1st Reading: Nehemiah 8: 2-6, 8-10
On God’s Word from Celebration, Jan 2004:
The Word reveals not only God’s goodness and love but also the failures and sinfulness of the one who listens. The Word of God can teach us who we are–if we dare to look into it as if looking into a mirror, humbly and without deceit. Is this what Israel experienced as Ezra read the Word? Perhaps. Nevertheless, the scribe did not permit the people to wallow in regret. Rather, he encouraged them to dwell not on their sinful selves but on the redeeming and liberating Word of God . . . to replace their regret with rejoicing, celebrating with great hope.
The Book of Nehemiah is about the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exile. Nehemiah was a competent administrator who was sent by the Persian Emperor as governor of Judah to help rebuild the country. Ezra was a priest and scribe, who worked to rehabilitate the returned Jewish exiles in a religious sense. Ezra is called the ‘Father of Judaism’ because of his work of gathering together the Jewish Scriptures and applying God’s Word and Law to every aspect of daily living. The ‘splendor of Solomon and his Temple’ were no more. But when they had managed to finish the walls of the city which gave them a renewed sense of security and hope, a celebration was proclaimed. The Jews were no longer a political power, but they could become a people of God’s Word. “There are no stands made of bronze, no carved cherubim, no golden altar or lamp stands (1Kings 7). In stead, there was a wooden platform made hastily for the occasion (v. 4). Then, a rather poor, but living people stood together with hands raised, listening to God’s Word, and shouting, Amen, Amen! Raising of their hands was a sign of need and dependency along with the bowing as humble adoration.
This reading took place near Jerusalem’s entrance called the Water Gate since it was near the Spring of Gihon. Isaiah had promised that the people “will draw water at the fountain of salvation” (Is. 12:3) Sirach (24:28-31) saw the Word of God as an immense sea from which a “rivulet” will flow that will “water my plants”, and drench my flower garden pouring out instruction like prophecy and bestowing “it on generations to come.”
(Share the Word, January 25, 1998, and John Pilch, The Cultural World of the Prophets, 30-31) How does all of this touch you?
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30
Many Greek writers were fascinated by the body during Paul’s time, especially Plato. Plato had pointed out that we do not say, My finger has a pain,” we say, “I have a pain.” There is an I , a personality, which gives unity to the many and varying parts of the body. What the I is to the body, Christ is to the Church. It is in him that all the diverse parts find their unity, “ (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series on Corinthians, p. 113).
Central Message: We all have purpose, and we need each other to live this out.
“Good work is a way of living…it is unifying and healing…it defines us as we are; not too good to work with our bodies, but too good to work poorly or joylessly or selfishly or alone.” Wendell Barry
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Jalal Al-din Rumi
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Frederick Buechner
The Gospel: Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
If you were sitting in that synagogue, seeing Jesus take the scroll and read this familiar passage from Isaiah…and then hear Jesus say that he fulfills this reading as messiah…what would you be thinking? How would you react?
From Origen of Alexandra, an early Church writer:
If scripture is true, it was not only to the Jewish community of his own time that Jesus spoke. He still speaks to us assembled here today – and not only to us, but to other communities also. We too must fix our eyes on Jesus. Whenever we direct our inward gaze toward wisdom and truth and the Good News of God’s Son, then our eyes are fixed on Jesus. (“Thoughts from the Early Church” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Jesus feels called to help renew and ‘rebuild’ God’s People; he feels God has anointed him to show forth God’s presence and power in the everyday lives of those present. He wants to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. He knows that God’s Word can be life-changing and life-giving. He uses a passage from his Scriptures, the Book of Isaiah. But he is also by his very preaching and proclamation stepping beyond what his fellow villagers in Nazareth would have expected. He is a carpenter and the son of a carpenter. They think they know him. We will read the ‘rest of the story’ next week at Luke 4:22-30.
(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Remember last week Jesus was still growing into his ministry. He is doing a good job!