By Regional Biblical Commission of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (RBC)
WE live in a global village where we are easily connected to one another through social media. Why take the trouble to meet a person face-to-face or make a phone call when you could just send an email or message? Sometimes we get so caught up in this virtual reality that we relate quite impersonally to those around us, including our family and friends.
It is common today to see family having meals together with eyes fixed on their hand phones rather than on the people in front of them. This could then lead us to relate to one another on a functional level – what a person can do for us, rather than on a relational level – who the person is to us. How do we relate to God? On a functional or relational level?
The Word of God is Relational, not Functional
The Word of God is not just a mental concept or an idea or an expression of a thought. It is a living person, “someone you can touch with your hands, and hear with your ears and see with your own eyes.” (1 John 1:1), in short, the Word of Life. The Apostles were very sure that what they passed on to us are not ‘myths’ or cleverly invented stories or legends or philosophy or some political system or theory, but Someone with whom they had intimate relationship and of whom they were witnesses (2 Peter 1:16). And they hoped we too would want to “have fellowship with the Father and with the Son” (1 John 1:3-4) – a living personal relationship which brings joy.
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, “Christian faith is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” He adds, “We can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ’s Heart and feel him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians.”
The Word of God enters into a Living Personal Relationship with Us
Whenever the Word of God is mentioned, remember, we are speaking of a living person, not a concept. Each time we pick up the Bible, we are getting in touch with Jesus who speaks to us and wants to have a personal relationship with us; we are having a conversation with Jesus. Jesus speaks to us, we listen; we speak to Jesus, the Author of Life, who is proclaimed to us (1 John 1:11) e.g.: in the liturgy. “Christ is present in his Word since it is he himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church.” “This mystery (of faith), then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.”
Reading the Bible with the Heart
We use our heads to read the newspapers, magazines, or study our textbooks or do research work in order to acquire more knowledge; we don’t enter into a personal relationship with books, magazines or newspapers. We don’t talk to them. But when we read the Word of God, we come with our hearts open to receive Him (John 1:1, 12). We read or study the Word of God as much with our hearts, as our heads. When we read the Bible, we are entering into a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus.
- Personal i.e., from a person to a person, not mental or conceptual, nor from a person to a concept, idea or to a think-tank from where you can fish out ideas or beautiful thoughts and pick and choose and use them as we please. No, it is person-to-person, from Jesus who loves us and has so much to give to us, to share with us, to reveal to us “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 13:11).
- Intimate i.e., to have a heart-to-heart talk, like holding a conversation between two lovers, exchanging secrets known only to the two! It reaches and touches the depths of our being. The Word of God heals and sets us free from our bondage, be it emotional, physical or spiritual. “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Personal and intimate relationships are made in the heart. That is why our hearts must be open and receptive to what Jesus wants to reveal to us. He says, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). On the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus challenged his disciples by asking, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15) Only when we have an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus can we begin to open our hearts to what God wants to reveal to us and answer this question.
“Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17). God’s truth is so often hidden from the human intellect, and is better understood only when God reveals it. And when He does reveal it, we must be ready to receive it, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus who encountered the Risen Christ. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
The Word of God Comes Alive in the Holy Spirit
There is a close relationship between the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced to her that she was specially chosen by God to become the mother of the Most High (Luke 1:32). She could not understand how she could become a mother when she was still a virgin. The angel Gabriel assured her saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). This is how the Eternal Word of God “through whom God made everything that was made” (John 1:3), became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) through the power of the Holy Spirit: Emmanuel – God is with us (Matthew 1:23).
The same process goes on in the Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest invokes the Holy Spirit to come down on the bread and wine and together with the words of consecration, the Holy Spirit changes these elements into the Body and Blood of Christ. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit indwelt the womb of Mary and the Word took upon himself flesh and blood. Thus, Jesus the Eternal Word of God is made present and dwells among us. Where there is the Holy Spirit, there is the Word of God and where there is the Word of God, there is the Holy Spirit.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God enters into a living personal relationship with Mary. Like Mary, our whole person must be open to receive the Holy Spirit for the Word of God to become flesh in us, i.e., for God to speak to us. Mary told the angel Gabriel, “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). When the Word of God is acted upon, it releases its inherent power so that our life will be touched, renewed and filled with new energy and power. The atom must be split to release its energy within.
A bottle of perfume must be open to release its fragrance. No matter how much we study the outside of the bottle and know everything about it, if it is not opened, there is no aroma. It is the same with the Word of God. We need the Holy Spirit so that we can discover and open the hidden treasures of the Word of God. Like Mary, who both believed and pondered these things in her heart, when we act on the Word of God, it will release its power to enable us to carry out the will of God.
“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The Christian life is not simply functional, but relational. It is an encounter with the living person of Jesus who wants to relate to us personally and intimately, enabling us to see all things from God’s point of view, to have a divine perspective on all things. He wants to give us life and life in all its fullness (John 10:10). Reading the Bible with our hearts in the power of the Holy Spirit will keep us in touch with Jesus, enabling us to see what he sees, to think what he thinks, and to desire what he desires, to feel what he feels. Like Peter, let us say to him, “To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).
Questions for Reflection:
- How do we relate to God? On a functional or relational level? Why is this important in our Christian life and in the Church?
- When we read the Bible, we are entering into a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus. How can we make reading the Bible a living encounter with the person of Jesus?
 Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the Twenty-Sixth World Youth Day (2011).
 Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience (3 September 2008).
 Sacrosanctum Concilium (Dogmatic Constitution on Sacred Liturgy), 7.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2558.
 Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 7.