This week I came across a book that was a collection of little known facts in the Bible. It reminded me of the time I heard that God shut the door of Noah’s ark after all were boarded. Really? I had to look it up and, sure enough, there it was. (See Genesis 7:16.) At this morning’s Mass we heard the story of Jacob wrestling with God, and again, a detail I didn’t realize before stood out. When Jacob politely asked God’s name, the only response he received was “Why is it it that you ask my name?” Now why did God tell his name to Moses but not to Jacob, I wonder. If you’re like me, sometimes when Scripture is proclaimed at Mass I think, “I know that story,” and I tune out. Instead of listening attentively for God’s message, maybe I plan my next writing project or decide what to have for dinner. This is not smart, for our memories have holes in them, and besides, no matter how often we read or hear God’s word, there is always some fresh insight.
God’s word is like an onion. It has many layers of meaning. A verse or a story can mean one thing to a Jewish person and another thing to a Christian, one thing to a married person and another thing to a priest, one thing to you this year and another thing to you next year. You’ve experienced differences in interpretation if you ever attended a Bible study or prayed lectio divina in a group where participants shared what a passage meant to them.
Perhaps you are familiar with the role Scripture played in St. Augustine’s life. One day when he was still a playboy, he heard a child chanting, “Take it and read it; take it and read it.” He picked up Scripture and read, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:13–14). That was all Augustine needed to turn around his life and become a bishop and a saint. Another instance of the Bible’s striking power involves author Thomas Merton. When he was in the throes of discerning whether or not to become a Trappist, he opened the Bible and saw the words “Be still” (Psalm 46:10). Trappists were known for their silence.
If you believe that in Scripture God speaks to us personally regarding our lives and our relationship with him, then you will listen as St. Benedict says, “With the ears of your heart.” And, you will wrestle with God’s word.
1. At the time of the flood, Noah was 600 years old. (Genesis 7:6) As they say, “Old age isn’t for cowards.”
2. Abraham and Sarah had the same father. (Genesis 20:12) So Abraham really wasn’t totally lying when he told the Pharaoh she was his sister.
3. David’s warriors could shoot arrows right and left handed. (1 Chronicles 12:2)
4. The Levites (Jewish priests) had a mandatory retirement age of 50 years. (Numbers 8:25) Imagine if that were true for our priests today.
5. God described the people in Nineveh as not knowing their left from their right. (Jonah 4:11) No wonder he had pity on them.
6. In the Book of Esther, God is never mentioned. This led some people to argue against including it the canon, official list of biblical books. Why do you think Esther is considered sacred scripture?
7. Phoebe (a woman!) was a minister or deacon in the the early Church. (Romans 16:1-2)
8. The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were both written to Theophilus. This name means “lover of God,” so it might mean any follower of Jesus.
9. Although we say, “Jesus fed 5,000,” that number didn’t include the women and children. (Matthew 14:21) So how many did he really feed?
10. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” is a quotation from Jesus not found in the Gospels. (Acts 20:35) Don’t you wish you knew what else he said that didn’t come down to us?
11. When Jesus was arrested, a young man following him was caught but ran away naked, leaving behind his linen cloth. (Mark 14:51-52) This detail is only in the Gospel of Mark—who might have been the young man.
12. The new earth won’t have oceans. (Revelation 21:1)
What Scripture verse has captured your attention in a new way?