Many people think of the Word of God as an “it” when in fact, the Word of God is a person, Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come merely to give us information and exhortation. He came to give us his very self. He is the “Word made Flesh.” 

Pope Benedict makes this point in his most recent document, the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini. I want to give an excerpt and then reflect briefly upon it. 

[There is a] statement made by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world ” (1:1-2)….. Here the Word finds expression not primarily in discourse, concepts or rules. Here we are set before the very person of Jesus. His unique and singular history is the definitive word which God speaks to humanity. We can see, then, why “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction ”.…. “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ”(Jn 1:14a). These words are no figure of speech; they point to a lived experience! Saint John, an eyewitness, tells us so: “ We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth ” ( Jn 1:14b). ….. Now the word is not simply audible; not only does it have a voice, now the word has a face….(Verbum Domini 11-12)

 The Word of God is not merely on the pages of a book. The Word of God is not just an idea or ethical system. The Word of God is not just a set of teachings or doctrines. The Word of God is Jesus Christ. And to really grasp this Word can only take place when we meet Him, experience Him and His power active in our lives.

It is a danger to turn Scripture into an abstraction or just a text. St Thomas Aquinas says,  The Son is the Word, not any sort of word, but one Who breathes forth Love. Hence Augustine says (De Trin. ix 10): “The Word we speak of is knowledge with love.” Thus the Son is sent not in accordance with [just] any kind of intellectual perfection, but according to the intellectual illumination, which breaks forth into the affection of love, as is said (John 6:45): “Everyone that hath heard from the Father and hath learned, cometh to Me. (Summa Prima Pars, 43.5 ad 2).

 Hence we cannot really grasp Scripture unless we have met Jesus Christ. Further, to authentically read Sacred Scripture is to more and more encounter Jesus Christ there. Before we analyze a text of Scripture we are summoned to encounter the one who is speaking to us.

It is surely possible for some, even secular scholar  to analyze a Greek text of Holy Writ and parse its verbs. Perhaps another scholar can analyze idioms, or the historical context. Such research can help us understand what the text is saying at a mechanistic level. But only a deepening and personal knowledge of Jesus Christ can help us to know what the text really means. It is this personal, historical, and on-going encounter with Jesus Christ that distinguishes true theology from mere religious study or literary criticism.

 Indeed, theologians and Scripture scholars are dangerous if they do not personally know Jesus Christ. To “know” Jesus  is not the same as to “know about” Jesus. I might know about Jesus Christ from a book or from some other person. But it is not enough to know “about” him. I must know him. To be a true “authority” in Scripture requires that we have met and know the “author.” Do you see the word “author” in “authority?”  

Note how the Pope quotes the Prologue of John’s Gospel ”.…. “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ”(Jn 1:14a). and then says, These words are no figure of speech; they point to a lived experience!  The Pope also says above in reference to the Hebrews 1 text: Here we are set before the very person of Jesus.

 In the Liturgical context of Scripture this fact is enshrined in our ritual. As the Priest or Deacon proclaims the Gospel, all the people stand out of respect. For, it is Christ himself who speaks to them and whom they encounter in this proclamation of the Word. At the conclusion of the proclamation of the Gospel, they acknowledge that they are encountering Jesus as they say to him personally: “Laus tibi Christe!” (Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ).

 Hence, Scripture, and the wider concept of the Word of God, authentically  interpreted by the Church, is not merely a book or a set of ideas. It is an encounter with a living God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Word of God is a person, Jesus Christ.

 Perhaps a couple of quick stories to illustrate the difference between seeing Scripture merely as a text, and seeing it as an encounter with the Word made flesh, Jesus.

1. A rural Appalachian community was visited by a Shakespearean actor. They were amazed at his elegant but strange way of speaking. At one moment in his public recital he recited the 23rd Psalm. The words were elegant, pronounced in finest King James English with great drama and flair. At the end of his recitation a strange silence filled the room. Where applause would usually follow, an awkward silence ensued. Finally a poor farmer in the back of the room stood and apologized that no one knew to applaud and that they meant no offense but they just weren’t sure he was done. “See, out in these parts we say it a little different.” The poor farmer then began, “The Loerd is mah shayperd….” When he completed the psalm the room was filled with amens and “praise the Lord”s. The Shakespearean actor then told the poor farmer, “I was elegant, but your words had greater power. That is because I know only the technique, but you know the author.”

