Welcome back to Banquet of the Word!
Today’s psalm response (that we sing), is not from the book of Psalms, nor from any of the books of Wisdom. It’s from John 6:63.
First Reading: NEHEMIAH 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
(Reading 1 is Old Testament; it always links in some way to the Gospel)
Nehemiah’s best friend was Ezra, who is also a prophet and has his own book in scripture. Together, these books center on the return of God’s people and their joy. So who were they, and where in the bible are we? Click on the bible timeline above and look at the title labeled “Return.” Remember how the Israelites turned from God and were then exiled out of their land? In previous weeks, we heard Isaiah tell the people that in time, their light would come, in time, they would be called by a new name (“Epoused,” “My Delight”). Well guess what? Now we’re at that time! The people have returned to their homeland – to which they are “espoused,” and this is cause for great rejoicing – “Delight!” Each figure has a job: Ezra, Nehemiah, and the People.
- Ezra is the priest. His job is to rebuild the people’s spiritual health. He teaches them how to worship rightly.
- Nehemiah is like the Site Manager on a major construction site. His job is to rebuild the actual city – to physically rebuild the temple walls.
- The People are having their biggest “a-ha” moment in all of Israel’s history. They’ve “seen the light” – they’ve come to terms with their past sinfulness. They vow to turn back toward God’s grace. They realize they are a people of worship. It can be considered a precursor to the New Testament story of the Prodigal Son. The people are returning to their loving God and Father, crying tears of repentance. Their hearts are less hearts of stone, and more hearts of flesh.
In the reading, Ezra reads the scroll (the law) to the people. Just as the deacon or priest stand up higher in front of the assembly to read God’s word, Ezra “stood on a wooden platform that had been made … he opened the scroll so that all might see it, and as he opened it, all the people rose.” Then he read plainly from the book of the law of God, “interpreting it so that all could understand what was read” (the homily). “There was great joy that day in the assembly and the people were encouraged to ‘go, eat rich foods and sweet drinks!’” This is the basis of feast days – when we celebrate with a great feast!
Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly,
which consisted of men, women,
and those children old enough to understand.
Standing at one end of the open place that was before the Water Gate,
he read out of the book from daybreak till midday,
in the presence of the men, the women,
and those children old enough to understand;
and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.
Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform
that had been made for the occasion.
He opened the scroll
so that all the people might see it
— for he was standing higher up than any of the people —;
and, as he opened it, all the people rose.
Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God,
and all the people, their hands raised high, answered,
Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the LORD,
their faces to the ground.
Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God,
interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.
Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe
and the Levites who were instructing the people
said to all the people:
“Today is holy to the LORD your God.
Do not be sad, and do not weep”—
for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law.
He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks,
and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared;
for today is holy to our LORD.
Do not be saddened this day,
for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”
Responsorial Psalm (19):
Response – “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)
The verses of psalm 19 reflect beautifully what the people might have said or thought as they heard Ezra read God’s law for the first time in generations. At mass, we “answer” the psalm with words from John chapter 6, which echo the feeling of the people. If we were in the audience listening to Ezra, hearing God’s word after a time of silence and despair, I think we would consider the words in the scroll to be spirit and life indeed!
Let us all grab hold of the last line in the psalmists’ prayer, underlined below. Let it guide us this week. Now, picture the people in Ezra’s audience saying:
“The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart. The command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just. Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart find favor before you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.“
2nd Reading: 1 COR 12:18-30
(The 2nd reading is usually from Paul’s letters. Speaks to how the early church was built after Christ’s death and resurrection).
This reading is similar to last week’s 2nd reading, so it will sound familiar (“we have many gifts but the same Spirit”). Paul stayed in Corinth longer than any other city. Corinth was the cosmopolitan center – the “Big Apple” of the Christian world – politically, economically and socially. The letter is thought to be written 5 years after he founded the Church in Corinth. The people struggled to stay united as they faced vices and heresies that threatened to fracture the foundation Paul built. He was deeply troubled by the condition of the Church and wrote this letter to provide instruction and spiritual direction until he could arrive in person.
We’re familiar with this reading (one body made of many parts). It is a metaphor for the Church yes, but how can we think more deeply about this reality?
Paul posits that small body parts are not insignificant – think eyes (sight) or ear (hear), heart valve (life) or ovary, (potential life). Each part, no matter its size, plays a vital role. The same is true for us as people, and also our actions. None of us are too small to make an impact. No act is too small to help the Church grow or thrive. We all matter. God’s love for each of His children knows no bounds. And what amazes and bewilders me when I stop on this thought, is how God put us each here for a reason. A very specific one. Inside each of us lies a “brick” that will build the kingdom of Heaven in a way only God can design. Much like Nehemiah was the Site Manager to rebuild the city, Christ is our builder, our creator:
Brothers and sisters:
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
Now the body is not a single part, but many.
If a foot should say,
“Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body, ”
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
Or if an ear should say,
“Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body… “
St. Therese of Lisieux lived this beautifully, believing, “If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” To God, “littleness” does not mean “insignificance.” That idea is a human construct. The Lord needs our littleness to complete His glorious kingdom! May we never forget that every small act, every kind utterance, every tiny sacrifice known only to God, MATTERS.
GOSPEL: Luke 1: 1-4, 4:14-21
(The Gospel is the highest point of the Liturgy of the Word. That’s why we stand.
We are about to hear from and be instructed by Christ Himself.)
As you may know, Luke was not an apostle – not an eye-witness to Jesus’ miracles or his passion and death. He was, however, the right-hand man of the apostle Paul, his scribe. In his gospel, we see Jesus through Paul’s eyes. Consequently, Luke has something to prove to his audience- that he knew his stuff. That is the reason for verses 1-4 where he sets the stage and strengthens his credibility.
Here we are with scrolls again! I love it when the connection is so clear. Remember when Nehemiah wrote about Ezra proclaiming the law? How he had found the scroll which had been lost for generations? Here Jesus takes out the scroll and draws the connection to Isaiah 58:6. Isaiah prophesied that God would eventually free them from the bondage of Babylonian slavery. In the gospel, Jesus promises, through his eventual death on the cross, though he does not refer to it directly here, to free the people from their current oppressors (the Romans). If you were in the audience and heard Jesus say these words, don’t you think you’d be able to hear a pin drop?
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Let us go forward this week thinking on the themes of “Scroll” and “We are all One Body.” Do we need to return to the scroll – to God’s law – more perfectly? Is there something or someone we’re wrestling with that God could help you understand? He’s ready to walk with us. What part of the Body are you? Forget about size…what is God calling you to be for His kingdom? You are a critical piece to His masterpiece. Consider carrying out one act that will build up the Body of Christ this week.
Until next time!