By Archbishop Anil J.T. Couto, Archbishop of Delhi & President, North West India Auxiliary, Bible Society of India

 Dear members of the Central Council of the Bible Society of India,

[I thank Rev. Dr.  M. Mani Chacko, General Secretary for this honour accorded to me to deliver this message Keynote Address on the occasion of the 28th Ordinary Meeting of the Central Council of the Bible Society of India and the privilege to be President of the North West India Auxiliary]

Our Christian faith which is rooted in and founded on the Holy Bible and the Christian Tradition tells us that our world and whole of creation is the handiwork of God, created in the power of his eternal Word – God spoke and it came to be. The two creation accounts of the Book of Genesis (Gen. 1 & 2) make all the difference between a faith perspective and a non-faith perspective. To a believer it is God who is the creator of the world and the whole of the universe; and in this act of creation he has revealed himself as the source of all love and goodness and mercy. Human beings created as male and female and in the image of God himself are at the summit of creation. They are to rule over God’s creation, use it and sustain it by respecting God’s laws and commandments; and God saw that everything he had made was ‘good’. Therefore ‘goodness’ is intrinsic to creation.

However, our first parents disobeyed the command of God and fell to the temptation of the serpent i.e. evil one who deceived them into eating the forbidden fruit. With that sin of disobedience, came disorder into our earth. Humanity began to disobey the laws of God. Consequently, the harmony God had always intended with his creation – in the relationships between humans and their relationship with the whole of nature was deeply wounded. Nevertheless, when God asks Adam ‘where are you?’, it was not to condemn him but to redeem him.

The first crime described in Genesis i.e., the killing of Abel by Cain (Gen 4) is a result of the rupture that disobedience brought about in God’s world. Cain allowed himself to be dominated by the evil one, therefore negativities began to rule his emotions and the result was the murder of his brother Abel. Yet, even in this heinous act, God has mercy on Cain the murderer.

The Book of Genesis (Gen 6) describes so poignantly how wickedness and sin had increased on the earth: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen 6: 5-7).

God was determined to “make an end of all flesh” (6:13) because “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and the earth was filled with violence” (6:11). This is what disobedience to God’s will had done to humanity. Is it any different today, is it the same or is it worse?

Yet God finds one man Noah who has “found favour in the eyes of the Lord” (6:8) and he is commissioned to build the ark and be the founder of a new humanity.

Then follows the terrible punishment humanity brought upon itself in the form of the flood which destroys the whole earth. However, in the midst of this complete destruction of the earth, God shows his infinite love, his mercy and his kindness towards humanity. He makes a covenant with Noah that he will never again destroy the earth: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease”(8:22). The rainbow in the clouds is the sign of “the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (9:16).

The history of humanity’s sin continues with the story of the tower of Babel (cf. Gen. 11). It is the story of the early thirst for power, exclusiveness, pride, arrogance and open flouting of God’s laws and commandments written in the heart of every person, passed on to us by our first parents.

Yet, God is merciful and, instead of punishing humanity, he calls Abraham to be the father of a great nation; makes a covenant with him so that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).

Thereon begins the saga of Israel’s election as the covenant community to bring into this world the Messiah, the true King who will establish on this earth the kingdom of justice, righteousness, truth and love and seal the promised new covenant in his blood. The Book of Isaiah carries some of the most captivating prophecies regarding the prophetic and priestly ministry of the Messiah as King, Shepherd, Judge and the Suffering Servant who would be pierced for the transgressions of the world, crushed for the iniquities of humankind, who will bear our griefs and, carry our sorrows upon him. He will be our chastisement but this chastisement will bring us peace because through his wounds we will be healed. For instance Isaiah 2 speaks of the ‘word’ that Isaiah the son of Amoz ‘saw’ concerning Judah and Jerusalem: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills, and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”.

Thus, through the particular religio-political history of Israel, God unfolds his mighty plan to redeem the world from the clutches of the evil one and defeat the power of sin forever.

Yet, in the Old Testament, we only hear the voice of the Word. [And here I would like to refer to the Final Message of the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church held in 2008] on the theme: “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”].

In the New Testament we see the face of the Word – in Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour. Therefore St. John says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). This Word “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth … For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (Jn. 1: 14-18). Every page of the Gospel of John is a testimony to how the Eternal Word is ‘grace and truth’ as against the injunctions of the ‘law’.

The early Church proclaimed this faith so beautifully: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:15-20).

This Word – Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ –came into this world to open for the whole of humanity the doors of God’s Kingdom closed for us due to the sin of our first parents. He came anointed in the Holy Spirit to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (cf. Lk 4: 18-19). He began his ministry by announcing the coming of God’s Kingdom and clearly declared that the door to God’s Kingdom is repentance. He has called the whole of humanity to enter into this new life of the children of God by walking on the path of salvation laid out in his teachings. Anyone who came to him with a contrite heart begging for healing – whether of body or mind or spirit – received all three with spiritual healing or forgiveness of sins being in the first place. He went about proclaiming the infinite love and mercy of God as all the Gospels testify and especially the Gospel of Luke.

