Sunday, 1/27/2019, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
They Came Together as One
First Reading Commentary: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Chapter eight of Nehemiah begins by telling us that in the seventh month, “the whole people gathered as one man.” In other words, the people were unified and acting together as one. This is an important message to remember throughout today’s liturgy.
All of the people; the men, women and those children who were old enough to understand gathered together to hear Ezra the scribe read from the scroll which contained the book of the law. Sounds like Mass or any other church service today. At least, it should.
The two reasons for going to Mass are to be fed by the Word and by the Eucharist. Coming together as one to listen to the Word of God is not something that the Church came up with on its own. It is the way that God intended it to be all along and we see that taking place in today’s reading from Nehemiah.
Many individuals coming together to listen to God’s Word, to meditate on the Word, to pray and to worship God as one body, one Church—the Mystical Body which Paul describes in today’s second reading.
This describes what took place when Ezra read from the scroll. Ezra began by blessing the LORD, the people raised their hands and answered, “Amen, amen.” In other words, the people said, “I agree, so be it.” Then they prostrated themselves with their faces to the ground which means that they worshipped God, giving Him all praise and glory and they prayed.
But two things happened after the scroll was read which I find interesting. First, the people wept. Why? Nehemiah does not say. Could it be because they were reminded of their past sins and their tears were tears of remorse? Could it be because their faith was so deep and intense that they were brought to tears? Could it be because they were overcome by the Spirit with the charismatic gift of tears? Could it be a combination of things or all of the above?
Think about it. Anytime we hear God’s Word, we should be thoughtful of our sins with remorse for having committed them, our faith should be strengthened and we make ourselves available to receiving God’s Spirit.
The second thing that happened was Ezra telling the people not to weep but to go home and eat rich foods, drink sweet drinks and to share with those who were without. Then Ezra said, “Rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”
Let’s take a look at what Ezra said. I think of the Eucharist when considering Ezra telling the people to eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks. There is no richer food or sweeter drink than the Body and Blood of Christ.
The Second Greatest Commandment comes to mind with Ezra telling the people to share with those who were without. The act of sharing in such a way is an act of loving our neighbor and it is Christ who taught us that together with loving God with all that we have; loving our neighbor is the Greatest Commandment. I put it that way because you cannot obey one without the other. You either obey both together or disobey both together.
Finally, Ezra said, “Rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!” What can we do without God’s help—absolutely nothing. We do not even exist without God creating us and giving us life.
If we limit our thinking to the physical, we can argue that food, exercise and medication when needed all give us strength. But none of those things can get us to heaven. Only God can and only God does give us the strength to get to heaven. Therefore, we must rejoice in the LORD to have true strength.
But God does not want us to be selfish. God does not want us to rejoice alone. God wants all of His people to come together as one. In order for that to happen, we must all love each other as God intended—we must all obey the Greatest Commandments.
The Body Needs All of Its Parts
Second Reading Commentary: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30
In today’s first reading from Nehemiah, we see the people coming together as one to hear God’s Word, worship God and pray. Today, we know this as the Mystical Body—the one Body which is the Church. Like the human body, the Body of the Church needs all of its parts and no one part is less valuable or more valuable than the other. It’s all about unity and that is part of Paul’s message.
Paul talks about various parts of the human body in making his point. He tells us that God placed each part of the body as He intended and that those body parts which seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, the less honorable parts we surround with more honor and the less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety. Perhaps this is why there are so many sins of the flesh.
But I want to put what Paul says about the body into the context of the Body of the Church. It is no different in the Mystical Body—each part is just as necessary as the next, each part has just as much honor in God’s eyes and therefore, no one part is less presentable than the other.
The clergy (priests in the Catholic Church) cannot function without the laity to minister to and the laity cannot function without the clergy. This is especially true in the Catholic Church because without priests, there can be no Mass and therefore no Eucharist and that is the number one reason why we should pray for vocations.
That does not mean that the clergy has a higher place of honor in the Mystical Body. We may honor our clergy in a physical way because we are thankful to them for answering God’s call but we lay people have just as much honor in the eyes of God when we answer our call.
