Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture has always held God’s law to be the path to human happiness. In today’s first reading, Ezra the priest reads the scroll of the law to the people returned from exile. They weep—then are joyful. Israel’s relationship with God had always been defined by how they kept and lived God’s law. The author of Psalm 96 likewise praises the law of God as the source of wisdom, joy and enlightenment, purity and justice.
In his advice to the bickering Corinthians, Paul points out that, just as God has made all parts of a human body essential for the health of the whole, living as “Christ’s body” requires that each member be recognized as necessary for the good of all. Finally, in Luke’s Gospel Jesus claims that the Spirit is sending him to relieve human suffering. Like Ezra, he is reading from a scroll, proclaiming God’s “law” of mercy to those in need.
A Party? To Celebrate Rules? Really?
Twenty-first-century American culture relies so much on brief social media texts—Facebook, Twitter—that we might wonder how the “men, women, and those children old enough to understand” (Nehemiah 8:2) could spend the entire morning listening to Ezra the priest read from the book of Jewish law. Returning home after seventy years of exile, the people had to rebuild their homeland—the city of Jerusalem, the temple, social and economic structures—all of it. Listening to Ezra reading the ancient law seems to have reconnected the people to traditions that gave meaning to all their struggles. They were weeping tears of joy!
The psalmist is likewise moved by the beauty of God’s law. It is not a bothersome restriction on human behavior, but a wise guide for people seeking wisdom and enduring happiness. At the conclusion of his reading, Ezra instructs them to be joyful, to “eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks . . . for today is holy to our Lord” (Nehemiah 8:10). Rejoicing is the proper response to the rediscovery of God’s law.
And Everyone Gets TO ATTEND!
Ezra also tells the people to “allot portions to those who had nothing prepared,” to make sure that everyone is included, whether or not they had anything to share. When Jesus reads a much shorter passage to a much smaller assembly in the synagogue, he announces his intention to ensure that no one is excluded. The Spirit of the Lord is leading him to heal the afflictions of those who are almost routinely “exiled” from mainstream society, people who are poor, people who have been in prison, people with physical or mental disabilities. Unlike Jesus, we cannot work miracles to heal them or mitigate their conditions; but like Jesus, we can work to bring these “exiles” to a “homeland” where God’s law ensures that everyone can rejoice, because everyone is included.
Today’s Readings: Neh 8:2–4a, 5–6, 8–10; Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15; 1 Cor 12:12–30 [12–14, 27]; Lk 1:1–4; 4:14–21
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