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!
1st Reading — 2 Kings 5: 14-17
Naaman the Syrian is cured of leprosy. Although Syria and Israel were enjoying an unstable peace at the time, Syrians were still excluded from the Israelite community. When Naaman says there is no God in all the earth except in Israel, he is referring to the covenant relationship God had with Israel. The books of Kings further maintain that Yahweh is a jealous God and there are to be no other. Yahweh alone is one, and the place of worship is also one and central (in Jerusalem). BUT, after Naaman’s conversion, he takes some earth from Israel with him to his home in Syria so he could build an altar (Birmingham, W&W, p. 497-498) What does this say to you? How will this healing compare to the healing in the Gospel?
2nd Reading — 2 Timothy 2: 8 –13
This letter in the name of Paul assures us that though he was ‘chained’ and eventually killed, “the Word of God is not chained” and that the God we find in Jesus Christ will be forever faithful – even when we are not. God continues to work and inspire even our stage of reading and interpreting – helping these words live for us – enfleshing His love and presence in us.
“The Bible is not a book to be read,
but a drama in which to participate.” Abraham Heschel
How can the word of God free you? William Barclay says, “Jesus must always be our own personal discovery. Our religion can never be a carried tale. Christianity does not mean reciting a creed; it means knowing a person,” (The Gospel of Luke, p. 121).
Margaret Silf says, “God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands, “(Inner Compass, p. 110). How do we DO that? Perhaps the leper teaches us…
The Gospel – Luke 17: 11-19
The leper was healed while ‘Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem.” This is what happens to us when we walk with Jesus even to and through the difficult times and places of our lives. We are healed each time we come to Eucharist praising God and becoming more perfectly a part of Christ’s body. We are healed each time we put others ahead of ourselves. We are healed each time we choose to forgive those who wrong us even as we try to overcome the evil. We are healed each time we pause a few seconds to ‘give thanks to God’ for the many blessings of each day. Such gratitude makes our faith a vibrant and growing reality: we owe all to God who gives us everything that is good. Faithfulness and thankfulness go (grow?) together (Living Liturgy, Cycle C, p.224-227).
The ten lepers asked Jesus to have pity on them. Pity, or mercy, in the Mediterranean world, means to motivate someone to meet his or her interpersonal obligation. In effect, the ten people in Luke are asking Jesus to give them what he owes them!
Jesus as healer was constantly challenging existing boundaries and pushing them ever outward. Sinners, the blind, the lame and lepers were welcome within the boundaries of the holy community Jesus was forming. Now that the lepers were healed, they are restored to their communities. The nine that left may have gone to the priests to thank God there. The Samaritan leper could not enter Jerusalem, so he couldn’t do that. He recognized Jesus as being one with God, and so he thanked him personally. The other nine lepers may actually bump into Jesus again…do you think they might thank him later? The Samaritan grabbed his opportunity while he had it, (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C, p. 150). What opportunities do you have to thank God?