By way of Baptism, each of us is called to evangelize which means that we have just as much of a responsibility to share God’s Word. Some of us are called to assist the clergy as Eucharistic Ministers in church or by taking the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins. Others are called to serve by assisting the clergy in other ministries of the church.
Some of us may not have a calling to assist the clergy in a direct way but that does not negate our duty to evangelize. Just as the human body cannot live without breathing, the Church cannot survive without evangelization. All of the parts of the human body play a role in the life of the body. So too, each member of the Church has an important role in the life of the Church.
Every time we come into contact with someone who has fallen away from the Church or is a non-believer and we share God’s Word with them, we do our part as evangelizers. They may not have an on the spot conversion and we may never know the impact that we have made on that person’s life. They may never convert but we have planted the seed that God wanted to be planted and have performed our function as part of the Mystical Body.
Even those people who have no idea what the Mystical Body is or do not consider themselves to be a part of the Mystical Body belong to the Mystical Body. This is because by way of our creation, each of us is a child of God and the way to the Father is through the Son whether we realize it or believe it or not.
Christ took on the sins of the world and nailed them to the cross. That includes the sins of Non-Christians. Therefore, even Non-Christians have a part within the Mystical Body. This may be a mystery but I find it interesting that people who have gone through a conversion experience are often times the best evangelizers.
Maybe it is because of their conversion experience that they are so good at evangelizing. They are in some of the best company. Think of St. Paul who gives us today’s explanation of the Mystical Body. We celebrated the Feast of his conversion on January 25th.
A closed-minded non-believer may say, “So what” to all of this, but no matter how much they may deny it, the fact is that God made all of us and wants us to be with Him as one in heaven.
The First Declaration of the Body
Gospel Commentary: Luke 1:1-4, 14-21
Today’s Gospel from Luke is in two parts. The first part, Luke 1:1-4, explains why the gospel is written and what it contains. The second part, Luke 4:14-21, accounts for Jesus reading from the scroll in the synagogue in Nazareth which took place after Jesus had been tempted by the devil in the desert.
It is not uncommon for liturgy readings to skip verses so that the message within the remaining verses can be highlighted to the reader/listener. However, it is uncommon to see complete chapters skipped. So, when I first read this gospel, I stopped to meditate on why this gap was put there by the people who put the Liturgy of the Word together.
I believe that the reason is because what Jesus did when He read from the scroll that day was to declare His divinity for the first time in public. It is therefore necessary for us to understand that Luke’s Gospel is an account of events that took place in the life of Jesus here on earth based on the testimony of eyewitnesses.
Theophilus brings about another reason. Theophilus was a Gentile who converted to Christianity and the name means: friend of God. Therefore, the point is being made that anyone who accepts Luke’s Gospel is a friend of God.
Jesus was strengthened by the Spirit when He was tempted by the devil in the desert and the Spirit was with Him when He reached Nazareth in Galilee. Having grown up in Nazareth, it was fitting for Jesus to pick this place to proclaim His divinity and being the Sabbath, it was fitting that Jesus pick this day.
What Jesus read from the scroll was taken from Isaiah 61:1-2. When He was finished, Jesus sat down and everyone looked intently at Him.
The liturgy is always followed by a homily—sermon. Put yourself in that synagogue that day. Jesus gave no homily so you might say that the people were thinking, “What’s up with this?” So, Jesus said, “Today this Scripture passage if fulfilled in your hearing.”
The Scripture was the homily and what Jesus said to the people was His declaration of divinity. Today’s Gospel does not account for what happened next which is in Luke 4:22-30.
Put this event into context with today’s first and second readings. Ezra read from the scroll, the people were together as one, listened and before Ezra even read the law, they accepted it by saying, “Amen, amen” which is a double declaration of, "I agree, so be it."
Paul explains the Mystical Body pointing out that each of us is a part of the Mystical Body which is the Church which in turn is the Mystical Body of Christ. In today’s declaration, Jesus testified to the world that He is the Christ. Therefore, we are a part of Him.
This mystery became true when Jesus became one of us as a man, took our sins to the cross and defeated death with His Glorious Resurrection so that we can be with Him as one in His Kingdom of Heaven.