You are Called to Read the Gospels

Word of God Sunday, The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I was about thirteen years old, I remember once being in my living room thinking about death, until nature called, and I headed toward the bathroom on the other side of the house. Our entryway was the crossroads of my childhood home, with doorways and stairs leading to different rooms and levels. This would be the setting for a crossroads moment of my life. For as I set foot there I pictured myself standing before God’s judgement seat after my death. The Lord sat on a white stone throne. He didn’t look angry (that would have scared me off) but he seemed disappointed and frustrated, like I had promised to meet him somewhere and never showed up. And he asked me, “Why didn’t you live your life like I wanted you to live it?

I knew what he meant. I was a cradle-Catholic and not a terrible kid but I also wasn’t much of a disciple of Jesus Christ either. I still needed to use the bathroom but I knew this question would be wrong to ignore. So I stayed there, though pacing a bit, thinking with urgency what would I say, what could I say, in this situation? You only get one Last Judgment. So I replied, “Well God, I wasn’t even sure that you were really real. How could I entirely commit my one life to you while being so uncertain? How could you expect me to stand out on a cliff-ledge without me being sure that it would hold up my weight?

Once I had made my case, he promptly replied, “Did you ever really try to find out? Did you even read my book?” I laughed at that pithy line and said something slightly stronger than “Oh crud” because the Lord had called me out. If I were really looking for the truth, if I were truly seeking after him, I would be searching more seriously than I was. Soon after, I resolved to pray every day and read the whole Bible. I remember sneaking around my mother to fetch our big, family Bible from our dining room cabinet and quietly take it back to my room. I didn’t want her asking me, “What are you doing with that?” because then I’d have say, “Well, Mom, I may have had a vision and I need to read the Bible now.

I started regularly praying before bed and reading the Scriptures fifteen minutes a night, starting with the Book of Genesis. If I happened to miss one night, I’d read for thirty minutes the next. In this way I learned a lot more about the important and famous biblical characters and events I had previously only heard of. I saw the consistency of human nature throughout history and humanity’s need for a savior. I recognized Jesus Christ prefigured within the Old Testament, such as in the lambs of sacrifice at Passover and at the Temple. Somewhere in the midst of reading the books of the prophets I realized I didn’t want to risk dying without ever having read the gospels, so I skipped ahead. And reading the gospels changed my life.

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel challenged me with a beautiful, new way of living: for instance, trusting in God rather than living in fear, generosity in giving rather than clinging to my every possession, and forgiveness with goodwill towards my enemies rather than nurturing poisonous hatreds. I did not wish to wind up someday on my deathbed without having given these teachings a try, so I did, and experienced their benefits. And Jesus Christ in the gospels inviting the fishermen to follow him opened me up to answering his calling for my life.

I recount these stories this morning because of today’s feast. In September of 2019, Pope Francis decreed the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time to be henceforth celebrated as “The Sunday of the Word of God”; a day “to be devoted to the celebration, study, and dissemination of the word of God.” Pope Francis wrote:

“As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.”

The fifth century Doctor of the Church, St. Jerome once said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Since no books of Scripture reveal Jesus Christ better than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, today I am urging you to begin reading these, the most important books within the most important book in history.

Have you ever read an entire gospel? If not, why not? There are many easily readable, modern translations these days, without any “thee’s” and “thou’s.” You can even read or listen to the Bible for free over the internet (though I would recommend choosing a Catholic edition with all seventy-three books.)

Let none of us claim that we don’t have time to read the gospels. Based on their word counts and a typical reading speed, Mark (the shortest gospel) can be read in a little more than an hour, and Luke (the longest gospel) can be read in less than two. To read all four gospels requires just slightly more than six hours’ time. To put that in perspective, six hours is two NFL football games, or two Major League baseball games, or three NCAA or NBA basketball games. How many sporting events have we seen in our lives, and how many complete gospels have we read or listened to in comparison? Even before this pandemic, the average American—at home, not at work—spent seventeen-and-a-half hours a week on the internet. So it’s not a question of time, but a question of our priorities.

If you read for fifteen minutes a day, or fifteen minutes a night, you can complete Matthew’s Gospel in a week and can finish all four gospels in twenty-five days. Of course, if you pause to ponder and to pray it will take you longer, but that’s OK, even preferable. I hope you’ll accept this gospel challenge and invitation.

As an epilogue to my first story, when my younger self finally reached the Book of Revelation at the end of Sacred Scripture, I found something of a confirming sign. When God judges the living and the dead—all people on the last day, the Scripture says he sits upon a “great white throne.” When you reach your deathbed, or when you stand before God’s judgment seat, will you have read the gospels and been blessed by the experience in life? “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.” “This is the time of fulfillment. … Repent, and believe in the gospel.” And part of believing in the gospel means devoting our time and attention to it.

One Response to “You are Called to Read the Gospels”

  1. Anne Says:

    Excellent and very encouraging! … “Did you even read my book?”… enjoyed hearing / reading that story again. Also liked the way you went back to the story to end your sermon! Going to challenge my teens to pick one of the gospel in the New Testament to read, as will I.

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