Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Law 

In today's first reading from the Nehemiah chapter 8, we hear about Ezra the priest reading the book of the Law to the people of Jerusalem. 

First, let's take a look at the historical context of this passage. The event described here took place after the Babylonian exile. The Jews had returned to Jerusalem and were in the process of rebuilding their city and their lives. It would have been very easy to get caught up in the material process of reestablishment and forget about the spiritual aspects of their endeavor. To make sure this didn't happen, Ezra reintroduced the people to God's Law. 

As our text tells us, he stood in the open place before the Water Gate near the city wall. The assembly gathered around him: men, women, and the children old enough to understand. The Law was for everyone, not just a select few, and it was crucial that all Jews heard it. 

Ezra read from the book of the Law from daybreak to midday. During these hours, he probably read large portions of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The people listened attentively, watching Ezra as he held up the scroll of the Law for the people to see. 

In response to what they were hearing, the people answered, “Amen! Amen!” They raised their arms high in the air as a gesture of praise and then fell down before the Lord with their faces to the ground in an act of worship. 

These people were not bored or tired. They cared about what they were hearing. They understood the Law's importance, even if they could not grasp all of its details. They knew that these words were the words of God, not the words of Ezra, and they responded with praise and worship. 

Ezra did his best to help the people by interpreting what he read. He probably either explained difficult parts of the Law in simpler terms or helped the people see the deeper meanings in the text. 

At midday, Nehemiah, the governor of Judea, stood up to speak to the people, who by this point were weeping, perhaps in repentance for all the ways they and their ancestors had broken the Law. Nehemiah kindly told them, “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep. Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” 

Yes, the Law could be convicting. The people knew when they heard it that they had done wrong, that they had disobeyed God's Word. The reading of the Law reminded them of that and thereby became a cause for sorrow. But Nehemiah recognized that the Law was also a cause for joy. God was speaking to His people. He was revealing Himself, His will, and His plan for Israel. The people were receiving a great gift when they heard the Law read aloud. Nehemiah invited them to celebrate in thanksgiving, to eat and drink, to share with others, and to rejoice in the Lord, Who gave them strength to accept and at least try to keep His Law. 

Questions for Reflection 

1. Would you stand and listen to the Bible from daybreak to midday? Why or why not?

2. How do you incorporate the Bible into your daily life?

3. How do you respond when the Scriptures are read at Mass?

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