Lectors as Stewards of the Word of God

or Why Do Apostles Write Epistles?

by Greg Warnusz, author, Lector's Notes at lectorprep.org

The Word, as recorded in the Bible, is the record of how the People of God have dealt with change.

Sometimes the change was asked by God, sometimes the change was imposed by the People's enemies, sometimes the need to change became clear because the People were more prosperous. Sometimes the change was due to a call to a higher standard (e.g., Jesus' Sermon on the Mount). But no prophet spoke, no Moses gave a law, no apostle wrote an epistle, no evangelist applied the memory of Jesus to a community, unless some change was going on. When things were going smoothly, nobody needed to write the Bible.

The Church has to be aware of how our ancestors coped with these changes, because life is putting us through changes today. God has already given us principles and tools for handling change. We ought to remember them, and apply them with the same fidelity and confidence our ancestors displayed. We ought to remember how faithful God was to our ancestors as they wrestled with change.

Our preachers and teachers have a mandate to know and share this heritage. Is it fair to put that burden on lectors, too? Will we have to do it of necessity some time soon?

Let me describe one historical change. While you read, ask yourself if history is repeating itself.

The scene is Judea in southern Palestine, where Jerusalem is the capital, about 605 B.C. Jews in and near Jerusalem depended on the Temple there and its sacrifices and priesthood to express their religion. Then the empire of the Babylonians gained political control of Palestine. A rebellion in Judea prompted the Babylonians to invade in 597 B.C., and take some leading citizens of Jerusalem into exile. Those remaining in Judea and Jerusalem rebelled again in 587, so the Babylonians overcame them, burned the Jerusalem temple, and carted off even more Jews into exile.

Without their Temple and its sacrifices, the exiles had only the Word, only their oral and written traditions (not written very thoroughly yet) about how God had called their ancestors. This is when the books of Moses took written form (although the historical Moses was 600 years earlier). This is how the Jews became what we call The People of the Book. This is where the office of rabbi (teacher) came into being. Knowing and celebrating their tradition took the place of rituals no longer available.

Change imposed by outsiders, for political and economic purposes, not for religious reasons, forced the People of God to recover traditions older than their cherished Temple and sacrifices and priesthood. New ministers helped them apply old memories to new situations. They kept their faith, and survived the Exile until it ended in about eighty years. Some went back to Judea and Jerusalem, some chose to stay, and many chose to move elsewhere. They took their Book with them.

Those who returned to Judea had changed, but not enough. When they went home, the biggest change was that their new prophets were able to see that their God wanted to be God of all the Gentiles, too. That idea never convinced the mainstream, though. Eventually the first Jewish followers of Jesus found themselves mixing it up with Gentiles who were drawn to Jesus' way of life. This mixing made the more conservative Jews expel those who believed in Jesus. Saint Paul seized this as an opportunity, a fulfillment, he saw, of God's long hidden plan. He took the gospel deliberately and directly to the dispersed Jews and to the Gentiles far from Jerusalem. That's where we came in.

Now I'm reading the signs of the times, our times, and I see similar things happening. I see changes imposed on us by history, and changes we bring on ourselves. I see unintended consequences of changes we have chosen and unforeseen consequences of changes we have suffered. To me, it looks analogous to the end of the Babylonian exile of the Jews.

When you read the signs of the times, what ...? Who are the rabbis who are called to help us remember whom we have become? If that's a good question, then if you, as a lector, are so called, what do you need to fulfill your vocation?

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Text (preceding all comments) last updated October 8, 2011