Monday, April 1, 2019
Rogelio Zelada - Office of Lay Ministry
The great discovery of faith of our nomad ancestors of the desert was the certainty that the God of their fathers was a God-Word, determined to make himself understood by them. Those ancient Semitic tribes sensed three realities in God that defined his essence and his reality from the analogy of the human language: God is Word, Spirit and Wisdom, three concepts or images interchangeable and complementary in such a way that any one of them definitively refers to God.
The Word, powerful and creative, is present from the beginning of its intervention in nothingness, from which it draws the infinity in which history and human activity rest. A Word that is present and active in time and space, since every event refers to the reading of the signs of the times; the mysterious way in which we must seek to understand the logic of the actions of God, actor and author of history. For Israel, relating the events of the past allowed them to approach an understanding of divine action and discover the will of God; the role of the elders was not only to transmit and recount the events they had experienced, but above all to reflect on their meaning in light of the present.
That God-Word embraced human language to maintain an intimate and familiar dialogue with the great characters of the future of Israel. He took Abraham out of his comfort zone and sent him on a disconcerting adventure beyond all human logic. From the inexplicable fire of a mysterious bush that burns but is not consumed, he summoned the stuttering Moses and charged him with removing a whole people from slavery, even if he had to face the most powerful country in the world.
Great epics, contained in the memory of a people who lacked writing, were transmitted orally from generation to generation. Word for word, this living sound treasured events, speeches, parables, stories, poems, songs, stories, reflections, decrees and messages of prophets, kings, heroes and traitors.
These living traditions became written texts thanks to Solomon, who in the 10th century B.C. wanted to be on par with the great kings around him who treasured important libraries. To do this, the son of King David brought in wise scribes who endowed the Hebrew language with written phonemes, hitherto nonexistent. For five centuries, those traditions, written at different times in the history of Israel, were collected and kept in the Temple and in the royal palace; texts that were only available to a tiny minority capable of reading them.
For the people, God's voice always arrived punctually in the cry of the prophets, but they disappeared as an institution at the end of the great Babylonian captivity, when the northern tribes, released by the will of Cyrus the Great, king of the Persians, returned to a country in ruins to rebuild Jerusalem, its institutions and traditions. Since their return, there was no prophecy in Israel.
Then, the God who is Word, shed his Spirit on his people, so that they could learn to seek his Wisdom contained in the thousands of texts that collected that fundamental history of faith. Thousands of fragments were reorganized from hundreds of different authors, heirs and chroniclers of arcane histories, of sayings and facts that range from the prehistory of the patriarchs of the desert to the Mosaic adventure, the conquest of the earth, the gift of the Law, the monarchical vicissitudes, and the reflection on the origins of the theological history of God’s chosen people.
Guided by the inspiration of God's Spirit, great scribes of the fifth century B.C. organized all the writings from the time of Solomon to Nehemiah produced by the genius of the Jewish people. Thus, what referred to the beginnings took shape in the Book of Genesis; the stories of the departure from Egypt in the book of Exodus; the ritual laws of the Temple in Leviticus; the censuses of Israel in the book of Numbers; and the reflection on the Law in Deuteronomy.
In chapter eight of the book of Nehemiah, the sacred author allows us to see the commotion in the assembly the first time that the texts are proclaimed from “the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had commanded for Israel”. What is heard initially causes fear, tears and great sadness because the people feel that they have ignored the commands of their God. The feeling quickly turns into a celebration because “the Lord is your strength” and because they finally understood “the words that had been explained to them.”
What had originally been a shared experience became a reflection of faith, oral tradition, writing and, finally, Sacred Scripture anchored in the Pentateuch, millenary and sacred texts that should be read from the perspective of faith and the deep conviction that God speaks and does so with a purpose for the life of each one and of the whole Church. That is why a lector is not someone who reads an important text before the liturgical assembly, but mainly a member of the Church who communicates to the rest of the faithful his personal faith in the text that is being solemnly read.
Fully convinced of this, St. Augustine reminded us that in this world the Word of God is given to us in letters, in sounds, in codex, in the voice of the lector and the preacher. In the fourth century A.D., St. Jerome would affirm in a famous commentary, “you do not listen to the reader, you listen to God.” That is why everything in a proclaimer should lead to that transcendent truth that he must announce from deepest conviction, from reflection on the text, from his knowledge, technical preparation, and by taking on the content and message of the text.
A few years ago, I was on mission in North Carolina with immigrant peasants of great fidelity to the Church, when almost at the beginning of the celebration of the Eucharist, I heard the sister in charge of preparing the Mass ask a young man who was arriving that moment at church: “Do you want to read?” Evidently, not only had he not prepared the reading, he had never seen it before. It was chaos from the beginning: “A Reading from the Letter to the Ramones.” It was obvious that he did not know any “Romans,” but there were many Ramones on his list of friends. Needless to say, the rest of the reading was totally unintelligible.