Over years I have often heard from those older than me that when they were young, many priests as well as some nuns who taught in their schools would tell them to avoid reading the Bible. Why? To prevent confusion amongst the faithful. Thankfully, that is not the case these days. But there is one book I would say to proceed with caution when reading - the Book we are taking our 1st reading from this week and next – the Book of Revelation.
Why use caution? It is not because there is anything dangerous in reading Revelation, but that a really good commentary is needed to accompany you. For of all the books in the Bible, this is the one that is most difficult to understand, as it abounds with unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism unfamiliar to our modern Western eyes. It is also historically influenced as it is written at a time of severe persecution against the Early Church during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (who ruled from 81-96 A.D). Revelation also uses many images from the Book of Ezekiel and to a lesser extent, Isaiah as well as the Apocalyptic section of the Book of Daniel (chapters 7-12).
For example, in chapter 5, verse 6, Christ is described as a lamb with 7 horns and 7 eyes – a somewhat repulsive image. It only begins to make sense when one learns that the horns symbolize power and the eyes symbolize knowledge, and that the number 7 symbolizes totality or perfection. Put it all together and one would say, that is right, Jesus Christ is perfect knowledge and power.
Let me give you another example – this one from today’s reading (4: 1-11). We read of a vision St. John has of heaven with the One seated on a throne. Around Him are 24 thrones with 24 elders. Again, background is needed. The number 12 represented either the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 Apostles. Add the two 12s up and you get 24. Which gets us to understand that these elders are representatives of the People of the Old Testament and the People of the New, gathered around the One. Which reinforces the idea that the One, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, is the Saviour not just of the Jewish people but of all people.
The above example then leads me to reflect on the prayer we say just before communion - Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the One who came to take away the sins of the world – the world that was, the world that is, and the world that is to come. And the thought of that leaves me, and I dare say you, feeling so, so grateful.