Regular readers of these commentaries know how often (as recently as last week) I quote and refer to Carroll Stuhlmueller and Hans Walter Wolff. Though I’ve read the works of, and been influenced by other famous Scripture scholars, these two were among the many dedicated men and women who actually taught me. I sat in their classrooms, took notes during their lectures, and passed their exams. But more than just learning the “material” they so generously shared, I learned them. Both were kind, loving, and determined ministers of the risen Jesus, their personalities formed by the Scriptures which were such an essential part of their lives.
Neither could teach a class, give a lecture, conduct a seminar or write an article without applying God’s word to the concrete situations and problems they encountered in their daily experience of living their faith. Since Pius XlI’s 1943 tradition-shattering encyclical on the study of Scripture - Divino Afflante Spiritu - our “official” church documents on the Bible have not only demanded we teachers employ the most up-to- date exegetical methods in our pursuit of God’s word, but also insist that we don’t make our study and teaching of those sacred writing just an academic endeavor. Our biblical authors always had one eye on God’s will and one eye on the community problems which triggered their writings; so we who teach their writings should always make “practical applications” to the circumstances in which we live our faith.
Of course, such a teaching style “dates” one’s presentation. Another of my profs, Keith Nickle once commented, “Those who teach Scripture’s eternal truths would like to be remembered for the eternal insights they offer their students.” Once we make one practical application, those who years down the road will come into contact with our work will be able to figure out how we wore our hair and the kind of clothes we sported. We become locked in a specific day and age. Our scholarly immortality goes out the window.
On an academic level, for instance, I can assure you the majority of Pauline scholars believe the Apostle didn’t pen the letter to the Ephesians. But, on the other hand, the disciple of Paul actually responsible for the letter imitated his mentor’s passion to make faith in the risen Jesus a force which dominated his readers’ daily lives. That’s why he integrates these verses of “pastoral” advice into his work.
“Keep careful watch over your conduct,” he writes. “Do not act like fools . . . . Do not continue in ignorance... . Avoid getting drunk. . . . Address one another in psalms and hymns and inspired songs.”
The writer’s not alone in his concerns. Though the author of Proverbs gives us a poetic reflection on the importance of Wisdom, we need only page through the other chapters and verses of his work to discover how finding patterns in God’s creation and presence among us changes the way we live our lives.
The same holds true for John. He presumes we can spend lots of time meditating on the significance of the Eucharist for our lives of faith. It’s essential to know, “whoever feeds on me will have life because of me.” But it’s just as essential for the evangelist to encourage his readers not only to meditate on Jesus, but also to imitate him, especially when it comes to giving their lives for others.
Keith Nickle often reminded us, “You should have the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other. The point at which those two intersect is God’s word for us for that day.”