Actively Engaging With God’s Word

Reading Through the Bible(2 Sm 7:4-17; Ps 89:4-5, 27-28, 29-30; Mk 4:1-20)

Have you ever noticed how God reacts to different people in different ways in the Bible? On the one hand, God is often eager to tell us what to do, what is good, and what is expected. On the other hand, Jesus often seemed to express some irritation when asked about why his actions were correct, or – as in today’s Gospel selection – frustration or disappointment with his disciples when they couldn’t figure out the meaning of his parables, as if he expected us to figure out what’s right or wrong on our own.

So what’s going on here? Is God ready and eager to tell us in certitude what is expected of us, or are we supposed to take the teachings of Christ and discern what the truth is through our own contemplation?

One of the most important lessons I believe Jesus taught us was the strong familial relationship that exists between God and humanity (as seen in today’s first reading: “I will be a father to [David’s heir], and he shall be a son to me.”). Christ encourages us to think of God as “Abba,” which is a term roughly analogous to “daddy” or “papa.” In other words, we’re encouraged to think of our Heavenly Father not as an unapproachable, unknowable force of the universe, but as someone with whom we have the same intimate, trusting, loving bond that we have with our own parents. Similarly, we are encouraged to think of Christ as our brother, with the similar close familial bond that implies.

As a father myself, I understand that there is an ebb and flow in how I relate to my son. When he is feeling down and afraid, it’s my job to comfort him and strengthen his resolve. When he’s done something wrong, it’s my job to ensure he sees the error of his ways, even if that correction makes him feels bad. When he’s feeling confident in his knowledge or skill, it’s my job to push him a bit further and see if I can encourage him to take his understanding to new levels . . . even if he gets frustrated with me.

None of my actions are inconsistent. I’m merely molding my approach to what I believe to be best for my child in different situations.

And thus it is with God. In the first reading today, from the Second Book of Samuel, God clearly tells the prophet Nathan what to tell David, and that message itself is clear: he will establish the House of David, and it shall endure forever.

I’m reminded of when I’m conveying information to my son. In those situations, there’s no real teaching . . . no back and forth as I try to enlighten him as much as possible.

In contrast, today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark has Jesus giving one of his parables, about a sower sowing seeds far and wide. Based on his reaction, I’m guessing that the disciples didn’t reflect very carefully on his words, or were too eager to just be provided the answer. Of course, Jesus knew that the richness of his message was most fully revealed by careful contemplation. While there is a correct interpretation (which Jesus provides), I feel he thinks it would have been better if his disciples had gotten closer to the truth themselves.

Again, I’ve faced this situation as a parent. Just yesterday I presented my son with a mild brain teaser: If you’re running a race with a dozen runners, and you run past the person in second place, what place are you now in? He thought a moment and said, “First?” Now, at that moment, I could have just told him he was wrong and said the correct answer, but I walked him through it. I loved the enlightened look on his face as he figured it out, but it was only possible because I didn’t tell him the answer. And in similar situations, where my son has just expected me to tell him the solution, I have gotten frustrated with him. I’ll say, “Provide me with an answer – literally any answer, no matter how wrong – and I’ll be happy. But if you just shrug your shoulders, I can’t work with that to grow your understanding.”

Like today’s first reading, there are many parts of the Bible where the answer is clear, and God explains explicitly what’s going on, or what’s expected of us. There are many other portions of Sacred Scripture that are less clear, where God clearly intended us to interact with his words, to talk with Christ and among ourselves, and to try to actively figure things out.

And it worked, too! By making it clear that we were supposed to spend time, effort, and prayer figuring out what he meant, Jesus ensured his ministry would continue to the modern day. Billions of words have been written about the Bible and the Christian faith (including this post!), all of it continuing the tradition that Jesus clearly wanted in ensuring we live the Word in our hearts and minds.

So please do not be discouraged if some part of the Bible is not crystal clear. By contemplation, research (including the Catechism of the Catholic Church), reflection among other believers, and prayer, all of us together can move ever closer to knowing, understanding, and loving God. And that’s so much more fulfilling, to me, than expecting God to spell out every last answer explicitly.

