The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nehemiah 8: 2-4a, 5-6, 8-10, 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30, Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
The people of Israel had been in exile for 70 years. They were estranged from their faith roots and never taught the ways of the Law. The first reading recounted how the people gathered in the Temple area to listen to Ezra read the Book of the Law. This was a very solemn event. The people assembled at the Water Gate where a special platform had been erected for the occasion. On that day, the people’s hunger for the Word was satisfied. On that day the floodgates of grace and mercy were opened for them. Having lived in a foreign land, they found themselves at home again in the House of their God.
Like the people in the first reading, we find ourselves living in an alien land. The flashpoint is usually Vatican Two. Granted, the Council was a watershed in the life of the Church. However, our cultural exile goes deeper than Church practices and liturgy. Our land of exile is a secular society. There all personal relationships are supplanted by the accumulation of wealth and possessions. The interior life is overshadowed by superficial values. We are not allowed to see ourselves as creatures made in the image and likeness of God. Wherever we turn, we are told that we can create ourselves in any way we want. We can be whatever we want to be. The longer we work the clay, we become more and more frustrated, even depressed because nothing works the way we want it. This causes us to become more and more hateful in ourselves and to hate everyone else.
Like the people of Israel, we have been scattered, isolated, and enslaved. Because we have lost sight of the Holy One who loves us, we have become a fragmented community. Having set ourselves up as the sole arbiters of truth, we no longer seek the truth in loving and open dialogue. Having become enslaved by our wants, we no longer have the patience or will to support one another in times of need and weakness. It is into this valley of darkness and division that the Word Made Flesh descended. Like Ezra, Jesus announces the acceptable time of restoration and life. The shepherd of the flock has come seeking those who have gone astray. When he finds them, he does not scold them. Rather, he lifts them to his shoulder and carries them home.
Even though we have been scattered and separated from one another, God himself seeks us out and speaks a word of loving compassion to our hearts. Because we are lost and don’t know how to help ourselves, the Son of God became our way, our truth, and our life. Like Ezra speaking to the people, Christ reminds us that the love of the Lord must be our strength. Sorrow, guilt, and shame must not be allowed to keep us apart. The closing words of today’s first reading put it quite eloquently: “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!” (Neh. 8:10)
The Creator of the universe became a man to assure us that we do not have to remake ourselves because what he made was very good (CF. Gen 1:31). The Eternal Word became visible and tangible so he could speak tenderly to our overburdened hearts (CF. Is. 40: 1-2). God’s Word is living and active. When Ezra read God’s Word, the people were struck to the heart. Jesus is the Father’s Word to us. He has the power to change our hearts by the outpouring of his Spirit. To re-establish our identity as the children of God, we need to be reminded of the Father’s superabundant love. Today’s readings remind us to think about the place of God’s Word within our own lives. Perhaps we need to rediscover God’s Word in a fresh way. Ezra’s preaching, as well as Israel’s commitment to once again, read, listen, and understand Scripture, allowed for spiritual renewal among them. When we turn to Scripture, we will find that same renewal is waiting for us as well.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the gift of your word, which is our light and life. Help us to ponder your word every day and share it with those we encounter. Give us courage and wisdom to make your word visible and tangible so that we might become conduits of your grace to others. Amen.