Monday, August 30, 2010
Because I Love the Bible
I have some mechanical ability, which I have written about in this space once or twice. And I know a thing or two about removing parts from a motor, or adding them, for example. To make a long story short, you don't remove parts from an engine, leave them off, and expect the motor to work. Remove a turbocharger from a diesel engine, for example, and you will have a motor than runs, but it will run like a sick dog with absolutely no torque. What's the point of that?
Of course, the other possibility is that you can add parts to a motor in an effort to make it stronger. "Soup it up," so to speak. Usually this results in some additional power and fun, but at the expense of the longevity of the motor. In other words, you might make more power, but you will probably wind up grenading the motor as well. Oops.
So when I was coming around to the idea of converting, see, I wanted to know what was the scoop on these "extra" books in the Bible. Like a mechanic, I was wondering if the Catholic Church had decided to throw some aftermarket parts onto the motor, if you follow me. You know, like adding a supercharger to a motor that was already strong.
So I grabbed my souvenir Catholic Bible, from my first failed attempt at RCIA class, and I started looking at these mysterious books. As a result, I discovered some wonderful passages from books that were in the Bible that I had never heard of. Like the one from the first reading from Mass yesterday:
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God. What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength, search not. The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the joy of the wise. Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins.
Um, not very scary, is it? As a matter of fact, don't those verses make all kinds of sense? And there are 50 more chapters of this book to sink your teeth into. Then I found these verses from the first chapter of the book entitled Wisdom,
Love justice, you who judge the earth; think of the LORD in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart; because he is found by those who test him not, and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him. For perverse counsels separate a man from God, and his power, put to the proof, rebukes the foolhardy; because into a soul that plots evil wisdom enters not, nor dwells she in a body under debt of sin. For the holy spirit of discipline flees deceit and withdraws from senseless counsels; and when injustice occurs it is rebuked.
Wow, I thought. Seek the Lord, just like it says in Psalm 105, but with a twist for clarity.
For wisdom is a kindly spirit, yet she acquits not the blasphemer of his guilty lips; because God is the witness of his inmost self and the sure observer of his heart and the listener to his tongue. For the spirit of the LORD fills the world, is all-embracing, and knows what man says. Therefore no one who utters wicked things can go unnoticed, nor will chastising condemnation pass him by.
Of course! God knows all, sees all. GPS has got nothing on God. It says so right there in 1 Samuel 16:7.
For the devices of the wicked man shall be scrutinized, and the sound of his words shall reach the LORD, for the chastisement of his transgressions; because a jealous ear hearkens to everything, and discordant grumblings are no secret. Therefore guard against profitless grumbling, and from calumny withhold your tongues; for a stealthy utterance does not go unpunished, and a lying mouth slays the soul.
Again, there is nothing strange here. There was a lot of "grumbling" going on in Numbers(14:27), for example, remember? And the command to not lie? That's right there in the Ten Commandments.
Court not death by your erring way of life, nor draw to yourselves destruction by the works of your hands. Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the nether world on earth, for justice is undying.
I remember clearly thinking to myself after reading this particular passage, "where has this book been all my life?" No wonder I feel immortal, because, gulp (!) I was created to be immortal. And then I realized there are 18 more chapters in this book too?
And so it goes, as I explored, and continue to marvel at, the wonders of Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees. The passage in the New Testament that sealed the deal for me was when these verses in Hebrews chapter 11:32-35,
What more shall I say? I have not time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful, became strong in battle, and turned back foreign invaders. Women received back their dead through resurrection. Some were tortured and would not accept deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection.
could only seem to be understood by referring to 2 Maccabees chapter 7:1, 13-14. Take a look,
It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God's law.
After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way. When he was near death, he said, "It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life."
And then I learned that all of these books had been in the Bible since the beginning of Christianity. They had been in the Old Testament, but got tossed when Luther decided to toss them. At this point, I had to concede three things. 1) I'm not a biblical scholar; 2) The Catholic Church, the institution that assembled the Bible, is the Authority, and further, it has the Authority to decide what books belong in the Bible and what books don't; 3) These allegedly disputed books were in the Septuagint, which happened to be the authoritative Old Testament Canon in place while Our Lord Jesus Christ walked the earth.
At Mass today, for example, the gospel reading is from Luke and begins like this,
Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.(Luke 4:16-17)
What the passage doesn't say, of course, is that He could possibly, on a different day of the week, or on a different day of the liturgical calendar, have been handed a scroll from Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch, or 1 & 2 Maccabees. These books were in the scrolls too, when God walked upon the earth. I don't know for sure, but like I said, I'm not a biblical scholar. Which is why I rely, again, on the authority of the Church.
So the mechanic in me was left with only one question to consider. As a Christian, did I want to go along with a stripped version of the motor, the one missing a few parts, with all of the pitfalls associated with that, or go along with the original version of the motor; the one that has all of the original parts, all in the proper place.
It really was not a difficult choice to make for me. Especially after I learned that Luther didn't like the book of James or Revelation either. Lucky us, he left those in because leaving those "parts" out would have been like forgetting the oil sump pump and the oil pan.
I'll share something on interpretation of scripture shortly.