The people were spellbound by His teaching
We have been hearing much about rising unemployment rates, decline in sales of many products, decline of the stock market. Many businessmen are searching for a “recession-proof” product. And there is one: the Holy Bible. A business magazine conducted a survey recently which found that in the midst of all the economic troubles, sales of Bibles are booming. They interviewed the sales managers of several large Bible publishers. Said one, “We are very happy with our Bible business.” Said another, “We are certainly making money on our Bibles.” And another, “Our Bible section is very, very healthy.” On and on it went. The people who wrote the article came up with statistics going all the way back to the turn of the century. The statistics revealed that in periods of national calamity-whether it be war or Watergate or economic troubles-Bible sales increase. Therefore, my sound, practical, reliable, financial advice to you is this: In time of depression get into the Bible.
Read the Scriptures, because in the Scriptures you will find the Word of the living God spoken to you. God’s living Word is communicated to us through the Bible. The Bible is a great storehouse of power and strength and hope for us. And here we run into a problem. I haven’t said one thing that you did not already know. The problem is that while God’s Word is spoken to us in the Bible, we have to get into it and read it before we can hear this Word. It is one thing for all those sales managers to rejoice in their Bible sales, and quite another to get people to read their Bibles. The Bible is the most unread best-seller in history. Millions of Bibles are being sold and so few being read. The question for us as a Christian Community is, “Are we into the Bible?”
You can pick up the Bible and read it like an Ellery Queen mystery, or like any other book, and that’s fine. You will get some help. But soon you will discover that it is not like any other book. There are special qualities about the Bible which require some “know-how” in the reader who wants God’s Word to come through more directly. For example, we need to learn how to discern the difference between the Word of God in the Bible and the words of men in which the Word of God is revealed. This is important. When the brilliant Thomas Jefferson read through the Bible he found, in the Old Testament especially, a God he could not worship or accept. He found exaggerations. He found internal contradictions (two stories of how Judas died, for example). Thomas Jefferson ended up picking the teachings of Jesus out of the Bible, accepting only that part, and saying that it was like picking diamonds out of a dung hill. This brilliant man regarded all the rest of Scripture as a dung hill. Why? Simply because he did not have the tools with which to discern how the Word of God can come to us even through the sometimes exaggerated, distorted words of men. God’s Word gets through when you have this “know-how.” Ben Franklin had the same problem. He was raised in a Calvanistic home where he was taught to love the Bible. But, as he grew older, he began to have problems with it. For example, he read in the Book of Judges the story of a certain officer’s wife who invited Sisera into the tent under the guise of hospitality. She fed him and comforted him. But when he went to sleep, she drove a tent-peg through his temple with a mallet. And, in the Book of Judges, God approved. Ben Franklin said that was not the God he cared to worship; that was not the God he loved. Consequently, he rejected large sections of the Scriptures. And the problem is still with us.
“How true is the Bible?” asked “Time Magazine” in a cover-story. We believe, of course, that all Scripture is true because it is Divinely inspired. However, God speaks to us in Scripture through men, in human fashion. Therefore, in order to best understand what the sacred authors are trying to communicate we must be attentive to the cultural context in which they wrote. We must be as aware as possible of the style of feeling and speaking at that time. We must be as aware as possible of the living patterns which men and women of the time normally employed in their everyday relations with one another. We are human beings and, therefore, fallible. And the “know-how” of the Bible begins with a full consciousness that God speaks to us in Scripture through events in the lives of fallible humans-human beings who, like ourselves constantly were contending with many human problems.
“From the day your baby is born you must teach him to do without things. Children today love luxury too much. They have terrible manners, flaunt authority, have no respect for their elders. They no longer rise when their parents or teachers enter the room. What kind of awful creatures will they be when they grow older?” Do these words of a famous scholar strike a familiar chord in your life? Those were words of Socrates, spoken shortly before his death, in 399 B.C. Whether in Socrates’ time or Moses’ time or Jesus’ time, the Bible writers lived in human societies beset with human failings, human fallibility and human problems-some very much like our own.
We must understand man’s word in order to understand God’s Word in the Bible. Knowledge of the historical background, the literary forms, the language and customs of Biblical times are very important tools in the development of our Bible. But … you must read the Bible. And, as you read, you must remember that the Bible is God speaking to you now! You must recognize it as relating to your existence, your life-situation. Only through faithful Bible reading can you joyfully embrace it as your Book… your Book of life … the Book of your life.
Out of the San Diego area of California comes a story, widely circulated as true, about a crotchety, “set-in-her-ways,” eighty-year-old woman who became ill and had to undergo surgery. She came through the operation wonderfully well but protested vigorously when the doctor told her the hospital rules concerning post-operative care: 1) the patient must walk ten minutes the very first day after successful surgery and, 2) the patient must be prepared to leave the hospital within one week after surgery, since beds were at a premium. Grudgingly, she negotiated the first ten-minute walk on her own, increased it to twenty minutes the second day and, by week’s end she was stomping all over the hospital. Later the family tried to pay the doctor a bonus. “You did a wonderful job, you deserve it,” they told him. “Nonsense,” the doctor replied, “It was just a routine operation.” “It’s not the operation we’re marveling over,” said a grandson. “It’s her walking. The old girl hadn’t taken a single step in six years!”
Many otherwise good Christians are like that when they are urged to read and study their Bible so as to enrich their understanding of God’s Word and what it means to their lives. They haven’t taken a step into the Bible in six years. Some have yet to take the first step. If you qualify as one of these persons, why not make this your day for some spiritual surgery. Open up your mind and will and soul. Give the Holy Spirit some room to operate in your life. Pick up your Bible, for ten minutes or so today. Perhaps twenty tomorrow. And within a week’s time or a month’s time you will begin to experience rewards for your sincerity of purpose. You will begin to hear God’s Word as never before. You will hear God speaking to your life as never before.
The New Testament Christians were restless searchers for meaning in their lives. The search led them to Jesus. And, as we have seen in today’s Gospel Reading, they were “spellbound by His teaching” (Mk.1:22). We are restless searchers for deeper meaning in our lives. The search has led us to Jesus. Get into the Bible and experience the joy of those first followers of Jesus who were “spellbound by His Teaching.”