2. Some years ago I heard a Black AME Preacher address an ecumenical gathering at a revival. And he said to the gathered, “You know I heard some strange stuff in seminary! The professors said Jesus never really walked on water, that he didn’t really multiply loaves and fishes, he just got folks to be generous. They said, he didn’t really know he was God, or rise from the dead. He just lives on in our thoughts or something…..Can you believe they taught me that in a Christian seminary?!” Through his description of these wretched “teachings” the moans and disapproval in the congregation of Protestants and Catholics were audible. He built his litany of faulty scholarship and you could hear folks saying, “Lord have mercy!” and “mah, mah, mah.” And then he stopped and mopped his brow, and looked at them and said, “I tell you what! The problem with them wasn’t that they read the wrong books, y’all. The problem with them was that they ain’t never met my Jesus!”  Well the house came down and folks were on their feet for ten minutes praising God. The Choir too leapt to their feet and began the familiar chorus: “Can’t nobody do me like Jesus, he’s my Lord!”

 Well, you get the point, when you’ve met Jesus Christ you just don’t doubt that he walked on the water, multiplied loaves, raised Lazarus, knew perfectly well that he was God and stepped out of the tomb on Easter morning.

The Word of God is not merely a text. It is a person, Jesus Christ, the Logos, the Word made flesh. And once you’ve met him his spoken (and later written word) begins to make greater and greater sense and there is just no doubt that this Word is true and powerful.

Let me let Pope Benedict conclude as we recall his words above: the Word finds expression not primarily in discourse, concepts or rules. Here we are set before the very person of Jesus….These words are no figure of speech; they point to a lived experience! Saint John, an eyewitness, tells us so: “ We have beheld his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 Here’s an OLD recording of the old classic “Can’t nobody do me like Jesus.”

14 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    Amen to the main point of the post. The word needs to be experienced as alive! But it occurs to me that your example #1 illustrates well the tension surrounding the introduction of the new translation of the RM. There is a great fear (disappointment?) on the part of many that the encounter with Jesus may be lost in the midst of all of the attention to “technique”.

  2. Jon says:

    So, are scripture and Jesus in some sense one in the same, the Word of God? Or is scripture *about* the Word of God?

    • Nick says:

      John,

      Jesus is the Torah (Word) incarnate. This is made explicit at the Transfiguration when the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) reveal Him to be the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. The context is that the Torah, in Hebrew, is a single word, all the words without spaces and such, and so the Word of God, and the Word was believed to be pre-existent with God, spoken eternally by God as a divine word; Jesus completes the knowledge by revealing Himself to be the Word of God, living and divine, and the Word being not only with God but in fact God Himself.

  3. Bob says:

    Like Fr. Corapi has said there is a FALSE dichotomy today between the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith. Many modern scholars use this modern-day false dichotomy to focus primarily (if not exclusively) on the “Jesus of History” and draw conclusions from that (which are often viewed collectively (at best) as “probable” or “somewhat probable” but are usually concluded to be fact) which are often blatanly false when viewed with the sensus fidelium pricesly because these scholars don’t care about the Christ of Faith.

    Thanks to B16′s Jesus of Nazareth book series though we see a prime example of what authentic study and teaching in the realm of Christology really entails, which boils down to this: NO seperation between the Jesus of history and the Christ of Faith.

  4. KathyD says:

    I have been a “know about” Jesus Catholic for decades. After being convinced to give 1 hour per week on our Perpetual Adoration Roster I truly feel it has been a life changing experience and I am slowly growing to “know” Jesus. After having started I feel this will be a lifelong commitment and perhaps as my children age I can give more than that 1 hour.

    Bible Readings have taken on a whole new meaning and feeling (plus I had really never even felt inspired to look at a bible much before) and Mass truly feels like Heaven and Earth combining.

    I am trying to teach my 4 children how to find this relationship with the Lord earlier in their lives. Pray for me that I succeed! Heavens it’s hard in our social climate!

  5. matt says:

    Great stuff. Amen. Amen.

    Reminds me a lot of the Pope’s book “Jesus of Nazareth.” That book really had an impact on the way I look at Christ and the Scriptures.

  6. Gail says:

    I so appreciate this column on Pope Benedict’s Verbum Domini. I have not taken the time to read the entire letter, but rather focused on the section where he talks about Lectio Divina. Next to the Eucharist, lectio and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament have had the biggest influence in my deepening relationship with Jesus.
    Bless the our Holy Father Benedict for this exhortation. The WORD is everything.

  7. esiul says:

    I’m all with you too Msgr. Pope. Scripture can teach, but if you do not know him personally, the readings alone will not do it.

