The Bible in the Heart of History
Giovanni Maria Vian
One of the oldest forms of commentary on Scripture in the Jewish tradition is to explain the Sacred text by highlighting its current relevance, using a method that was immediately adopted in Christian circles. Indeed it is already found in the Qumran texts and Jesus uses it, as well.
And this is exactly what Benedict XVI did in inaugurating the Synodal Assembly, first at St. Paul Outside-the-Walls when he commented in his Homily on the biblical image of the vineyard so dear to the prophets, and then at the opening of the Synod itself, when he meditated on several verses of the longest Psalm, the Psalm on the Word of God. There he emphasized that this Word is ever timely because it is both within human history and explains it, and because it is the one reality that truly counts.
As is his custom, the Pope spoke with a language and chose examples that all could understand. Thus the vineyard described by the prophets is no longer exclusive to Jewish history but instead — consistent with current exegetical methods founded in ancient Judaism — recalls the vicissitudes of Christian communities that were once flourishing but later disappeared and live on only in history books. Here his thoughts turned above all to the Churches of Asia, of Pauline and Johannine tradition, but also to the African Christianity of the first centuries, that of Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine.
Benedict XVI did not stop at books — indeed, they too disappear, as he said in his last homily before entering the Conclave that was to elect him Pope — but turned his gaze to the present: might not what happened to those ancient communities happen in our day and age? "Nations once rich in faith and vocations are losing their own identity, under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture".
The Pope, however, is not a pessimist, for Jesus promised that "the vineyard will not be destroyed" and that in the end, in spite of all, evil and death will not have the last word.
This vision of history revealed by Scripture, realistic and at the same time open to the future, is accompanied by references to very recent events as a reminder that visible and tangible realities — such as success and money — will pass away one day: "We can see this now with the fall of large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing".
Benedict XVI's Meditation is neither abstract nor mannered but asks each one to question himself, with his mind open to God: "The one who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality".
In brief, God and his Word are the only realities that matter because they endure, unlike all the rest. For this reason, the Pope says, they must be taken into consideration if one wishes to he a realist.
In explaining Scripture, the Bishop of Rome once again stressed how it is central — and hence indicates God's place — in the life and heart of every human being, as the Synodal Assembly will certainly point out in the coming days.
The Assembly will bear in mind Judaism and the specificity of its witness, as Pope Benedict XVI himself did during his Visit to France, looking above all to the future and to the one reality that will never end.
Weekly Edition in English
8 October 2008, page 1
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