The readings for this Sunday's Mass led me once more to a realization that I might have thought had long since found a secure place in my mind. I mean the understanding that biblical texts require an approach unlike that used by a reader of novels or history. Biblical texts want thought and meditation. Quick perusal with the smug satisfaction of a duty done and a dismissive "Well, that's it then," will not do.
Thinking has its perils too. For example, I read and thought about the straightforward account of the teaching moment in today's Gospel reading when Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven."
He continues for some length developing this theme for his listeners and then the text stops "without further ado" as we like to say.
"Hm-m," I mused to myself. "Did the crowd do nothing? Did they say nothing?"
I thought of Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper. He catches the moment just after Jesus has said that one of the disciples assembled there will betray him. They did something.
We see the group on the point of breaking up, consternation and dismay on the faces; gestures pleading for understanding; expressions and postures of self-examination and, no doubt, the puzzled remark, "Now what!?"
In this day's reading, the people in the crowd must have reacted in some way and the chronicler must have found it worthy of note. This speculation led to more muttering, "Look! Look!"
Two years ago, (a long ago nowadays) a friend introduced me to "Bible on a Page" — a great convenience, I do confess. There I looked and found the verse following today's reading — verse 28, which had the answer: "When Jesus had finished these things the crowds were amazed, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the Law."
The biblical text doesn't say it, but they must have turned to each other saying, "Did you hear that? I have never heard him speak so well. Have we someone here before us greater than what we had thought?" They looked into the distance as people do when thinking deeply.
All of which meant that they caught sight of an aspect of his nature and personality which they had not seen before. And more, much more would follow in the days to come.
Jesus offers a lesson of, how shall we say, "divine motivation." He commends us to a searching self-examination of our behaviour. Proclamation of deeds done in his name without acceptance of the will of the Father miss the essential point of his teaching.
In this connection we read with sharpened understanding of the First Reading from Deuteronomy as we recall Jesus' assertion in Matthew 5.17, "Think not that I come to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy but to fulfill."
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)