by Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz
This Sunday’s second reading comes from St. Paul’s second letter to his disciple Timothy. Here we see the beginnings of the apostolic tradition, for Paul is concerned with faithfully preserving and handing on what he himself received, namely, the saving words and deeds of Jesus as first witnessed by those who were blessed to hear the Good News with their own ears and to see with their own eyes the life-giving works of God’s Word-made-Flesh. Paul urges Timothy, “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
What texts does Paul have in mind when he refers to the “sacred Scriptures”? When this letter was penned, the first three written Gospels as we know them had not begun to circulate widely, and John’s Gospel was still a work-in-progress. Paul used his letters to maintain contact with the communities where he had proclaimed the Good News of Jesus in person.
In one of the New Testament’s best-known sentences, Paul tells Timothy that “All Scripture is inspired by God.” What, then, does Paul mean by “Scripture”? In Luke 24:24 the risen Jesus instructs the disciples, “everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” For Jesus and for his earliest followers, including Paul, “Scripture” was a way of referring to what Christians now call the Old Testament. Thus, Paul encourages Timothy to tap into the rich treasury of inspired texts that are valuable “for teaching, for refutation, for correction and for training in righteousness.”
We receive similar apostolic encouragement in the present day from the pen of Pope Francis. On September 30, the memorial of the great biblical scholar St. Jerome, Pope Francis promulgated an Apostolic Letter entitled “Aperuit Illis.” The title of the pope’s letter is the Latin version of the first two words of Luke 24:45, where the evangelist writes that the risen Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” I am not alone among biblical scholars in praying that this letter does not go unnoticed. Why not? Because in its pages the Bishop of Rome declares “that the third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God.”
Some people might object that every Sunday should be devoted to the celebration of the Word of God, not just a single Sunday during Ordinary Time. Yet a similar objection might also be levelled against the Sunday on which we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The fact that we celebrate Mass as often as we do hardly holds a drop of water as an argument against emphasizing our eucharistic faith in a special way on that day. So, as Pope Francis tells us, “Devoting a specific Sunday of the liturgical year to the word of God can enable the Church to experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of His word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world.”
The famously irascible Saint Jerome quipped, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Through the prayers of St. Jerome and St. Paul, may Christ ever preserve us from such ignorance! May our annual observance of the Sunday of the Word of God give us, as Saint Paul hoped for Timothy — wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
Father Ruiz, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica.