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God's Word on Sunday: Crisis brings opportunity for renewal

  • January 16, 2022

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Jan. 23 (Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21)

The task facing Ezra and Nehemiah was enormous. The people of Israel had returned to the ruins of Jerusalem after 50 years of exile in Babylon. But there was a problem: their way of life and their understanding of their religion had become a dim and fading memory rather than a vibrant reality. They had to rebuild the political and religious structures of the nation as well as the temple. But most of all, they had to remember and rekindle their religious understanding.

Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levites read the law aloud to the assembled people from morning until night, offering interpretations and explanations as appropriate. It had a profound impact on them — they were moved to worship God with a humble and reverent attitude. It also moved them to grief and tears when they realized how far they had strayed from the law that God had given them. But they were told not to weep or be sorrowful, but to rejoice and celebrate. The relearning and rebuilding would come later.

The recognition of failure or spiritual barrenness can be devastating, but it can be the gateway to new life and a new beginning, not just a continuation of the way things were in the past. Spiritual awakening is always a cause for rejoicing. It will be followed by a long period of patient relearning, step by step and precept by precept, but also adding what has been learned from painful experience. This process applies to churches and institutions as well as individuals.

The Church is experiencing a crisis — scandals, betrayals and the ravages of COVID — and will have to undergo the process of remembrance and renewal. It is not the time for handwringing, condemnations or negativity, but for rejoicing. We have a golden opportunity for both a renewal of faith and new directions.

In one of his most brilliant and spiritually satisfying teachings, Paul likens the Christian community to a body. Those baptized into this body come from many different backgrounds, traditions and life experiences, but in Christ they are all one. But that is just the beginning: not only are they all one, but they are also all of equal value and importance. There is no hierarchy of worth or value. Paul points out that the parts of the body work in harmony and no part of it can go on strike or cut itself off from the rest.

In a true community, when one hurts, all hurt; and when one rejoices, all rejoice. This sense of unity and interconnectedness is precisely what modern societies and churches have lost. And it is this community bonding that so many yearn for and seek.

There was a hush after Jesus finished reading from Isaiah 61 and gave the scroll back to the attendant. We can only imagine the impact of His voice as He read the verses pertaining to Himself. This was followed by the shock of His statement that the prophecy had been fulfilled that very day in their hearing. Jesus applied this anointing to Himself, and it came with a lengthy portfolio: He was to proclaim good news to the poor, sight to the blind, release to captives and liberation for the oppressed, and a year of the Lord’s favour. This was a blueprint for the ministry of Jesus, for He tirelessly healed, blessed, liberated, and bestowed God’s compassionate mercy on all whom He encountered. It did not mean that He abolished all of those afflictions forever. Instead, this was to be a gift of God’s visitation and a sure sign of God’s compassion and mercy.

These are the things that God desires for us. They reflect aspects of God’s nature — the qualities of life, wholeness, justice, mercy and compassion. When God draws near, these are the signs of the divine presence. And if these are the qualities of God, we should also strive to manifest them in our own lives. Easing burdens, restoring hope and dignity, assuaging suffering and pain and setting people free are the most godlike things we can do. Let us strive to be a sign of God’s presence.