Bishop and Christian*, June 2016

You Are What You Read (Part 1)

‘But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’ And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey” (Ezekiel 2:8-3:3).

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.’ And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter” (Revelation 10:8-10).

Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Lutheran Service Book, 308).

We take it as a truism that what we eat makes us what we are: healthy or unhealthy, fit or fat, energetic or lethargic. Our body uses what we put into it for purposes of life and health. Similarly, the Scriptures are more than once described as something we “eat,” because what we read makes us what we are. In the familiar prayer, meditation is compared to digestion, as the Scriptures energize and give us life. However, in the case of the Scriptures, it is not we who utilize them for our own purposes, like the body does with food; instead, the Scriptures remake us into the holy image of the One to whom they endlessly point: Jesus Christ.

But the person is rare who never reads any teaching other than the Scriptures. Most people read and hear teachers who explain and interpret the Scriptures, so that we understand more fully the sort of people whom the Scriptures chew up and digest and regurgitate into new images of Christ, who is the Image of God. (Even if one never reads anything but the Scriptures, he or she is the interpreter who decides what the Scriptures are saying; but isolation from how Christians have read the Scriptures throughout time and space is dangerous.)

So what do we read, when we want to understand the Scriptures better? Many people will receive recommendations from friends or neighbors; some will pick up the latest best-seller at the local Christian bookstore; others don’t really know where to start. How will we evaluate the various items on the religious buffet of interpretation? In other words, what sort of Christian do the Scriptures have in mind, and what sort of reading will help us along that path? Since there is no generic Christianity, only Christianity according to one or another confession of Christ, we hold to the confession of Christ and His Christians that is found first of all in the Small Catechism: a Christian who is continually shown his or her sinful self by the Law of God; who is continually shown Christ for us by God’s action described in the Creed; who learns how to pray from Jesus’ own prayer; who lives by confident trust in the promise of God in Baptism and the Absolution; who is fed and nourished by Christ Himself in the Supper; and who learns how to love his or her neighbor according to the vocations described in the Scriptural Table of Duties (if you don’t recognize that last one, check out Section 3 of the Catechism, following the daily prayers).

We start there, because we have been convinced that the Small Catechism is the basic grammar of the Scriptures’ teaching, like learning the Christian Subject, verbs, and objects. Next month, we will continue with how this helps us to make sure we are eating and digesting not only the healthiest but also the best Food.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

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