Thursday, January 21, 2010

Preparing for the Mass - Sunday, January 24, 2010 (Cycle C)

Today's reading presents an interesting picture of the priest Ezra standing above the people to deliver his interpretation of the law of God. His reading goes on for hours and saddens the people as they consider how much they need to reform their lives. Perhaps their weeping finally convinces Ezra to "take it easy on them." He and Nehemiah, the governor of Judah, then encourage the people to celebrate their observance of the law. The people, they say, should have a great feast because "rejoicing in the Lord" will be their source of strength. 

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15
(cf John 6:63c) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The first three stanzas of the responsorial psalm praise God for the perfection (first stanza), truth (second stanza), and purity (third stanza) of the Torah, while the fourth stanza contains the fine prayer that God’s law may be the subject of our constant meditation, so that both our thoughts and our words may be acceptable in his sight.

It should be remembered that “law” (Torah) had a wider meaning than commandments, precepts, and ordinances, though of course it included these. This wider meaning embraced the whole range of God’s revelation.

For the Christian, the word or law of God is even more extensive. It embraces the revelation of the Word-made-flesh.

Note that the refrain from John 6:63b refers to the teachings of Jesus, specifically to his discourse on the bread of life. Hence the psalm is not only a response to God’s self-revelation in the law as proclaimed by Ezra, but also a response to Jesus’ sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth, which will be read in the gospel. (From The Scripture in Depth*5)

Human beings have a desire to belong  to a community, or more intimately, to God. We can imagine how the Christians at Corinth welcomed Paul's letter assuring them that they were all "one body." They were not to create divisions among themselves by identifying as Jews or Greeks, slaves or free people, women or men. Because they had all been anointed by the Holy Spirit, they had become together the one body of Christ. Each was a member; no one was left out. 

Just as Ezra, in our first reading, read to the people from Scripture, Jesus reads from the book of the prophet Isaiah about the Servant of the Lord. He announces that he is the fulfillment of Scripture. Then he tells the crowd in the synagogue that he is the one sent by God. 

Part of a commentary by Origen of Alexandria*3
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and his reputation spread throughout the countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone sang his praises.

When you read about Jesus teaching in the synagogues of Galilee and everyone there praising him, take care not to regard those people as uniquely privileged, and yourselves as deprived of his teaching.

If scripture is true, it was not only to the Jewish congregations of his own generation that our Lord spoke. He still speaks to us assembled here today—and not only to us, but to other congregations also.
And from John Kavanaugh*4:
The words of Isaiah, spoken by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, are supposed to be fulfilled in the hearing of them. We make his words real, we make our faith real, only if we allow it entry into our real world. That is the world of life and love, of people in society, of nations, of economies. Without that entry, Jesus’ ministry is enfeebled. Our faith becomes the lazy lap dog of acculturated tastes and seats of power.

There are surely humanistic reasons for opposing the death penalty and abortion, for more fair distribution of wealth and the world’s gifts, for the use of talents and expertise in service rather than obscene self-indulgence.

But when a Christian opposes murder on death row or in hospital delivery rooms, when a Christian proposes an economy of service rather than greed, it is not just a matter of human calculation. For us, it is a matter of faith. It is a matter of whether we really believe the words we have heard and the actions we have seen in Jesus, who represents most fully to us God’s will and our mission. 


1 Sadler We Believe
Center for Liturgy
*3  Origen (183-253), one of the greatest thinkers of ancient times, became head of the catechetical school of Alexandria at the age of eighteen. In 230 he was ordained priest by the bishop of Caesarea. His life was entirely devoted to the study of scripture and he was also a great master of the spiritual life. His book On First Principles was the first great theological synthesis. 
*4  The Word Engaged - Justice Done in Faith   John Kavanaugh, S. J. of Saint Louis University
*5  The Scripture in Depth by Reginald H. Fuller

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