Jan. 26, 2019

THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2019

“FOR REJOICING IN THE LORD MUST BE YOUR STREGTH” (NEH. 8:10)

Readings: 1st- Neh. 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; 2nd- 1 Cor. 12:12-30; Gospel- Lk. 1:1-4, 4:14-21

Today, we are going to talk about the power of God’s word in the Scripture. We see two issues raised in the readings: the importance of God’s word in the life of the believer and the value of the community. In the first reading, the priest Ezra speaks to a recovering Israelite community. In the gospel, Christ speaks to his home community in Nazareth. In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks about the community of the body of Christ using the analogy of the human body.

Ezra’s community had lost virtually everything due to their exilic experience: their land is annexed with the Persians, their temple of worship destroyed, and their freedom jeopardized. Scripture says, “all the people are weeping.” Ezra comforts them by referencing to God’s Law transmitted through Moses. He reads from the scroll and interprets God’s word to them. Their sorrow can only be transformed into joy if they anchor on God. Hence, the priest states, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.” 

Jesus Christ performs similar priestly role in the gospel of Luke. He comes into the synagogue, and like Ezra, picks up the scroll. Christ reads from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk. 4:18). 

Jesus communicates to us the power in God’s word. Through God’s word, we are set free from the bondage of sin and darkness. At the end of his teaching, Jesus says to the audience, “Today, this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21). This goes back to confirm the transfiguration episode whereby Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain with Jesus. The images of the Law and the Prophet point to Jesus as fulfilment of the status of the Law and the revelations of the prophets. Saint Paul says, “For he (Jesus)himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).Jesus is everything we know about freedom. He is everything we know about anointing. Jesus is everything we know about recovery and healing. Jesus is everything we know about God’s favorable time for his people. Jesus is the fulfilment of the Scriptures, and for that he says, today, everything is being fulfilled in our hearing of God’s word. 

The word of God is proclaimed in the community, the body of Christ that is the Church. Saint Paul presents us with an analogy of the human body. Baptism anoints us. It inserts us into the body of Christ, the community of believers. Each of us is therefore a part of this body. We are like the hand or the leg or the eye or any other part of the human body. Some of us are stronger whereas some are weaker than others. We show those strengths in the things we do and by our involvement in the ministries in the church. But we all form an important part in our uniqueness and singularity. Our gifts reflect God’s richness, they do not deflate the strength of the community. Despite the gifts that we all have individually, functioning as a whole brings out the best in us as a community. Paul remarks, “But as it is, God has placed the parts each one of them, in the body as he intended.”  Again, he states, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one is honored, all the parts share its joy.”

Again, we go back to Jesus’ statement, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk. 4:18). Jesus wants us to recognize through the community that we have been anointed to work for the good of the members. Baptism empowers us to seek freedom for captives, help for the needy. Today, baptism empowers us to speak out for the protection of the unborn, weak, innocent child in the womb. Baptism challenges us to speak up against the evil of abortion from the moment of conception. The spirit of the Lord has anointed us to be advocates of life.

The king Nehemiah and the priest Ezra gather the people together to inspire them as one body. And the priest says to them, “for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength.” The Bible is God’s word, the greatest book ever written for use by mankind. It directs us on our relationship with God and on our inter-human relationship. Christ summarizes it in the commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40). And Jesus says to us today that this scripture is being fulfilled in him. 

Rejoicing in the Lord will be our strength once we realize how much the word of God helps us to function as a community. The Psalm says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps. 119: 105). And in the New Testament we read, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The word of God is our strength and wants us to speak God’s truth. If we join hands in defending the weak and the needy, we live up to the demands of the gospel. It is our responsibility. Let the eye not pretend that it doesn’t need the ear. Let the hand pretend as if it doesn’t need the legs. Let us not pretend that the unborn child that is terminated in New York, in California, or in Ohio, doesn’t concern us. It is human and human life remains inviolable anywhere and everywhere. We must join hands to seek the strength of the Lord to do battle against the evil of abortion.

Realize today, that the joy of the Lord is found in the Scriptures. It is a great tool to support one another, the weak and the suffering. A lot of people have gone through difficult times in life but found the light through God’s word in the Scripture. Families have experienced God’s love in the Scripture at those moments of loss and pain. Scripture helps us form a supportive community- sight to the blind, glad tidings to the poor, freedom to captives. Scripture helps us to value our friendship with God and with one another. Ezra says, “rejoicing in the Lord is your strength”. That joy is found in the Scripture. That is the joy which Jesus came to give: in failure, in sickness, in pain, in loss and in grief. Jesus wants us to form one body to fight for the weak. Speak out to set the unborn free today. They are part of us. 

Please, let those who are shy be reminded that the joy of the Lord is your strength.