stressed: We must study each gospel as an independent unit.
It also brings to mind several other instances of conflation involving the New Testament: The women and men at the foot of the cross. Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the woman with the alabaster jar. The passion story itself. Frankly, I was unsettled the first time I realized how much the gospels varied in telling the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. But then I realized the power of having four traditions all telling the same basic story. Gives the word awesome a whole different meaning.
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In the current issue of Magnificat (pp. 320-323), Father Richard Veras discusses World Mission Sunday (October 24). He suggests that the fellow Jesus cures in Decapolis in Mark, Chapter 5, is the first Christian missionary. Remember him? He’s the demon-crazed man in Gerasene territory, dwelling in the tombs and too strong to be shackled by chains. Once Jesus sends the demons into the herd of swine and they drown in the sea, the man begs to stay with Jesus, but Jesus commissions him to spread the good news. “‘Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.’ Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.” When Jesus returns to Decapolis in Mark 7, there are crowds eager to see him.
What made this mission successful, Veras says, was the man’s desire to be with Jesus; that’s the core of every true mission. “The Decapolitan was a walking sign of Christ’s love.” Among the Gentiles, he was perhaps a better missionary than Jesus could have been, as an unknown Galilean carpenter. Likewise, we are called to be missionaries where we live and work—walking signs of Christ’s love.
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Have you noticed how much more engaging are the Sunday readings at Mass since we began Bible study?
The first readings, from the Old Testament, come to life when you recognize the people speaking and understand the context. It’s as if they are cherished stories of friends and acquaintances, even members of the family. Good example: Last week’s passage from Second Kings, Chapter 5, about Elisha curing Naaman the leper, commander of the Syrian army. I could even recall how the chapter ended, with Gehazi, Elisha’s assistant, trying to claim the gift Elisha had refused, then being turned into a leper himself—“a leper as white as snow.”
The second reading this coming Sunday reminds us why we study the Bible at all—not only for wisdom and guidance, but to equip ourselves to better serve God and all his creatures. Here is Paul speaking to his beloved disciple Timothy: “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known (the) sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Oh, how much we adult Catholics have missed by not being better students of the Scriptures!
As we consider parables–and try our hand at writing one–here are some thoughts on the subject from a Christian writer: “Jesus speaks in the gentle whisper of story … I am shown the holy in the routine.” Ariel Allison also shares insights from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery.
If your Bible discusses the Freer ending of the Gospel of Mark only in a footnote, here’s a link to a fuller rendition (see footnote 2): http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/mark/mark16.htm#v9 Makes me want to visit the Freer Gallery on my next visit to D.C.!
While you’re there, do a bit of exploring on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website. There’s a Bible link which takes you to a digitalized New American Bible index: http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/index.shtml And a side link to audio versions (podcasts) of the daily reading — a great aid for those of us who are lectors.
Study hint: You can use this website to copy and paste verses of Scripture for our lessons. There is a search function — http://catholinks.com/BibleSearchNAB.htm — but I find it difficult to use. Another link to NAB is on the Vatican website, but its concordance and other study aids are even more technical. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM
As a beginning bible scholar last year, I found a non-Catholic site very helpful. http://www.biblegateway.com/ makes it easy to look up keywords, topics, and passages.