On numerous occasions over the years I have been asked to “make a presentation on Scripture”. The settings have been quite varied: a series on the Gospels or a particular Gospel; a talk to a group sponsored by a parish education program; a study group meeting at the homes of parish members; an RCIA program; members of men and women religious, and the like. One common denominator among all is a lack on the part of many of knowledge of the teachings from Vatican II, especially those contained in Dei Verbum.
Without trying to assess the reasons for this vacuum, I believe some suggestions for increasing the knowledge of the faithful regarding Scripture might be in order. One way to approach the problem is to develop an understanding of the various “criticisms” that Scripture scholars have put forth. For the audience intended, this does not have to be full of technical jargon. But as the title of this article suggests, it must be practical.
José A. Pagola, a Spanish Scripture theologian whose numerous books have guided me in this quest of the “practical,” offers the following response to the question: What are the Gospels attempting to do?
For followers of Jesus, the four gospels are a unique and irreplaceable resource. They are not textbooks, expounding an academic doctrine of Jesus. They are not detailed biographies, tracing his life in history. These stories bring us close to Jesus as the first generations of Christians remembered him, with faith and love. On the one hand, they show us the great impact Jesus caused in the people who first were attracted to him and followed him. On the other, they were written to inspire new disciples to do the same.[i]
Pagola is in no way denigrating the academic study of the Gospels, for he is a scholar. Rather, he is finding a way to “translate” our studies in such a way that the widest audience possible will understand and be inspired.
How do we approach the “practical”; that is, how do we make the concepts real and compelling in the lives of those whom we teach, preach, and offer pastoral care and support? Three words come quickly to mind: gently, firmly, and spiritually.
Gently: It is imperative that we approach our faithful people knowing they are, in the words of Pagola above, disciples who must be inspired to follow in the footsteps of the original disciples. Thus we are to take the approach of Jesus who ministered to those he described “as sheep without a shepherd.” Doing this will require our own studies to lead us to bring the “good news” in a manner that will not frighten these “yearning disciples” away. Our learning and intimacy with Jesus will provide the means to “break open the Word” to our audience. Our prayer to Jesus should be, “Help me, Lord, to tend to your most precious flock whoever they may be and at whatever stage of learning we find them.
Firmly: In this context, firmly is not to emit a negative or frightening connotation. When we bring the word of Jesus to any audience, we must search for an understanding of just “where” the audience is. If they are novices in the study of the Gospels, we must “feed them with the milk of Jesus’ nourishment.” If they are more learned we can guide them to and through the many techniques with which they can continue to grow in the knowledge of Jesus’ message.
Spiritually: We can intertwine the message of the Gospels with the continual understanding that Jesus’ teachings are designed to lead us to the Father. In this regard, our objective becomes to strengthen each person’s relationship with the Lord. As Lectio Divina teaches, we can read, meditate, pray, and contemplate. Perhaps no greater good can come from guiding our audiences to grow in following in the footsteps of Jesus and to teach them to be more than readers and studiers of the Word, but as the wise saying emphasizes “to be doers.” Jesus came, Jesus taught by word and example, Jesus reconciled us to the Father. What a splendid way he has given us to lead others to his Father.
John Munroe teaches Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
[i] José A. Pagola, The Way Opened Up by Jesus : A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Miami: Convivium Press, 2012), p. 24.