About the Author

Despite being a professional writer and editor for over 15 years, Steven Marsh is more-or-less winging it when it comes to writing about matters of faith. Steven entered the church in 2005, and since then he’s been involved with various ministries, including Pre-Cana marriage prep for engaged couples, religious education for kindergarteners, and Stephen Ministry’s one-on-one caregiving. Steven lives in Indiana with his wife and son. Despite having read the entirety of the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he’s still surprised at elements he rediscovers or reflects upon in new ways. The more Steven learns about the faith, the less he feels he knows; he’s keen to emphasize that any mistakes are his own.

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7 Comments

  1. Am so grateful to God reading your reflections Bro. Steven. You have just inspired me to ponder His words, searching more His message & contemplating His words everyday through prayers.

    Participating in the International Eucharistic Congress as held this week in Cebu, Philippines could helped a lot understanding more and keeping His words; It is His Word who became flesh in the Eucharist. Through Him we can talk and He shall give the explicit meaning of His words.

    Thank you, your reflection and clear explanation of today soothed inner inside me.

    God bless!

  2. I am truly blessed with this reflection that encourage me to contemplate more. I know I will not contemplate alone. God will be beside me. Just like you, Steve, when you stay with your son, teaching him until he get the understanding.

    Praise the Lord!

  3. I’m mostly blessed. Your reflection has enlightened my understanding of readings of today. Thanks Stev.

  4. Thank you. Our society today, expects instantaneous …everything; so taking time to meditate, pray, ponder, discuss is a challenge-a worthwhile challenge that reaps everlasting rewards. Thank you for the reminder. God bless.

  5. Hey Steven,

    You bring up some very good points in your reflection on today’s readings.

    Reading scripture can be challenging, as you’ve stated. In a way, it reminds me of poetry.
    You give some good examples on how find solutions to tough questions.

    I guess I’m just wondering, is it enough to read scripture or is it necessary to understand it?

    Mark

  6. Thanks so much for the comments, everyone!

    Mark, whether it’s enough to read the scriptures – or whether you need to read and understand them – is a great question.

    First, I’d argue no one alive can truly say they understand with 100% certainty everything about Sacred Scripture. (If nothing else, there are many references in the Bible to lost manuscripts, the absence of which requires us to guess at their contents.) So, in a lot of ways, everyone who reads the Bible is on some continuum of how much or little they understand what they’re reading.

    Second, I’d argue that the Holy Spirit can work in mysterious ways, even when we don’t know it’s working. This is especially true with the Bible. I know I’ve read passages and haven’t understood or gotten much out of them, and then reread them years later and gone, “Huh! I think I have a bit more insight here now!” (Even passages I thought I knew pretty well have surprised me when I’ve re-read them with fresh eyes!)

    Finally, remember that – in a lot of ways – the Bible is supposed to be challenging. Remember that during Jesus’ ministry, the things he was saying were not “common sense.” In a lot of cases, they were not accepted wisdom. Christ’s teachings confused, frustrated, and challenged many people, from simple shepherds to the mightiest scholars. If you’re reading Scripture and you find pieces you don’t understand – even large swaths! – take some comfort in knowing that those who saw Christ in person two millennia ago were probably similarly confused by what they saw, heard, and were taught.

    Not all parts of the Bible were meant to speak to all people. For example, the Book of Job is one of my favorite parts of Scripture, but I know and accept that many people find it challenging or painful. Fortunately, the infinite wisdom of the Creator has ensured that there are many avenues to know, love, and serve God, and we shouldn’t feel guilty or inferior if one avenue doesn’t speak to us or seems incomprehensible. However, I’d encourage everyone to at least try reading what they can, reflecting on bits that make sense, and seeing how the Spirit speaks to you in the parts that don’t seem to make sense. The fact that we try, no matter how imperfectly, opens our hearts to the Spirit more actively than not doing anything at all.

    I hope this helps!

  7. MR. STEVEN MARSH

    HELLO TO YOU, I LIKE TO READ WHAT HAVE HERE…EXPLANATION…SET EXAMPLES BECAUSE I MYSELF IS HARD TO UNDERSTAND ON WHAT BIBLES SAYS…KEEP IT UP SIR..YOUR A GREAT BLESSING TO SOMEONE LIKE ME…I LOVE TO READ BIBLES…BUT SOME OF IT…I DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND…

    REGARDS,

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