Father Donald Senior, CP

Jan. 23: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The beauty of the word

Neh 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15; 1 Cor 12:12-30; Lk 1:1-4, 4:14-21

When I read the Scripture selections for this Sunday I thought of the cliché, “like a kid in a candy shop.” How can I choose among some of the most powerful and beautiful passages in the Bible? I thought I would follow every kid’s fantasy and sample all of them.

The reading from Nehemiah recalls the difficult years in the sixth century B.C., when the Jews were able to return from their exile in Babylon. They discovered their homeland abandoned and devastated and the arduous task of rebuilding their nation faced them.

But the scene in today’s selection describes a moment of renewed hope. Amid the ruins of the once beautiful temple, Ezra, a priest and scribe, stands on a wooden platform and reads to the assembled people from the rediscovered book of the law, their beloved Torah. The scene is vivid with details. 

When Ezra opens the scroll and the people see it they all stand. When Ezra offers a prayer of gratitude, the people raise their hands and shout, “Amen!” Then, overwhelmed with emotion, they lie prostrate on the ground weeping with joy as Ezra reads the Scriptures to them and explains what they are hearing.

The scene ends with Nehemiah, the leader of the rebuilding effort, telling his broken people, “Do not be sad and do not weep. … Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared. … Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.” 

Hearing the beauty of God’s word and knowing that God was with them helped turn their sorrow to joy. The response from Psalm 19 echoes the same theme: “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life!”

The second reading is one of the most memorable selections from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. Pleading for unity among the somewhat chaotic community there, Paul compares the church to members of a body — not just any body, but the very Body of Christ. This is a comparison that has become one of the most important ways of understanding our mutual dependence and responsibility to each other as Christians. 

We are all one body, Paul insists. Some parts may seem more noble, others more humble and perhaps, in the view of some, less desirable, but for us in this Body of Christ, all members are viewed with dignity and respect. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”

At a time when there are some sharp divisions in the church (How should we celebrate the Eucharist? What about Communion for politicians who seem to take stands contrary to church teaching? What parishes will stay open while others are consolidated or closed?), Paul’s reminder that we are all one in the Body of Christ is an urgent appeal that in the midst of our differences we remember who we are and always seek reconciliation, communicating with each other in a spirit of respect and love.

As always, the Gospel selection sets the tone for all the Lectionary readings on a given Sunday. The reading is from Luke, which is the Gospel for this Lectionary year.

The editors have combined the opening verses of Luke’s Gospel where he dedicates his work to Theophilus, who was perhaps an imaginary reader standing in for all of us, with a later selection from Chapter 4 that presents in dramatic fashion the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth. 

When the attendant gives him the scroll to preach from, Jesus deliberately selects a dramatic passage from the prophet Isaiah, now made the keynote of his mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor … liberty to captives … recovery of sight to the blind … to let the oppressed go free!”

These are powerful and stirring words that Jesus makes his own, and that will be enacted in his remarkable outpouring of compassion, mercy and healing in the Gospel account that will follow.

Indeed, O Lord, “Your words are spirit and life.”



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