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Reading the Bible is a way Christians receive communication from God. Like checking your e-mail or voice mail for messages, the Bible is where God allowed some of His thoughts to be written down for us to learn from Him.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and, training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,”says 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Because the Bible contains God’s thoughts, recorded by men under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is different from any other book in the world. The Holy Spirit is at work any time a Christian reads the Bible, helping him or her to understand what is written.
The Bible is full of answers about how we are to live. Hebrews 4:12 tells us: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Understanding Sunday's Reading
Reading I, Deuteronomy 26:4-10
For the author of Deuteronomy, memory and identity are one. There can be no such thing as a "people" without "memory," because it is not enough to share a common history; that history must be kept alive in memory if it is to bind us together and fuel our imaginations. The same holds true for religion: it is our memory of what God has done for us in history that draws us together to celebrate and enables us to live in confidence and hope. That's precisely what is taking place in the ritual narrated in today's text.
The ritual action and speech described by Moses in this ancient text, one of the oldest in the Bible, are to be repeated by each successive generation. Those repeating speech will remember those who lived the story it describes and thus experience a kinship that makes them one with those ancestors. In the ritual telling of a story, the tellers, the hearers, and the players in the original event are brought together in the present. The event that calls for the retelling of Israel's hisory in today's text is an annual harvest festival. The "basket" offered to the priest contains the ritual offering of "firstfruits" reserved for God as a sign of gratitude. It is in that spirit of gratitude that this story must be told.
This is a story of wandering ancestors whom God took and turned into a great nation. It is a story of deliverance from the clutches of Egypt's pharaoh, and a story of delivery to the borders of a rich new land "flowing" with abundance. The firstfruits offered to the Lord are given in gratitude for this history and for the good that God pours into their daily lives.
Let your telling suggest your own connection with this story of our faith ancestors. There is pride in Abraham, pain in the oppression of Egypt, delight in the gift of the promised Land. As we begin Lent, we see Christ the same deliverance prefigured here, for we escape the exile of sin throught the saving waters of Baptism and dwell in the Promised Land of grace.
Reading II, Romans 10:8-13
Here is a joyful declaraton of faith, couched within a didactic piece of instruction, which should appeal to both sides of the brain because it uses both logic and the compelling influence of the heart to make its case. Paul is both teacher and evangelist, so he knows the need to appeal both the head and to the heart. Some people respond better to the tugging of their hearts, but others need persuasive logic to draw them into the circle of faith.
Paul argues the need to both 'believe" and "confess" in order to be saved. It is not enough to assent in our hearts to the mysteries of Christ; we must also be willing to proclaim those truths. And proclamation is not a rote recitation of facts, it is a declaration that we have committed our lives to those truths, that we will live them with integrity, that we will not be satisfied with the lip service and would even give our lives for them.
Belief in Christ, Paul tells us, is transformative. It not only eliminates the distinctions between "Jew and Greek" but it also changes us from mere speakers to committed doers of God's Word. When what we speak with our lips and believe in our hearts turns into concrete action on behalf of others for the sake of Christ, then our salvation is mamifest.
The Gospel, Luke 4:1-13