“Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” (Nehemiah 8:2-3)
Two Sundays ago, we celebrated the first mystery of light (the Baptism of Jesus), last Sunday we celebrated the second mystery (the self-revelation at the Wedding Feast at Cana). Today, we are celebrating the third mystery of light – Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the call to conversion. In each of these mysteries, we are being enlightened; we are given more light into Jesus’ true identity as God in the midst of men.
Jesus has officially begun His public ministry; thousands were already benefitting from Him. Jesus’ fame was spreading; he was “glorified” by all. He went to the synagogue on a Sabbath day and stumbled upon the passage from the Prophet Isaiah which was about him. How do we get the most out of God’s word? Does the word of God address the problems affecting society such as poverty, captivity, oppression, blindness, and evil? These are some of the lessons we shall learn today.
1. The need for Proper Attention to God’s Word.
According to St. Augustine: “We should hear the Gospel as if Our Lord were present and speaking to us.” This was the attitude of the Israelites as listened to the reading of the word of God by the priest Ezra. The people gave their full attention to God’s Word. From “early morning till midday” (a span of about 6 hours), no one seemed to have some important place to go. Even in our Gospel passage, Luke tells us that “the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus.” This is the kind of attention that God’s word deserves if we must benefit from its rich treasure.
Paying attention to God’s word entails treating the word of God with utmost reverence. This is the symbolic meaning of the elevated platform on which Ezra stood to read. The elevation of Ezra teaches us that God’s word is higher than any of us, higher than any other word. Respect the Bible, it is the word of God.
2. Moved to Tears; Our Response to God’s Word.
The Israelites had just returned from exile, the city and the Temple were undergoing reconstruction. As Ezra read, the people came to the realization that it was as a result of their sins that the exile happened and that God had earlier warned them but they refused to listen. This brought them to tears. The word of God when properly read should move us to tears not because it contains sorrowful news (God’s word is Good News) but because it tells us where we ought to be and how far we have deviated from the goodness, joy, and peace that God had planned for us.
The word of God has a way of disturbing us and unsettling our minds. The word of God is more than a mere motivational or feel-good package. No wonder the letter to the Hebrews tells us that: “it is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing the division of soul and spirit… discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). This is why there are times we hear God’s word and it hits us hard; we begin to feel as if the priest knew exactly what we were passing through at that point in time.
3. The word of God and the Socio-Economic/Political Situation of Man.
Reading through our second reading today, we see that St. Paul addresses a social problem that was affecting the society at that time; a problem that continues to tear humans apart – the problem of social inequality and failure to respect the rights of others – the problem of seeing certain persons as “useless” or “disposable” simply because of their material wealth, spiritual giftedness or physical descent. St. Paul teaches us that just as the hand cannot claim superiority to the eye, we cannot assume we are better or more important than anyone else.
St. Paul moves further to say: “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.” We can apply this to our country Nigeria. As long as there is one person suffering injustice, pain, oppression or deprived of his or her human rights, we are all suffering. Indifference to the plights of others is a terrible disease. He who fails to put out the fire in his neighbour’s house will soon watch that same fire consume his own house.
God’s word encourage virtues such as sacrifice, courage, leadership, truthfulness, justice, etc. which are totally lacking in our society today. In whatever field or capacity we find ourselves, we must allow God’s word to influence our decisions and everyday choices.
4. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
After reading from the book of Isaiah, Jesus gave a one-sentence homily: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This means that the presence of Jesus in our midst is the solution to our troubles. As long we allow Jesus to reign in our hearts and minds, poverty, captivity, blindness, oppression will have no place in our lives. How do we allow Jesus to reign in our lives? By loving our fellow brothers and sisters as Jesus loved us.
Come to think of it, if all of mankind were to love one another as Jesus loved us, will anyone still be poor? If we all were to live by the Golden rule of doing to others only what we want to be done to us, will anyone be oppressed, held captive, or blind?
Conclusion: The challenge is up to you. Don’t just complain about the situation of things; you too can do something. Practice what you read from the Bible every day, allow Jesus to reign in your heart, only do what Jesus would have done if He were in your shoes right now.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, deepen my love for your word and grant that I may always practice what I read daily. Use me as your instrument to bring an end to poverty, pain, injustice, captivity, and oppression in our society. Amen
Bible Study: Nehemiah 8:2-6,8-10, Ps. 19:8-10,15, 1 Cor. 12:12-30, Luke 1:1-4,4:14-21).