Before his passion and death, he gave us the great commandment of love as the centre of our discipleship and instituted the Eucharist as the perennial memorial of our salvation in him. He suffered and died on the cross to atone for the sins of the whole of humanity but before surrendering his soul into the hands of his Father. He completed his earthly mission by passing on to us the final divine legacy of forgiveness, which completely liberates us from the clutches of the evil one.

As St. John tells us, the world in which the Eternal Word took flesh is his own: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1: 10-13).

This very world – rather the sin in the world – tried to annihilate him by nailing him to the cross; but Christ has proved in his death that the cross is the “power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Cor. 1:24); therefore “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). And Christ himself is our “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). For the sake of the world “God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God“ (2 Cor. 5:21).

In his death and resurrection, he defeated sin, the evil one and death itself. This is the Good News of salvation of the whole world in the paschal mystery of Christ which is the foundation of the Church’s life and mission. At his ascension he gave the Great Commission to his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:18).

In the power of the Holy Spirit poured on the Church at Pentecost the disciples are energised, inspired and emboldened to live the new life of the resurrection, be witnesses of the Gospel and proclaim it in word and deed so that the world may believe and be saved. The Good News they are commissioned to preach to all the nations as witnesses of the death and resurrection of Christ is not one of hatred and revenge but of God’s infinite love in Jesus Christ for the whole world: “and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:47).

This can be achieved only by a personal and ecclesial experience of the Risen Lord and by abiding in him as he abides in us -the mystery explained to us in the parable of the ‘Vine and the Branches’ (cf. Jn 15).

If Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour is the face of the Word, the Church is the house of the Word as the Acts of the Apostles testify. How important it is, therefore, that the Christians are united as the one Body of Christ in living the Word and proclaiming it in season and out of season (cf. 2 Tim. 4: 2). Our witness will not be credible if we are divided among ourselves as the Body of Christ. [I am so glad and thankful to God that the BSI is trying to walk the ecumenical way and has invited me to deliver this address!].

In the house of the Word our faith is centred on the Holy Bible not only as the Book but on the very person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, man and history. Precisely because the capacity of the divine Word embraces and extends beyond the Scripture, the constant presence of the Holy Spirit who “will lead you to the complete truth” (Jn. 16:13) is necessary for those who read the Bible.  The Catholic Church has always held that “sacred tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. By adhering to it the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remain always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (cf. Acts 2:42)” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum of Vatican Council II, No. 10).

Finally, the mission of the Church can be termed the roads of the Word. The Word of God walks along the roads of the world to encounter the great pilgrimage that the people of the earth have taken up in search of truth, justice and peace. “In fact, even in the modern world secularised city, in its squares and in its streets – where disbelief and indifference seem to reign, where evil seems to prevail over good, creating the impression of a victory of Babylon over Jerusalem – one can find a hidden yearning, a germinating hope, a quiver of expectation. As can be read in the book of the prophet Amos,  ‘The days are coming, declares the Lord God, when I shall send a famine on the country; not hunger for food, not thirst for water, but famine for hearing the Word of the Lord (Amos 8:11). The evangelising mission of the Church wants to answer this hunger” (Message, No. 10).

This is precisely the mission of the Bible Society of India for all these years and it has to intensify day by day. We give thanks to God for all that has been achieved so far and pray that the Word of God may reach every home, Christian and otherwise, and every individual, Christian and otherwise through the written word and all means of communication available to us today. Only the Word of God can bring healing, love, joy, peace and hope in our broken world today.

However, in the work of evangelization we can never ignore the inter-religious dimension. I would like to quote verbatim from the message: “The Christian also finds common harmony with the great religious traditions of the Orient that teach us, in their Scriptures, respect for life, contemplation, silence, simplicity, renunciation, as occurs in Buddhism. Or, like in Hinduism, they exalt the sense of the sacred, sacrifice, pilgrimage, fasting, and sacred symbols. Or, as in Confucianism, they teach wisdom and family and social values. Even to the traditional religions with their spiritual values expressed in the rites and oral cultures we would like to pay our cordial attention and engage in a respectful dialogue with them. Also to those who do not believe in God but who endeavour to ‘do what is right, to love goodness and to walk humbly’ (Mic. 6:8), we must work with them for a more just and peaceful world, and offer in dialogue our genuine witness to the Word of God that can reveal to them new and higher horizons of truth and love” (Message, No. 14).

I wish to conclude with my humble prayer for God’s abundant blessings on this chosen instrument in God’s plan, i.e., the Bible Society of India, to spread his Word everywhere and especially in our motherland. May the Bible Society of India work with ever greater zeal and commitment for this great mission Christ Our Lord has entrusted to his Church.