3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The First Reading from the Book of Nehemiah was written in a very difficult time for Judaism. The Babylonian exile was over, but the chaos remained. The people had tried to maintain their identity and relationship with God throughout the Babylonian Captivity. They had recently returned to their homeland. Jerusalem, after decades of exile in Babylon. In fact, many of them would have been born in exile and returned to a homeland they had only heard about from their elders, parents, and grandparents. They had heard of a land flowing with milk and honey, of Solomon’s glorious temple, and of the magnificence of the king’s palace. What could have prepared them for a dry, parched land, the charred ruins of a temple, or the strewn rubble of the king’s palace?
Nehemiah was the man of action who rebuilt the shattered walls of Jerusalem and introduced very important administrative and legal reforms. Ezra was a priest and scribe who worked to re-establish “The Law” (The Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament) as the rule of life for the returning community. Nehemiah, the layman, and Ezra, the priest, worked together to re-build the “secular” and “religious” aspects of Jewish life. . The crowd listened to Ezra carefully and began to weep. He tells them, “Do not weep, rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.” Ezra was teaching the people the beauty of the God’s Word, but the people could not see this at first. They felt it a burden because many realized they were not living it.
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 19) reminds us that, “Your Words, Lord, are Spirit and Life.” However, it takes a relationship between us and God, who is our Loving Father, to want to follow Him. When we begin to understand His unconditional love for us and that He gives us laws not to remove or hinder our freedom, we see that His ways truly free us to choose the good, because only sin truly enslaves us. God’s laws are not meant to bind us; they are meant to free us from all that can harm us spiritually and physically; they are meant to free us from all that can keep us from truly experiencing the love, grace, mercy, compassion, and peace that we find in our relationship with God and our relationship with each other as the People of God.
In the Gospel we have the account of Jesus preaching in the synagogue of his home town. Luke address his writing to: “most excellent Theophilus.” Theophilus is Greek for “Friend of God.” Luke was probably not writing to one person here, but to all who will read or hear what he has written. He is writing to you and to me. Have you ever thought of yourself as a “Friend of God?”
Both the first Reading from Nehemiah and the Gospel focus on the power and the importance of the Word of God. I think sometimes we forget how precious the Word of God is.
Richard Wurmbrand had been a prisoner of the Romanian government for fourteen years. He had spent nearly three of those years in solitary confinement. He was finally released in 1964. In Mr. Wurmbrand’s book entitled In God’s Underground he describes how one day, Avram, someone new was brought into the prison. Avram’s upper body was in a plaster cast. After the guards left him, Avram took a small tattered book out from behind the plaster cast. Books were banned in the prison, so none of the other prisoners had seen a book in years. The book was the Gospel of John. Wurmbrand wrote that no life-saving drug could have been more precious to him than when he had that book in his hand. That book went from prisoner to prisoner, many learned it by heart and each day they would discuss it among themselves. This story should help us reflect on the question, “How important is the Word of God to us?”
The Church teaches that Bible is so important that The Dogmatic Constitution on Devine Revelation (Dei Verbum), a document from Vatican II, tells us, “In this way, therefore, through the reading and study of the sacred books "the Word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified" (2 Thess. 3:1) and the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, may more and more fill the hearts of men. Just as the life of the Church is strengthened through more frequent celebration of the Eucharistic mystery, similarly we may hope for a new stimulus for the life of the Spirit from a growing reverence for the Word of God, which "lasts forever" (Is. 40:8; see 1 Peter 1:23-25). This document is telling us that Sacred Scripture is as important as the Eucharist – which is “The Source and Summit of our Christian life.” (CCC 1324)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way, “For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ’s Body.” In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human work, “but as what it really is, the Word of God.” “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them.”
(CCC 103 - 104)
Origen of Alexandria from the third century, regarded as one of the greatest Christian theologians, said it this way, “You receive the body of the Lord with special care and reverence lest the smallest crumb of the consecrated gift fall to the floor. You should receive the Word of God with equal care and reverence lest the smallest word of it fall to the floor and be lost.”
St. Gregory wrote, “The Bible is a love letter sent by God to his people in which we can perceive the heart of God.” St. Jerome said, “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Psalm 119 tells us, “Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path.”
So, most excellent Theophilus - Friend of God, maybe each of us should ask ourselves how important is Scripture in my life? After we get home, do we ever think about the scripture passages we heard at Mass or what we heard in the homily? Can we even remember what Scriptures we heard at Mass? Are we listening to what God is telling us through His Word, the Scriptures?
If after hearing scripture and a homily at Mass we never ask ourselves, “What is God trying to tell me?” it should be no surprise if we don’t hear Him speaking to us.