Sikh – Catholic conversation Written Guru – Living Word
The Word goes through various stages.
I The Living Word
The book of nature, the history of the Jewish people and the oracles proclaimed by the prophets: these are the channels through which the Word is spoken.
Already in the Old Testament, the prophets compared their words to the rain, which comes from heaven and waters the earth and produces fruit. The words of God uttered by the prophets are powerful. They are living words, which give life. (Isaiah 55.10-11)
In fact words are deeds and deeds are words.
II The Living Guru
The second stage is Jesus, who is himself the Word. He is the guru. The prophets spoke their words, but were at one remove from what they said. They were inspired and their words counted, but Jesus himself is the Word. He speaks from himself and concerning himself. He speaks the word and he is the word. He is himself the living Word spoken by God to the Chosen People in the first instance, but also to all mankind. He speaks with authority because he knows what he is saying, and not like their own scribes. (Matthew 7.29) Therefore his teaching strikes those who hear him. Jesus the teacher reveals the meaning of the past and of the future, revealing himself and revealing the God who sent him.
He speaks himself and shows himself to the people, but above all it is when he is condemned as a criminal and nailed to the cross that he gives his greatest teaching. He teaches most powerfully when he is mute. God is most fully revealed in the death of Jesus and in his resurrection.
III Written Guru
The Christian Bible consists of 72 books. It is set out in two collections, one called the Old Testament and the other called the New Testament. The New Testament consists of 27 books, which comprises 4 Gospels and 13 Letters of St Paul and 10 other writings of great value and interest.
Of the many writings composed by Jews and Christians, the 72 books were chosen after a long period of discernment. They were finally canonised in the fourth century of the Christian era, more than 300 years after the time of Jesus himself.
One of the earliest complete texts of the Bible is called the ‘Sinaiticus’ because it was found in the monastery of St Catherine near Mount Sinai in Egypt. It dates from the fourth century.
The principal Christian text consists of four books called ‘Gospels’. The word ‘gospel’ comes from an old English word meaning ‘good spell’, or ‘good news’. These four books, attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, recount the work and words of Jesus Christ.
The Book of the Gospels is treated with great reverence. It is brought in solemn procession at the start of the Mass, which is the principal Christian ceremony and which is celebrated each Sunday. The Book is placed upon the altar table, which is the most sacred place in the church. It is later taken in procession to the reading stand, and incense is cast on the text assigned for that day. The selected passage is sung aloud or read, and kissed at the end as a mark of respect and devotion. It is the ‘written guru’, the ‘living word’.
The Bible is subjected to the most rigorous analysis. The disciplines of archaeology, palaeography, orthography, textual criticism, textual comparison, redaction criticism etc., are used to understand the text. Modern interpretations have sometimes caused great heartache and soul searching, but the Christian Church is much wiser for the careful elucidation of the meaning.
The words read to the assembly create the assembly. The ‘written guru’ brings the assembly together but the assembly originally chose which books were to constitute the ‘written guru’. Thus the Church formed the ‘Written Guru’ and is formed by the ‘Written Guru’. Indeed, the Church is itself the Living Word, Jesus himself.
IV Written Word and the Living Guru
Jesus is risen from the dead. He has scended to heaven but he is also present in a number of ways. He is present firstly in the community; he is also present in the priest who celebrates the Mass; he is supremely present in the food and drink that is consumed at Mass. He is also present in the words of the scriptures, which are him speaking. When the reader, in union with Jesus, reads the words, it is Jesus who speaks the words. The reader of the sacred scripture in the context of the assembly is Jesus speaking.
The Bible is the ‘written guru’. It has the capacity to move the heart because Jesus is not simply dead: he has died and he is risen. He lives in a manner beyond our understanding and he still speaks his written words in the silent recesses of the heart. He is a living guru and his words are living words. The Gospels are Jesus in written form. “The words I have spoken to you, they are spirit and they are life”, says Jesus. (Jn 6.63) “The word is alive and active like a double edged sword that penetrates to the hidden recesses of the soul.” (Heb 4.12)
In times of uncertainty, the teaching authority of the Church determines the meaning of a text. In ordinary circumstances the leader of the assembly has the duty to try and explain the scripture. Only those who truly serve the good of others can properly understand the Good News.
The listener must come with the right attitude of mind, which only the Spirit of God can communicate. The listener can hear the living words only if the living Spirit enables him to do so. The same Spirit, who inspired the writers, also inspires the listener. Only the inspired listener can understand the inspired writing. Only the true disciple can truly understand.
However, it is not so much the individual who can properly understand but the community who are gathered in prayer. For that reason the Bible is above all a book that is heard by the community gathered in the humility of prayer. Jesus’ words come from deep within himself. They are the phonic expression of his being and contain his authority.
The Spirit leads the gathered listeners to the Written Guru which in turn leads them to Jesus, the Living Guru, who in turn brings them to the Holy of Holies, God himself. We are taken up by his words to Jesus himself and by Jesus to God. In listening to the words of the sacred scriptures the listeners are taken into the presence of the ineffable God, beyond words into silence, to the transcendent God from whom all words come.