Be Both Hearers and Doers of the Word
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
The impassioned evangelist held aloft his well thumbed Bible, as he began to deliver his Gospel message at a Pentecostal rally, and yelled into the microphone, "This is the Word of God. Believe only in this book, and in nothing else." I was almost tempted to get up and retort, "That book is not exactly the Word of God, but only a translation (imperfect here, inaccurate there), of a copy (perhaps not the best or most well-received one), of the original Gospel written down (in a human language with all its linguistic limitations and deficiencies), by its evangelist author (bound by his limited experience of hearing the Good News from one apostle), an apostle (with his own peculiar encounter with Jesus before and after the resurrection), who even though inspired by the Holy Spirit was not totally exempt from the preferences and prejudices of his own personality". In short the Bible is the Divine Word in human words.
Receiving his Word
What then is the Word of God? How did it come down to us? How does God speak to us? Firstly, the Word of God is not a 'book', but a Person and a Divine Person. It is God himself speaking to us down the ages and in different ways, through his marvelous creation, to begin with, which reveals and declares the wisdom, beauty and power of God. But when men failed to understand this, God continued to speak in a more personal way through Lawgivers, like Moses. And when men refused to listen to the Law, which is the wisdom of God, God again did not abandon man but sent the Prophets, to speak on his behalf of his plan for man's happiness. But men refused to listen even to the prophets, some of whom they also killed.
God however did not give up on man but sent finally his own Son Jesus, who did not just speak God's Word but was the Word of God itself. Jesus was thus both the mediator and the fullness of God's revelation (DV 2). For no one had spoken like him, or did wonders like him, or lived the way he lived - without sin. All that God wanted to say and do, he did in and through Jesus, so that even the centurion would say of the crucified Jesus, 'Surely this was the Son of God'. But was this the end of God's Word, with his kingdom not yet established?
Not really, for Jesus had said to his apostles, when he was still alive, that he would be leaving them, but not leaving them alone. For he would be always with them, more so by sending them the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that he received at his baptism, who would not teach them anything new but would remind them of what he had said and would bring them to the full truth. He would speak through them and work in them, healing and even raising the dead. Just as Jesus is the Word of God to man, the Spirit would manifest the presence, love and power of Jesus to man.
And that happened when the Spirit came upon the apostles on Pentecost day and the Church was conceived and born, baptized (filled) and confirmed by the Spirit. Just as Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, the Church is the 'incarnation' of the Spirit, who taught and inspired the apostles, who then began to proclaim the word of God and confirm it with signs and wonders and even by a new lifestyle of love and fellowship. For a long time the Word of God was only the spoken Word. But when the apostles realized that they would have to one day leave this world behind, like Jesus, they put down in writing, guided by the Spirit, the most important points of Jesus' three years of preaching and teaching, of signs and wonders.
And it was the Church, the living body of Christ, that again under the inspiration of the Spirit, chose of the many writings in the apostolic age what should be accepted as the written Word of God, the Canon or Rule of Faith, to enable the Church to continue the work of Christ, as Prophet, Priest and Shepherd-King. The Word of God is therefore God our Father speaking, in Jesus his Son and our Lord, by his Holy Spirit, through the Church's 'magisterium' or teaching authority, by means of the written Word handed down and made alive and active.
Responding to his Word
How then does the Word of God, that became flesh (incarnate) in Jesus, become flesh in each one of us? How does the Logos, the Word of or from God, become rheuma, the word to and for me? The first step is that of being so familiar with the text of the Bible, as to understand its messages, i.e., to know clearly what is God saying to me through a verse or passage of the Bible, with the aid of a literal but not literalistic, an idiomatic but not a metaphorical, translation of the original. Exegesis and hermeneutics will help us to go beyond the written word and get into the mind of the sacred writer, but it is prayer that will enable us to go ultimately into the very mind of the Holy Spirit that inspired that word.