    To KathyD: You are definitely getting to know Jesus in Perpetual Adoration. Any extra time you can give is all reciprocal love. Sometimes I have only 15 minutes at a time to stop in. You soon recognize that you know Jesus when the realization hits you as you look at Him and he gazes back at you. Mass does that too.
    I’ve had 4 kids myself, you are on the right track and it is hard in our times. I shall pray for your success.

  8. Miss Victoria A. Howard, Anchoress says:

    I am not boasting; but I feel that, yes indeed, I know the Word of God. He speaks to me and I write. I call what I write down fiction; but only because it is about him, but it is not Scripture that I write. It is a passionate recording of what I feel deep down inside that Jesus would say, from my knowledge of Scripture. I have had no apparition; but I feel I have caught the essence of this Godman in my books:

    http://mysite.verizon.net/vzezunbp/

    I have become very intimate with Christ through my writings. And as I write, I find that he knows more about me than I know of myself. Christ has come to me in a very special and unique way. I invite you into the world of Tabfa and Jesus!

  9. Grandpa Tom says:

    The Word of God is a noun, not a verb. It should be capitilized when it is used in referrence to our Lord Jesus Christ. God spoke the Word once, and it is eternal. The Word became flesh, Jesus says in Heb 10: “A body hast been prepared for me.” To see the essence of the risen one, a person needs look no further that nature. See how the trees stand in praise of God, with their branches reaching toward the heavens.

    Pope Benedict in his book, ‘Jesus of Nazarath,’ says: “In God himself there is an eternal dialogue between Father and Son, who are both truly one and the same God in the Holy Spirit.” The dialogue of Love is a revelation of the Trinity where love is given and returned. In Verbum Domini it says, “The Word exists before creation.” God told Moses His name is, “I AM,” that is because there was never a time when He wasn’t.

    In the 1970s’ or so, the Bee Gees wrote a song, and some of the lyrics were something like: “If you want me to be closer to you, get closer to me!” And I believe this is the way to get closer to Christ. We have to saturate our mind with all we can to not only know about Him, but encounter Him in all we do. I think it was St. Thomas Aquinas who said God’s love is like a (camp) fire, the closer you get to it, the warmer you will become. Civil War General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was very religious, as was most civil war generals, when he lifted a glass of water to his mouth, he praised the Lord, and thanked Him for the ‘living water.’

    The Word of God is a Living Word which was spoken once, but is heard for eternity. The Word became flesh, but was God disquised as a man. “The God with a human face. Jesus is the Word, Jesus Christ is the ‘Yes’ to all God promised, is how Paul put it in 2 Cor 1:20, (Jesus of Nazarath, p.333).

  10. Suzannah M says:

    I thank God for Pope Benedict and the grace imparted to the Church through his writings. Thus we are again blessed with this writing of the Holy Father emphasizing the Truth that is the Word of God made Flesh; the Living Lord Jesus Christ, a person, not simply ‘ink-on-paper-word’. Jeremiah was asked to pick up the word (scroll) and eat it. BUT we at Mass are asked to take the Word that is the Body of Christ and eat. How much more personally can we experience Jesus, the Word of God, than in the Holy Eucharist? All non-Catholic experiences, be they in a gospel song or the simple piety of a very rural congregation, simply pale in comparison. This is not to put down the non-Catholic Christian, but rather to elevate the very special priviledge given to us in the Blessed Sacrament. After all it is in the written word that the Word made flesh, Jesus, himself says, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you do not have life within you.” Praise the Lord! Alleluia!

  11. Suzannah M says:

    Jeremiah was asked to pick up the word (scroll) and eat it. BUT we at Mass are asked to take the Word that is the Body of Christ and eat. How much more personally can we experience Jesus, the Word of God, than in the Holy Eucharist? All non-Catholic experiences, be they in a gospel song or the simple piety of a very rural congregation, simply pale in comparison. This is not to put down the non-Catholic Christian, but rather to elevate the very special priviledge given to us in the Blessed Sacrament. After all it is in the written word that the Word made flesh, Jesus, himself says, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you do not have life within you.” Praise the Lord! Alleluia!

  12. Michael says:

    EAT MY FLESH

    The book of John was written in the Greek Language. And when the author recorded things down – when he said you must eat my flesh - he used the Greek word “trogo.”

    Now in the Greek language, many words can be used for “eat”. However, the word “trogo” was chosen; it’s a very special word because it cannot be taken symbolically. When that word was chosen – when you trogo something, you actually gnaw on it. The definition is to aggressively or loudly munching, gnawing and chewing, as an animal would eat.

    This cannot be taken symbolically, and the author chooses this word so that later on when people read this – it’s not a soft word – it’s meant to actually gnaw and to eat. It’s very important; it cannot to be taken symbolically.

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