18 March 2021
By Maggie Phillips
I’ll be honest, I read and re-read this passage, not quite knowing what to make of it. So I looked at the footnotes, and something leapt out at me. In John 5:39, Jesus says, “You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf.” According to the footnotes, Jesus may be speaking imperatively, imploring his listeners to search the scriptures to see for themselves how they testify to his saving mission.
Have you ever heard someone say they didn’t know anything about the Bible because they were Catholic? Or that Catholics don’t know the Bible?
We Catholics don’t have a reputation for memorizing scripture and verse in our religious education classes. In fact, the concept of memorizing scripture may be entirely foreign to you.
But we Catholics hear God’s word proclaimed in the Old Testament, New Testament, Gospel and Psalms at each Mass. We hear scripture prayed in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Because we hear scripture proclaimed to us in fragments during Mass, instead of memorizing it, we may think that our knowledge of scripture doesn’t count.
To that I say, it does count! The entire prayer of the Mass has deep scriptural, liturgical roots, and the readings of the Mass have been thoughtfully chosen by the Church in her wisdom to illuminate each other. It’s imperative that we pay attention.
It’s imperative because Jesus tells us in John 5:39 that if we think we have eternal life through the Word, who John tells us earlier is God himself — “And the Word was God” (Jn 1:1) — then we have a responsibility to take initiative and search the scriptures. Now, that can be daunting. And to paraphrase Ned Flanders of The Simpsons, “some of the stuff seems to contradict the other stuff.” We aren’t meant to read the Bible in isolation and without context.
So where can we get some help in understanding the scriptures outside of the Mass? Search out podcasts from orthodox, authoritative sources. I recommend “The Lanky Guys” and Father Mike Schmitz’ “Bible in a Year”. Find a good Bible commentary with an imprimatur from the author’s bishop.
God wants us to know him. It’s the fondest wish of his heart to be in communion with us. He’s written you a love letter. Open it!
Pray this verse and try to commit it to memory. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jn 1:1