January 27, 2013
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
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 Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15
R. (cf John 6:63c) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Reading 2: 1 Cor 12:12-14, 27
Gospel Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events
that have been fulfilled among us,
just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning
and ministers of the word have handed them down to us,
I too have decided,
after investigating everything accurately anew,
to write it down in an orderly sequence for you,
most excellent Theophilus,
so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings
you have received.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,
and news of him spread throughout the whole region.
He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.
He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
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.”
One of the most memorable figures from my childhood parish, St. Joseph Parish in Howell MI, was “Mr. Rhode.” Mr. Rhode would always sit right in the front row, up on the left side of the church, right in front of the pulpit. What made Mr. Rhode so memorable? Immediately, when the Mass began, as the readings were being proclaimed, Mr. Rhode would be reading along as the reader read the word of God. Even as the homily was being given, Mr. Rhode would continue reading along. Unfortunately, what Mr. Rhode was reading was the Detroit Free Press Newspaper. After sitting down, he would arrange the paper next to him, and then, he would turn each page with great ceremony, and with not a little rustling of the newsprint. I must admit that we kids did find this lack of decorum at bit humorous. My mother did not. She would say, of course, that we should not be reading the newspaper, but rather ought to be paying attention to the Mass.
But, as I learned later, when getting a chance to study liturgy in seminary, reading has always been part of Christian worship, though probably not the reading of the Detroit Tigers box score! Laid out before us, in today’s readings, are recounts of how deep is our religious tradition regarding the reading of holy scripture as part of the of the worship of God. In the Old Testament reading, we hear from the prophet Nehemiah how, once the people had been returned from their painful exile, and finally returned to their sacred temple, the first thing they did was to read from the torah, their sacred books of the Law, a reading which reminded them, despite their long suffering, of who they were—God’s chosen, precious people. Then, in the Gospel, Jesus picks up the tradition, but with a twist. We are told that he picks up the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, which teaches that one will come, upon whom will rest the Spirit of the Lord, who will free the oppressed, give sight to the blind, and release the captive from captivity, and then, looking intently at the people, tells them that HE is the one who will make these words active and present. He is God’s very presence.
However, I want to point out a significant detail from that first liturgical reading, from the prophet Nehemiah. We hear, that once the people of Israel finally return to their temple, and finally again hear the law of the God proclaimed, “from daybreak until midday,” maybe 5 hours of reading, “the people were weeping as they heard the word of God.” Why were they crying? Because the reading, or the sermons of Ezra and Nehemiah were going on too long? No, they cry for joy! Why? Because as the readings go on, behold, it is their hearts that are being opened, read, and explained. The words show them what their suffering had caused them to forget—that they were precious and chosen in God’s eyes, and he would restore them and protect them.
Now, maybe 25 centuries later, we come here, and, like our ancestors in the faith, like those who gathered around Nehemiah and Ezra, like those who gathered around Jesus in the synagogue, we too listen to the word of God, and like those before us, we are definitely here for reading—but not like it might first appear. For us too, as the word is read, so our hearts are read. Weekly, the word of God, as St. Paul suggested, is like a two-edged sword, opening up our hearts, laying them bare. The words call us to who we are to be, console us in our sorrow, encourage us in the hard work of being a child of God. Indeed, as the word of God is read, so too are our hearts read. What we need is the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us to discover how the word of God is laying bare our hearts, and showing us who we truly ought to be, and who we truly are: beloved children of God.
So, we come again, and the Lord is here. As God’s word, as the word of the Lord is read, may we too our hearts be read—we, God’s beloved children.