“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Mark Twain.
Today is Bible Sunday, which many people think of as one book and one annual event. Actually, the Bible is a library which contains 66 different works of history, theology, poetry, law and much more. Written at various times and in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, its name comes from the Greek word biblios, meaning scrolls, on which its contents would originally have been written. Its contributors were from many backgrounds such as kings, shepherds, poets, scribes, prophets, farmers, a doctor, fishermen and a tentmaker but its authors also included cheats, murderers, adulterers, traitors and a tax collector, one of those hated at the time as a collaborator with the occupying power. The Bible tells of rulers who did good but also terrible things to their people, of nations fighting and conquering each other in their struggle to survive, of people affected by jealousy, national disasters and fear but also hope, of men and women loving as well as hating those around them. The world in which they lived is very different from ours but within its pages are recognisable patterns of human behaviour, the murkier depths of the human heart and people trying to cope with huge challenges, much like us today – as the motto of The News of the World proclaimed, all human life is there!
It’s perhaps surprising that, with all the scientific and technological advances since, a compilation with its earliest texts put together four or five centuries before Homer wrote the Odyssey is still read so widely. With over 100 million copies sold every year, the Bible is still the world’s best selling book – and, being so widely available, it’s also the one most frequently stolen! But, as well as the recounting of human history and development, within that library of books is the history of a very particular relationship and conversation between God and God’s people reflecting hope, faith and truth. That story is still being told and we have the choice today whether or not to explore and testify to its reality too.
That was a choice also faced by Jesus and, as the Pharisees try to trick him in today’s Gospel, he speaks of love for God, neighbour and self as being the greatest of the many commands – 161 in Leviticus alone! – that the Bible lists. It’s not love in the romantic sense but tough love which speaks of truth, hope and its cost. What that means and how to live it takes a lifetime and the learning of many generations to understand – as this week’s collect, originally written by Archbishop Cranmer for the first Book of Common Prayer, reminds us it’s not just a matter of reading but marking, learning and inwardly digesting the Bible that’s important. For that to happen, Bible Sunday can be a weekly and not just annual event and every day a Bible day as we hear and interpret God’s word to us in our day as we face the challenges before us. All these are available for free from the Church in Wales website or in lectionaries and publications which can be accessed online or by phone – though, as books have been classified as inessential purchases, they are not currently available from a shop during the national pandemic lockdown in Wales!
Collect for the week
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen. Archbishop Cranmer.