Sound bites or Cliff Notes?

As the year 2021 comes to a close, I saw a post for those participating in the Bible in a Year podcast by Fr. Mike Schmitz, asking what key takeaways were learned. I had to reflect quite a bit on that question, as there was a lot of information over a long time!

I have been reading the daily Mass Scriptures for over a decade. Yet when one reads the Bible in chronological order, there’s much more to the story that is not presented within the Mass readings. It’s almost as if they are the sound bites of salvation history. You get the overall summary with the really important events highlighted, but not enough information to connect the dots to make a coherent picture. While I write this blog, I still have a few days left in the podcast series before I can confidently say I’ve read the whole Bible, but even still, it seems that the Bible is more like the Cliff Notes of salvation history. It tells a lot of the story and some of the backstory, but it still is only a portion of the whole. 

The Bible covers thousands of years and countless people but may only be slightly larger than an in-depth biography of a single person. The Bible also includes various types of writing, some are historical accounts, some are poetry, while others are instructions for worship and living. All the books, however, are in support of the history of salvation and how it unfolds, not just in history but in our own time as well. Even the pieces of Scripture I was familiar with from the Mass readings took on a different perspective when read in context with the stories that surrounded them, especially in the Gospels. I can understand if people who only occasionally come to Mass don’t feel a strong connection with God. They don’t have enough information to form a lasting connection — a relationship — with Him. But even weekly and daily Mass attendees have an incomplete picture of God and their role in salvation history. I don’t think it’s enough to read all of the Scriptures once to perfect a relationship with God. I think it’s something that has to be continually pursued, perhaps in varying ways, in order to have a fuller and richer relationship with God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

If the Bible is the Cliff Notes of the salvation history story, is there a way to read the full story? At this point, I don’t think we, as humans, can. It would take several of our lifetimes to read an in-depth biography on each person who played a part in it, if those biographies are even available. I think a full understanding of salvation history can begin only once we encounter God after our death. But in order to participate in that history, we need to study the Cliff Notes version, aka the Bible. In some ways reading the Bible is like washing with clean water; even if we don’t understand it all, by being immersed in the story, we can find the parallels with our lives and the answers and guidance to some of the questions we have for our lives. Each time we have an encounter with the Bible, we seek a deeper relationship with God. Each time we allow ourselves and our actions to be shaped by the Bible, we open ourselves up to being instruments of God.  

If you haven’t read all of the Bible or are looking for a scripture study, I do recommend the Bible in a Year podcast, even if it takes you longer than a year to complete. With the New Year right around the corner, perhaps one resolution is to become more familiar with the Bible. If the whole BIble is too intimidating, try picking a few books that you’re less familiar with and read those. God has given us this wonderful tool to get to know Him better. Let’s use it for all its worth!

Resulting success

No one wants to fail. No one sets out with the intention of failing. We may lack confidence in our ability to succeed, but we all want to succeed in every aspect of life. Yet God does not ask us to be successful, rather He wants us to be faithful. 

As the Bible in a Year podcast transitioned into the successors of Kings David and Solomon, Father Mike Schmitz pointed out that all the wealth gained under David and Solomon was lost within the first generation that followed. But it wasn’t just gold that was lost, but also the unity. David gathered all of Israel under his kingship, yet Solomon’s sons divided it up so that 10 tribes became the kingdom of Israel, and 2 tribes were known as the kingdom of Judah. It is through the kingship line of Judah that Jesus comes. If you recall, Judah means “to praise.” It was the name of one of Jacob’s sons.  

The kingdom of Judah contained the city of Jerusalem where the temple was located.  Under David and Solomon, it  was recognized as the only location where the sacrifice to God could be offered. These sacrifices, described in the book of Leviticus, formed a calendar of worship to God. Without access to the temple, the 10 tribes that broke away lost the ability to adhere to the practices of the faith. This faithlessness resulted in a lack of success for the kingdom of Israel; they were the first to succumb to foreign invaders and soon lost their territory. Even with the ability to worship God as written by Moses, the kingdom of Judah struggled to remain faithful, but they were successful in keeping a remnant of the kingdom even through to the time of Jesus.

King David was not perfect. He failed to be faithful on a number of occasions as documented in the Scriptures. Yet when faced with his sins, he acknowledged his failings and sought reconciliation with God. God blessed David’s efforts to remain faithful to the Lord; it is through His blessings that David found success in spite of his weaknesses.  His son Solomon started out strongly in his kingship, seeking the guidance of God and asking for wisdom to govern the people rightly. God blessed Solomon’s initial humility and eventually his wealth surpassed that of his father David.  Solomon, however, became a victim of the pride that came with that success.  He had many wives and built temples to their gods, diverging from the right praise that David upheld.

There will always be trials and hardships, yet if we remain faithful to God, if we place ourselves into His hands, He will see us through. When we emerge from these trying times, we need to thank God for blessing us with success, rather than taking credit for it. God blesses us with talents and opportunities, so any success of ours is really from Him. When we reap the benefits He sows for us, we should seek to share them with others. When we fall, we can remember the example of David and ask God’s forgiveness. 

We can be only as successful as our faithfulness to God and His will for us. Our faithfulness is not just restricted to our worship of God, but permeates throughout our lives: into our families, relationships, professions, and communities. If we first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness (i.e. being faithful to His will), He will shower us with blessings and success beyond measure. We need to be mindful not to get caught up in the blessings and successes, but keep aligned on God’s will for us.