Homily for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time ©, January 27th, 2019:
Something should become very clear for us who have listened to the first reading from the Book of Nehemiah. It is the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. What I mean is the responses of the people to Ezra reading the Law.
First, consider their responses to Ezra reading the Law to them in public. They listen attentively and they see the scroll being read. “…and, as he opened it, all the people rose”(Nehemiah 8:5). The people also respond “Amen” when “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered “Amen, amen!”(Nehemiah 8:6). “Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the Lord, their faces to the ground”(Nehemiah 8:6). The people listened attentively to the words of the Law being read by Ezra (Nehemiah 8:3). They actively engaged themselves. We see here some connection, scripturally, to some of our actions during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. All kinds of bells should go off as we listen to this reading.
But this reading goes deeper. The author emphasizes the community-centeredness of this event, which occurred after the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile. The community is described as “…men, women, and children old enough to understand”(Nehemiah 8:2-3). The author writes this in verse 2 and repeats it in verse 3. This reading is a community-centered event that the people actively participated in, from beginning to end. The writer shows that the Jewish community knowingly and willingly accepted the Law of Moses. So the people accepted the Law and wanted to obey it. They wanted to repent from any and all sinful disobedience of the Law. They wept when Ezra read them the Law (Nehemiah 8:9). They lifted up their hands and answered Amen. The raising up of their hands shows approval and solidarity by the community. They knowingly and willingly accept the Law of Moses.
Notice that it is the scribe/priest who reads and interprets the Law of Moses to the people. They do not do this on their own. That speaks volumes. To keep the community centered and unified in their worship, they need someone over them to read and explain the Law to them and to conduct and direct their liturgical worship. That is the priest. Otherwise you would have as many different worship ceremonies as you have Christian denominations today. The Law directed the community’s attention to the life of worship. “Today is holy to the Lord your God”(Nehemiah 8:9). But Ezra encouraged the community to view the liturgical reading of the Law as a source of life and strength, not condemnation (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
The one final point comes from verse one, which is not in today’s first reading. The people wanted Ezra the scribe to read them the Law. They sought this. They wanted to hear this; “…and they called upon Ezra the scribe to bring forth the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had commanded for Israel”(Nehemiah 8:1). They wanted this.
There are parallels for us here today who are here celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. First, we have our own physical gestures during various parts of the Mass, to show our acceptance of God’s Word and His Son Jesus Christ in Eucharist. Our praise and worship of Jesus Christ, really and truly present here in Eucharist and His presence in Sacred Scripture, should direct our attention to liturgical worship of Him. Second, this liturgical worship is meant to have a coagulating effect on us just as it did on the Jewish community in Nehemiah’s time. It is meant to unite us in one church and one faith to each other and to Jesus Himself, to His Mystical Body, the Church. Liturgy has a unifying effect for those who actively seek, find, and participate in, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Praise and worship of Jesus Christ at Mass unifies us, enlivens us, and gives us joy.
Third, nothing and no one is hidden from God’s Word in Sacred Scripture. The people wept as Ezra read the Law because they realized how they and their parents and grandparents had disobeyed the Law. God’s Word “is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart”(Hebrews 4:12). In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the part where God’s Word is read, reflected, prayed, read, and celebrated is called the Liturgy of the Word. We are in that portion of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass now. And fourth, may we seek this, just as the Jews did in Nehemiah’s time. Ezra encouraged the Jews of his time to view the liturgical reading of the Law as a source of life and strength, not condemnation. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is praise and worship of our Savior, Jesus Christ who loves us and saves us in His Own Blood. Notice that those who don’t attend Mass isolate themselves. That isolation harms them. Their isolation centers their souls on themselves. They say “I don’t get anything out of the Mass.” I get more out of a sunrise, a really big tree, or a really nice fishing lake. But they don’t receive Jesus Christ Himself. You can only receive Jesus in a liturgical event here, in church, at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. You contact Jesus here, in liturgy, not anywhere else in His wonderful creation. And Jesus’s contact with us is soul-to-soul contact. You can’t get any closer than that.
I’m preaching to the choir but I am asking you to evangelize this part of our beautiful Roman Catholic faith to others. Evangelize this to the many Catholics who don’t attend Mass anymore, for who knows what reason. Evangelize this to our brothers and sisters in other faiths. We have faith in Jesus. That’s why we are here, to listen to His word and to receive Him in Eucharist. We have faith in Jesus’s presence in both. So if we have that faith, may we share that and be fully confident that Jesus Christ will do His saving work for everyone who comes here, who seeks Jesus out in Sacred Scripture and in the Sacrament of Eucharist. May we seek Him out here just as the Jews did in Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time. We will find Him, or rather, He will find us.
February 12, 2017
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