Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 27 January 2013
Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19:8-10, 15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 14-21
This set of readings invites us to reflect upon Scripture and its role in our lives as individuals and as community.
Ezra and Nehemiah ministered at a crucial juncture in the story of the people of God. Some of them had returned from exile to rebuild a life in and around Jerusalem. They no longer had the straightforward political identity of a nation under a king, but were a community embedded in a larger political structure within the Persian Empire, one community among many. How were they to maintain their identity, and indeed flourish? They had the rebuilt temple as a focal point and Ezra and Nehemiah worked to ensure that they were thoroughly established in their distinctive tradition and way of life. This is why the ‘book of the Law of God’ – some version what has become the Torah or the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy) – was read to them. The Law isn’t just a set of thou shalt / though shalt not’s; the instructions on how the people are to live is embedded within the story of God’s relationship with God’s people. It reminds them of who they are. It is interesting that their response is to weep. Perhaps they are hearing the words as an indictment of their own lives. But that isn’t the intention of the reading at all. The leaders tell them to rejoice and to feast instead. I love the leader’s exhortation to share rich food with those who have nothing prepared. They want the reading to encourage and strengthen the people of God, and also to prompt them to build community in very practical ways. After all, the law of God speaks of God’s special concern for the poor. I wonder, when we listen to Scripture, are we focused on finding a word of condemnation, or do we find in it the words of life?
Psalm 19 doesn’t see the words of the Lord as words of condemnation, but words which strengthen us and give wisdom to live well. They are gift, transformative and empowering. