A Bible is seen in this illustration photo. For his Gospel reflection for Jan. 23, 2022, Father Garry Koch focuses on how people learn about their faith through reading the stories from the past. CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters
A Bible is seen in this illustration photo. For his Gospel reflection for Jan. 23, 2022, Father Garry Koch focuses on how people learn about their faith through reading the stories from the past. CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters
Gospel Reflection for Jan. 23, 2022, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

We are a “People of the Book.” At the core of the handing on of the faith are the texts that share and express the history of our Tradition. We are not alone as we share much of our Sacred Scriptures with the Jews. So, although we are only about 2,000 years removed from the Paschal events, our connection to the Jewish Scriptures, takes us to the very first day of creation.

Beginning as an oral tradition, the Old Testament was formed over time, passing through several stages of development. We know that Moses received a written Law from God in the 13th century before Christ, and that these laws served to form the core of their lived faith. We also know there were times when the people abandoned the Law and knew little of the covenant. This was not their fault, literacy reserved knowledge of the Law to an ever-diminishing elite. By the time of the end of the Babylonian Exile (539 B.C.) the People of the Book didn’t even know there was a book. About 100 years later our First Reading takes place. Assembled before Ezra the priest-scribe who acts as a titular head of the people in Jerusalem, the people hear the words of the Law and are invited to renew themselves in light of the covenantal call from God. For the first time in their lives, they learn that God is merciful and just, and not cruel and arbitrary. They also rediscover that they have a responsibility to the covenant.

The Church has taken these Scriptures and adopted them as her own, added the 27 works that form the New Testament, and built a long history of tradition with writings even contemporary to the New Testament itself.

While all of our homes have a Bible somewhere for many of us who are a People of the Book, the Book is missing. Even during periods of wide-spread illiteracy, the Church handed on the Bible and writings of the Church Fathers. We see evidence of this throughout Europe, and most especially in the beautiful stained glass windows in churches.

The story of our faith is a story that is meant to be told. When we do not know the story, either we tell the wrong story or we know nothing about the story at all.

Under an initiative established in a motu proprio by Pope Francis in 2019, this commemoration of the Sunday of the Word of God is observed on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time each year. Although our Tradition, and especially the Mass exudes the Scriptures, most of us are unaware of the richness of the Word of God in our daily lives. Many Christians can quote the Bible and utilize small texts extracted from various parts of the Scriptures to demonstrate the peculiarities of their beliefs. Many of them hold that Catholics eschew the Word of God in favor of our Traditions. Those of us who live this faith, know that this is not the case. Many of us do not know the Bible well enough to quote large sections of it, yet each time we are at Mass the dialogue between the priest and the assembly, the chants, the orations and responses are all either directly from the Bible or paraphrased. Our reverence for the Scriptures is reflected in the prominence of the ambo for proclamation, the posture of standing for the Gospel, and the procession with and final enthronement of the Book of the Gospels.

The introduction to the Gospel According to St. Luke emphasizes his intentionality in preserving the tradition that had been passed on to him by the apostles. He is not himself an eyewitness to the events in the life of Jesus, but having been trained by the apostles and serving as an associate of Saint Paul, he carefully and authentically presents to us the Gospel proclamation.

He emphasizes that Jesus began his preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and that the first sermon of Jesus which he records comes directly from his reading of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is, as Saint John instructs us the Incarnation of the Word of God. The Word – Jesus – is the fulfillment of the Word as proclaimed and inspired in what we now call the Old Testament.

For the Jewish people the scrolls of the Torah are housed in elaborate arks, much as we have the Tabernacle for reserve the Eucharistic presence of our Lord. The Word is central and core to our traditions.

Would that all of us were as moved by the proclamation of the Word as were the people at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah! The reading and the proclamation of the Word of God should move all of us to conversion of mind, heart, and life. Let us all commit ourselves to the faithful reading and praying of the Scriptures so that we might grow in holiness and faith.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.