A sermon on the Feast of St Jerome
II Timothy 3:14-17 and Luke 24:44-48
There’s a wonderful exchange between two young boys at the beginning of Walk the Line, a 2005 movie about the life of Johnny Cash. Johnny (nicknamed “J.R.”) and his older brother Jack have just crawled into bed. Jack is reading his Bible and J.R. turns to him and asks, “How come you’re so good? …. You know every story in scripture.” “Look, J.R.,” Jack replies, “If I’m going to be a preacher one day I got to know the Bible front to back. I mean, you can’t help nobody if you can’t tell them the right story.”[i]
“You can’t help nobody if you can’t tell them the right story.”
Jack is already wise enough to know that reading and hearing the Word is essential to Christian faith and worship. The stories contained in Scripture form the foundation of our faith and steady us amidst all the “changes and chances of this life.” They shape and transform us, and equip us to live for God.
“The task of bringing the story of God’s people to successive generations lies at the heart of all faithful ministry…,” writes Episcopal priest and chaplain Sam Portaro, “We believe, at least in part, because others have believed, and have recorded their journeys in faith that others may follow in confidence. Like scouts that move before an advancing army, marking a path, each successive generation leaves traces of God to light the way.”[ii]
Today we celebrate the life and work of Jerome, who is described as “a fourth-century monk who produced the standard Latin version of Scriptures known as the Vulgate and by his own commentaries on the text had a lasting influence on the Church’s interpretation of the Bible.”[iii] Born around the year 340, Jerome was baptized as a young man. Zeal led him to try his vocation as a hermit, but he found he couldn’t endure the physical hardships it required. “He eventually returned to Italy, where he became secretary to the bishop of Rome and began his lifelong work of editing and improving earlier Latin translations of Scripture in order to produce the Vulgate, whose name means ‘the Bible in Common Speech.’[iv]
“In the meantime, Jerome again moved to Palestine and settled at Bethlehem, where he gathered and ruled over a community of monks and another community of devout women. Here he wrote his commentaries on Scripture, which were to remain standard reference works in the Latin West for over a thousand years. He died at Bethlehem in the year 420.”[v]
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness….,” writes St Paul to his young colleague, Timothy; “so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”[vi] The scriptures are written for our edification, Saint Paul tells us. Knowing the stories, absorbing the truth of them into the depths of our being, changes us and equips us to live lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Young Jack knew that. St Jerome knew it. Paul knew it, and passed it on to Timothy. We can know it, too.
Portaro concludes: “Jerome understood the importance of the biblical narrative to every believer, stories too precious and interesting to be hidden away. Through his efforts, and those of his successors in translation, we enter the lives of those who have gone before us and allow them entry into our own experiences. There in the communion of story, we feed, and we are fed.”[vii]
Blessed Jerome, whom we remember today.
[i] Walk the Line, 20th Century Fox, directed by James Mangold, 2005.
[ii] Portaro, Sam; Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts; (Cambridge MA: Cowley Publications. 1998); p. 173.
[iii] Reynolds, Stephen (compiler); For All the Saints: Prayers and Readings for Saints’ Days (Anglican Church of Canada); (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1994); p. 296.
[vi] II Timothy 3:16-17 (NRSV)
[vii] Portaro, p.174.
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