Back in 2011, I had the chance to go to Israel with my friend Thomas, who is a Catholic priest. Neither of us had ever been, so we took The Oxford Guide to the Holy Land, written by Jerome Murphy O’Connor. I was excited about the book because I O’Connor was a brilliant biblical scholar – I had cited him in quite a few papers in college and grad school. I knew he knew his stuff, and I was looking forward to having his words guide us as we explored the various sacred sites from Biblical history.
We stayed in Jerusalem at the Eccol Biblique, a French archaeological school – it’s actually the place they brought the Dead Sea Scrolls when they found them, to see if they were anything important. It’s a Dominican school, so every morning, we had breakfast with all the Dominican priests who lived in the school. Most of them didn’t speak great English, so we ended up hanging out with this one priest named Jerry – he was a crusty old Irish guy, hilarious and grumpy. He teased us for our American mannerisms, made us laugh. It was always a great way to start the day.
About a week into our trip, we were finishing up breakfast when Thomas pulled out our guidebook and Jerry said, “Oh, I see you’re using my book!”
“Jerry the crust old Irish priest” is JEROME MURPHY O’CONNOR?!?! I instantly went into fanboy mode, hyperventilating and stammering. Jerry and Thomas both laughed at me as I composed myself, and then Jerry asked what we had on our itinerary that day.
He spent the next ten minutes or so giving us advice on our plans, sharing his stories of archaeological digs at the places we were visiting and speculating on the authenticity of the various sites. It was amazing. When anyone travels to Israel, I recommend they take Jerry’s book. But actually sitting with Jerry, getting to ask questions and hear stories, brought that guidebook to life in a way I’ll always treasure.
We’re going to talk about the Bible today, and I share that story of meeting Jerry with you because too often, we treat the Bible like that guidebook – it’s there to help us navigate life, watch out for pitfalls, maybe find some interesting stuff along the way that we would otherwise have missed.
Those things are all true, but if that’s all the Bible is, then we’re just like me, sitting at that breakfast table with Jerry, not realizing Jerry is Jerome Murphy O’Connor. The Bible is an invitation for us to enter into the story of God’s people, to become one of God’s adopted children, to have a relationship with the one who authored our lives.