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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Understanding the Scriptures

“'Do you understand what you are reading?' He replied, 'How can I, unless someone instructs me?'”

Unfortunately, in a Twitter world where all communication is limited to 140 characters, too many believers cling to or focus on one phrase from the Gospel and use it as a lens for their spiritual lives. Doing this almost always leads to misunderstanding and confusion.  The New Testament cannot be fairly read or understood when we remove it from its own cultural context and setting.

An example might help. Luke (10: 38-42) tells us that when Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha, Mary sat at his feet and Martha, busy about all the preparations for his visit, complained that Mary was not helping and wanted Jesus to correct her. Instead, Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part.

Over the years, many commentators suggest that Luke was writing about the so called active and contemplative life, but contemporary cultural insight helps us realize that sitting at a rabbi's feet was the role of men called to the rabbinate. Martha is angry because Mary is assuming a role to which she could not aspire. A woman's place was in the background helping with the ordinary chores, but Jesus challenges this stereotype, not just among men and women, but what it meant to be a rabbi. Teachers and leaders had to be servants, not privileged operatives with power over others.

The Ethiopian eunuch reading the scriptures alone knew he needed help and asked Philip to instruct him There should be little doubt that Philip responded to this seeker's request using all the information and skill he had. Blessed with so much wonderful scholarship and insight, we ought to follow Philip's example in the 21st century.

Today, pick up a Catholic study bible and read the introduction to one of the Gospels.

Who or what most helped you to understand the scriptures more deeply?

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