Tasting the Sweetness of Scripture

Spiritual directors, to help us nourish our souls, regularly suggest that we pray with the Scripture, especially as we find it in the Catholic tradition of lectio divina.  Its slow, meditative reading of a Scriptural text teaches us to do what the prophet Jeremiah once described as his experience with God’s word: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.”  In the Mass, the Church tells us that “the Eucharistic table set for us is the table of both the word of God and the Body of the Lord” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1346).  We “eat” from both.  This helps us better understand Jeremiah’s words—the Scripture is meant to be deliciously edible for us; we consume it as eagerly as we consume the Body and Blood of Jesus.

I recently wrote a book about Marian typology in the Old Testament (Whispers of Mary: What Twelve Old Testament Women Teach Us About Mary, Ascension Press).  Working on it made one thing surprisingly clear.  Nearly all the words the Blessed Virgin Mary speaks in the Gospels are echoes of words already spoken in the Old Testament.  Here are some examples.

At the Annunciation, Mary responded to God’s plan to save his people and her role in it by saying, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).  In the Old Testament, Rahab gave Israelite spies in Jericho shelter, because she wanted their God to be her God, too.  They told her about God’s plan save his people in the upcoming battle and her role in it.  She responded, “According to your words, so be it” (Josh 2:21).

 At the Visitation, when Mary burst into a prayer song to praise God for his glorious work, we hear her singing the Old Testament Scriptures.  As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “The Magnificat – a portrait, so to speak, of [Mary’s] soul – is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the word of God … She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God.” (Verbum Domini, 28)

At the wedding in Cana, Mary discovers there is no wine, and she takes the problem to Jesus.  Then, she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).  In the Old Testament, Joseph, sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, rose to a position of great authority in Egypt.  During a famine, when the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread to eat, they were told, “Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do” (Gen 41:55).

What are we to make of this?  Mary gives us a perfect example of what our relationship with Scripture ought to be.  It formed her thinking, her speaking, her praying.  She lived the truth of the Psalmist’s words: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Ps 119:103).   This should be our experience, too.

When we feed on a regular daily diet of reading and digesting Scripture, we can be guided by three great truths.

First, the Church tells us that Scripture’s words have the power to transform us as we read them (see Dei Verbum 25).  Speaking for God, the prophet, Isaiah, wrote: “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11).  Only the words of Scripture can bring into being what they describe.

Second, the Church assures us that Scripture is more than a book—it is a conversation (see Dei Verbum 25).  God speaks to us in it; we speak back to him in prayer.  This conversation becomes our communion with our Father.

Third, as we read and digest Scripture, we are placing our personal stories with God into the larger context of salvation history’s story.  This is a vital help to us.  It keeps us from excessive individuality in our prayers.  By praying the Scripture, we humbly stay connected to words that are not originally our own, to stories that others lived first.  Thus, we take our place within God’s family; their stories help shape our own.

As we see repeatedly in the Gospels, the Blessed Mother filled herself with God’s word such that it became the words on her own lips over and over. Let us imitate our Mother and spend loving time in God’s Word, so that these Scriptures will pour forth from our own hearts and minds at exactly the moments in which we need them.

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