Third Sunday after Epiphany Lectionary Text
January 24, 2010; Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
Lectionary Text Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10: “…all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’, lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’
Lectionary Text Luke 4:14-21: “ Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
COMMENT: “Ezra was a Jewish priestly scribe who led about 5,000 Israelite exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem in 459 BCE. Ezra reconstituted the dispersed Jewish community on the basis of the Torah and with an emphasis on the law. According to the Hebrew Bible, Ezra resolved the identity threat which arose by the intermarriage between Jews and foreigners and provided a definite reading of the Torah.” (Wikipedia).
If I were to compare these texts I would conclude that Ezra and the other Levites and the Jews in the Synagogue in Nazareth believed in the prominence and power of public reading of the Scripture. For Ezra, if the Israelites had heard and ‘understood’ the Scriptures, they would have known that mixed marriage was forbidden by God. For Ezra, the remedy was to read a loud and teach Scripture. (I want to make is clear that I am not personally condoning or condemning mixed marriages, whatever that means today.)
The public Scripture readings elicited a response in the people that the Evangelical Church would probably call a revival.
Approximately 489 years later the tradition begun by Ezra was still in effect in the Jewish community as Jesus stood to read in the Synagogue in Nazareth. By Jesus’ time the books of the prophets were added to public reading. Jesus was given the book of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus opened to the place we call chapter 61 and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After Jesus completed the reading, all those present waited to hear his explanation. Whatever the expectations of Jesus’ hearers, it is now more important to ask, “Are Jesus’ words relevant to you and me today?”
For many reasons there are those who shun public worship. However, there is something to be said about the effect on the individual when the community of faith, gather to affirm each other while hearing God’s Word. From the hearing, the ‘company of saints’ learn to provide for the poor materially or spiritually. Those held captive in the grip of grief and sorrow find there is effectual prayer among believers. By listening, to the words of liberation, those who are oppressed by addictions of all kinds are freed. There is an understanding of the Scriptures that only occurs in fellowship with God’s people; to ‘see’, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Today the promises of Jesus of Nazareth, still call to us down the corridors of time. The Holy Spirit speaks to us, “Today is the acceptable year of the Lord; Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
© January 22, 2010
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