However the Bible is not just a book of messages to be understood, but, unlike any other book, it is a book of promises (thousands of them), to be believed in, accepted and claimed. And, as the Bible constantly reminds us, God is a 'faithful' God and is always faithful to his promises, and we are challenged not only to believe in his promises but to trust that he will keep them, "Ask and you will receive" (cfr DV 1, 5).
Finally, the Bible is even more than a book of promises to be believed in. It is a book of commands to be obeyed without questioning, of claims to be acted on here and now, of instructions that tells what to do and how to do it. In every book of the Bible, almost in every chapter, there are verses that can be understood clearly, believed in faithfully and acted upon promptly, in this way. I realized it for the first time in 1976, for even though I knew the Bible well enough (I had done my doctorate in Biblical Theology in Rome), it was still for me a book to be studied academically rather than to be lived and acted upon daily.
Relating his Word
On the last day of the retreat that I was giving to the Sisters of Charity in Secunderabad in June 1976, I received a telephonic message from Mumbai that my mother had a fall and had fractured her left elbow. On examining her, Dr. Baudekar, the city's most renowned orthopedist, told my brother, that all the bones in her left elbow joint had become like powder, to use his very own words, and that the hand had to be amputated.
The first thing I did, on rushing home, was to send for Sr. Bernadine of the Holy Family Hospital, in Bandra, who was known as a charismatic healer. I used to make fun of her, I regret to say, when I saw her praying over people for healing, because I did not then believe that healings could take place here and now. Healings happened only at shrines and were performed only by saints. But I called for her now in my need because I did not know how to pray for healing nor did I believe anyone would be healed if I prayed for them. So she came and prayed for my mother just once.
But what she did, brought home to me what Jesus said we should do, "Lay your hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mk 16:18), and how James spells out we should act, "If anyone of you is sick, he should send for the priests of the church, and they should pray over him … " (James 5:14,15). As I recalled both these verses, I called to mind the above three steps in Bible reading that I used to expound to my retreatants but which I had not really put into practice myself.
And so I first said within myself, "Lord, I do understand very clearly now this your message that if I were to pray for my mother she may be healed". Next I affirmed, "Lord, I further do believe that if I were to pray with faith she would be healed". And then I declared, "Lord, in obedience to your word and acting on and claiming your promise, I will now lay my hands on my mother and pray for her healing, knowing she will be healed". I did this morning, noon, evening and night during that week, saying each time that I prayed, "Lord, I have seen with my own eyes how you have healed so many people - but now I am praying for my own mother".
The day before the operation, I asked my brother Harvey to request the doctor to have one more X-Ray taken before the actual amputation. At first the doctor, of his repute, was surprised and angry at being told what to do. But when my brother told him that I who had made the request was a priest, he relented and took another X-Ray, which to his great astonishment showed that all the bones in the elbow joint, which he had stated had become like powder, had now set. He did not change the 'temporary plaster', since, as he told my brother, it seemed to have 'worked'. From then on my mother felt no pain and no itching and, when the plaster was removed, she did not need any physiotherapy, for she could move her left elbow as freely as her right one.
That was my first case of healing through prayer - and the beginning of my healing ministry in Mumbai, in almost all the dioceses of India and in more than 50 countries, and which led me to even establish a healing and deliverance centre and community. This was all because there came a moment in my life when, taking hold of the scripture promise, "Lay your hands on the sick, who will recover", I obeyed the scripture command, "You must do what the Word tells you, and not just listen to it only" (Mk 16:18; James 1:22).
The written Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church thus complement one another so remarkably. Just as James says, "It is not enough to hear the Word, but we must also obey it and put it into practice", 'Dei Verbum', the Vatican Council II document on Divine Revelation, whose 40th anniversary we celebrate on 18 November, charges us on the other hand, "Be a hearer of the Word of God in your own heart, before you become a preacher of that Word to others" (James 1:22; DV 25). And so my favourite hymn invites us first to pray, "Open my ears, Lord, teach me to listen", and then to plead, "Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see Jesus, to reach out and touch and love him".
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Led by the Spirit reproduced with permission from Charisindia. Copyright © Fr. Rufus Pereira. All rights reserved.