C Cycle – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 19
Neh. 8:2-4A, 5-6, 8-10
Listening to a group of parishioners talking about the things they liked about the new priest assigned to the parish the consensus was they liked the fact he had short homilies. This translates to a shorter mass, less time in church and more time available to do the things they liked to do on Sunday’s. Can you imagine all those men, women and children listening to Ezra reading from the Book of the Law from daybreak to midday? We can bet they would have been very unhappy to be there that day. We can also bet their response would not have been the same as the one we see from the people listening to Ezra. No, their weeping would not be weeping from joy but from despair.
We have become too comfortable with every aspect of our faith. We have comfortable churches, we are comfortable with our liturgy for it is predictable. We hate change and the truth is we resist change in our parishes. We would never display any kind of visible response to a homily or uplifting music that touches our hearts. In fact, we impose on ourselves and others an acceptable reverent decorum and any departure is quickly responded to by fellow parishioners or parish staff. The only measure we have of any response to the message of the gospel is by declining or increasing attendance and offerings.
Why were the people gathered before Ezra exuberant, joyful, weeping for joy and lifting their hands in adoration of their God? Why did Nehemiah tell the people they were to rejoice and celebrate the Word of God? The answer to that question for us is found in the Word made Flesh. Luke writing his gospel tells us he has investigated everything anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for us so that we may realize the certainty of the teaching we have received. The reason the people were joyful that day for all those hours was because of the Word of God was being read. God was speaking to their hearts. Everything they sought was found in the Word.
Luke tells us his gospel was written so we would know the certainty of the teaching we have received. What is it we expect to receive each Sunday? Listening to those parishioners, we can conclude they no longer wanted to receive a homily that demands a response because it is not important to their faith. They are there to receive the Eucharist and nothing else we do during liturgy has an impact on them. The simple truth of our teaching is we come to mass to be fed by the Word as well as by the Eucharist. It is a two-course meal of God’s Word and God’s flesh. If we only partake of one course, we are not eating a balanced meal.
Listen to Luke as he closes out his gospel with the final appearance of Jesus before he ascends to the Father. Luke records Jesus speaking to disciples, past and present, when he says, “Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” The key to a vibrant Christian life is not just being present in church but it is in having our minds opened to receive what God desires us to receive each time we gather together. His presence, feeling his love spoken to us through the Word both read and preached and eaten.
It is no wonder the people were weeping as they gathered before Ezra. They had been set free from their bondage in Babylon. The temple had been restored and they were encountering God in his Word. Think of the parallel between them and us today. Paul tells us we “…are a temple of God and the Holy Spirit dwells within us” (1 Cor. 3:16). In many ways the temple we are has been destroyed by sin, by neglect and by a lack of occupancy by the Holy Spirit. We need to be restored and Christ comes along and tells us everything we seek, everything we need is found in Him. He tells us he alone can satisfy our hunger and in Him we have our being.
Where do we go to regain what we have lost? Do we go to the one person who tells us he is the way the truth and the life? Or do we find it outside the walls of our church doing the things we believe we are missing by being in the presence of God who loved us enough to die to redeem us.
Those men, women and children old enough to understand standing before Ezra felt the presence of God and they opened themselves up b a very human response of embracing what was lost by their prior complacency.
When was the last time you embraced God as you received him in the Eucharist and in the Word? If you have not embraced him, that is a symptom of our being comfortable with how we practice our faith. We spend more time practicing than we do living our faith. A lived faith is unconcerned with appearance. Instead it is concerned with discovering and embracing what God offers us and we discover that when we allow the Word of God to penetrate our hearts.
God desires to do something in your midst each time you gather as a community of faith. He desires you to hear His voice speaking to your heart, inviting you to respond to the invitation to have Him pour his love into your hearts moving you to seek Him above all else.