January 22nd, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading today is one of my very favorite excerpts from the Old Testament. The reason I say that is because it provides an excellent tool for teaching people how to read the bible. Put a hundred people in a room together and ask them how many have ever heard of the book of Jonah. Virtually, all of them will raise their hands. Ask a second question. What is the book of Jonah about? What is its message? Ninety-nine out of one hundred will quickly tell you that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. They are wrong but their reaction provides a marvelous opportunity to teach something about reading Sacred Scriptures.
The bible is a series of small booklets, written over centuries, in various literary forms. This is tremendously important and it is necessary to understand this if you are going to read the bible intelligently.
Take a look at your morning newspaper. You instinctively know that what is printed on the first page is different from what is printed on the editorial page. You also recognize that the comic strips and the “want ads” are a different literary form designed to accomplish specific goals and it works very well for us. The same is true of the bible. Those many booklets that make the bible have been written in various literary forms, in different times and to accomplish different goals. The book of Jonah is not a catalogue for National Geographic. It is a message about God’s love for the whole human family.
More on that on Monday.