Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Read the Directions by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written by Luke to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Since many have undertaken to complete a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the world have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. He 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. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."
The preface or prologue of a book hardly makes for exciting reading. Most of us probably skip it entirely and go straight to the real stuff - to the book itself. Likewise with the directions for some toy or machine. We usually leave them in the box, often to our regret. So we may be tempted to do the same with the preface to St. Luke's Gospel. These first four verses have no action or excitement. They make no mention of angels, temptations, miracles, etc. Yet we neglect them at our own risk, because they contain important principles - directions, if you will - for reading the rest of the book - and indeed all of Sacred Scripture.
St. Luke indicates, first, the importance of the Church and of Tradition. As he explains, many before him had already "undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us" (Lk 1:1-2). Before St. Luke ever put pen to paper, so to speak, there already existed the Church and the oral tradition - literally, the "handing down" - of the faith. He did not invent a story or teach something new. Rather, as a faithful Christian he handed on the truth he received from the Church. From the start, then, St. Luke conveys the simple fact that the Church existed before the Gospels, and in fact wrote the Gospels.
It follows, then, that to read Scripture outside of the Church's Tradition is to read it out of context - or, more accurately, without a teacher. And if most of us need help to understand human authors such as Dante or Shakespeare - and we do - then how much more do we need a teacher to explain Scripture? That teacher is the Church, and her method of instruction is Tradition. when we fail to seek her direction, we inevitable come up with fanciful and absurd interpretations. when, on the other had, we allow Mother Church to guide us through Scripture, illuminating its pages by way of her teachings, the liturgy and the Church Fathers, then we better perceive what the Divine Author intends.
In the preface, St. Luke also indicates what we need to read Scripture profitably. He dedicates his Gospel to a certain man named Theophilus. Whoever the original Theophilus was, his name remains a fitting description of what we need to be. For "Theophilus" means "lover of God" or "beloved of God." Further, as he explains to Theophilus, St. Luke writes "so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received" (Lk 1:4). In other words, he writes to strengthen the faith of a man who already believes. What, then, must we have to understand Scripture better? Faith and love.
Faith, first of all, that the words we read are not merely human, that they do in fact carry divine grace and truth, that we can trust them. Here again the Church comes to our assistance,. She guarantees by her authority the inerrancy of Scripture. In response to modern "scholars" who empty the Bible of any authority, the Church testifies that Scripture brings not the mere opinions of men but the revelation of God Himself.
Second, we must, like Theophilus, desire to love God and be loved by Him. God does not reveal Himself in Scripture for our intellectual amusement or debate, but to bring us into union with Him. The Bible is a love story. If we do not desire that union of love, the words of Scripture will sound awfully odd. And the challenging passages of Scripture will shock us. We will quickly doubt or reject Scripture.
God does not reserve Scripture only for those with advanced degrees. In fact, He hides His truths from the "wise and learned" (Lk 10:21). As St. Luke indicates, Scripture remains open and profitable to those who in faith and love willingly apply themselves to its study under the tutelage of Mother Church and her Tradition.
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