In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we hear Jesus quote the ancient scripture from the prophesies of Isaiah and from that moment on, He began to preach this message: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand,” (4:12-17). Those particular words have stirred up some anxiety and fear in the hearts of people without warrant for many years. Jesus was not threatening us, nor should we interpret this statement, as do some of our fellow Christians, as being just a precautionary admonition, “repent or else,” because the scriptures are filled with “or elses. “It was not necessary for Jesus to come and to utter another one. What He was saying is, in effect, prepare yourself for it because there is no way that you can enter into that kingdom so long as you bear in your conscience the brands of sin and guilt for having transgressed the commandments of God.
Now Jesus, though He is the Son of God, was steeped in scripture. All throughout the testaments of the four evangelists, we find Jesus quoting the scriptures and it is necessary for us to learn from His example that it is necessary for us to be able to understand scripture, not merely to memorize chapter and verse, for Jesus simply stated: “The prophet Isaiah said,” and He knew that the people to whom He was speaking understood because they knew the scriptures. It is necessary however for us to know the spirit of scripture, its teachings, its intent.
There are many ways to read the Bible. There are those who read it as history and they enjoy it purely from that perspective. There are those who read it as a study of personalities and they enjoy trying to understand the motivations of some of the great characters that we find in both the Old and the New Testaments. Others read the scriptures more for inspiration than for information, however. I think that Christians must read it for both purposes, to be informed to be sure, but more so to be inspired. We should never read the scriptures with the intent that we are going to arm ourselves with sufficient information to be able to argue down all our fellow Christians who have made it a practice to memorize chapter and verse for that very purpose, but rather we should come to understand personally the content, the spirit and the nature of scripture and we should become intimately familiar with our Bible. We need to turn to it devoutly and on a regular basis for information and inspiration.
I’ve had a certain Bible for less than four years, so that makes it new, but it’s well used. My fingerprints can be found throughout it. You can see all kinds of bookmarks, scraps of paper, Icons, anything that I might lay my hands on at a particular time to mark certain pages that I might want to read again at a later time. But more than that, this Bible belongs to me and I belong to it and if you were to go through my Bible you would find all sorts of colored lines and markings so that whenever I feel like just sitting and turning the pages, certain passages jump out at me to refresh me anew. Turn any page and you will find such inspiring statements as: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you know my Father also. From this moment you know him and have seen him,” (St. John, 14:6-7). When the Bible becomes intimately a part of us it becomes ours. It is no desecration to mark it so that we might have landmarks to turn to as we seek inspiration and information. What God has made clean you have no right to call profane,” (Acts: 10:14).
I read my Bible regularly and I find that it is a great source of strength for me. Whenever I am troubled, or frustrated, or confused, whenever I am upset or at odds with myself I turn to my friend, the Bible, and rediscover my source of strength ,…“and what we ask God is that through perfect wisdom and spiritual understanding you should reach the fullest knowledge of His Will,” (Col., 1:9). Now at some time in the past I underscored that line because it meant something to me. Had I not underscored it I could have leaped through this Bible and the words on the page would have jumped up at me as a crowded mass having no meaning, but because this Bible is mine and I belong to it and we are intimate friends, its wisdom is there for me to tap whenever I need it. “It is all to bind you together in love and to stir your minds so that your understanding may come to full development until you really know God’s secret in which all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden, (Col. 2:2).
Get to know your Bible, make it an intimate part of you, make it your friend and it will be a source of wisdom, of understanding, of comfort, of peace of heart. At first when you approach the Bible, if you have never really read it before, you might approach it as others have told you. You might open to Genesis, chapter I and try to struggle through to the last page of Revelations. You’ll get through maybe three chapters and you’ll give up in utter frustration. I’ve never read the Bible that way. I’m past 60 years old. I’ve been reading the Bible since I was a young adult and I’ve never read the Bible from beginning to end. Now that may sound like a strange admission to you. I’ve read the whole Bible but the Bible was not written in the order it is published, therefore there are times when I need certain information or certain inspiration that I won’t find in Genesis that I can only find in the book of Ecclesiastes, so why not start there? Or if I am seeking information on Abraham and Sarah and I happen to be hung up in the book of Psalms at that time, then what’s to stop me from going back to the beginning to find the information that I am looking for?
One should read the Bible as one goes to water. We drink it when thirsty, bath in it when we need cleansing or refreshing, use it to launder our garments, nourish our plants, gardens and lawns with it, swim in it, mix it, boil it, freeze it, all according to our need. But above all, we should know it so well that we can say “My Bible, My Friend”, with conviction.
“. . .make it your friend and it will be a source of wisdom,
of understanding, of comfort,
of peace of heart.”
Fr James Meena