Weeping at the word of God
Long before Madison Avenue invented “best seller” book lists, the Bible, as the “word of God” was the perennial best seller. Even today it is more widely circulated and more widely read in public as well as private, than any other book.
Certainly, the word of God is heard more than it is heeded. Still when problems arise that make us lonely with doubt or dismay, we often turn back for light instinctively to the Book of Books – whether to the actual volume or to its verses long since engraved in our memory. If we then open our minds to these familiar works, we often find in them uncanny answers to our own problems.
In the fifth and sixth centuries, BC the Jews who had been led off into captivity in Babylon were finally able to return to their home-city Jerusalem. Today’s first reading deals with this exciting homecoming. Once the former exiles had rebuilt the city walls, their leading priest Ezra gathered them all together and slowly read to them the first five books of the Old Testament. This was the Torah, the Law, given the Israelites under Moses to govern the pattern of life of God’s chosen people. The crowd listened to Ezra carefully and began to weep. Do not weep, Ezra urged them, “Rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.”
Centuries later, St. Francis of Assisi, though lately called by God, was in a quandary as to what God wanted him to do. On the feast of St. Matthias he listened carefully to the gospel read at Mass. The passage contained Christ’s instructions to his disciples when he sent them on their first experimental mission. “Provide yourselves with neither gold nor silver no copper in your belts, no traveling bag, no change of shirt, no sandals, no walking stick. The workman, after all is worth his keep.”
Though these words had not been addressed to Francis personally, he took them as his own. From then on, as his friars set out on their mission of preaching penance, they went forth poor, barefoot and penniless. With God’s help, the Franciscans would try to live the gospel literally. If we, like the Jews back from exile and the pioneers of the Franciscan order, try to make the scriptures a part of ourselves, we will never lack the guidance and joy of their Divine Author along our pilgrim way.
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q407: Jesus takes a turn presiding at the hometown Nazareth synagogue gathering on the Sabbath; what is special about that?
In today’s gospel (Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21) Jesus does indeed preside on the Sabbath, attending the synagogue in Nazareth. It is not his presiding that is noteworthy, but his chosen message, the way he applies it, and its implications. He is about to embark upon his public ministry (in Luke’s gospel). By quoting a prophet from over 700 years earlier, he shows that scripture – the word of God – is timeless and contains permanent value and meaning.
In front of the hometown crowd, he reveals his mission and ministry: preaching, liberation, and healing. He also asserts that he is the fulfillment of the prophecy that he read (Isaiah 61:1-2). This is consistent with our own understanding of the word of scripture as living and active. In the first reading (Nehemiah 8), we are told that the people actually wept upon hearing the words of scripture after the book was discovered anew. Surely they had forgotten their story, the story that made them the chosen people of God.
Stories help us to know who we are. Today, find your old photo albums. Tell the younger ones how your family members’ faith traditions made a difference to them and/or their communities, and to you. Then share with them about why it is important to read the Bible daily as a means to help us understand who we are and how to live.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus’ message clearly indicated that he was the one sent by the Father to inaugurate the kingdom of God (CCC #436). The prophets of the Old Testament had announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the Messiah for his saving mission (#1286). Tell your children! It is part of our faith tradition!
The Word of the Lord
Today we hear the prophet Ezra reading the scroll of God’s word to the people. They have been in long exile because of their sins and they weep over the devastated land to which they have returned. Ezra doesn’t just read the word of the Lord; he interprets it “today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad and do not weep.” They are told to learn from their mistakes and that God is merciful. Jesus too reads from the scriptures and interprets them by identifying himself with the messianic figure in the readings. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me…he has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and glad tidings to the poor. Today this is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Lord, help us to learn from our mistakes and failures and learn that the Lord our God is merciful.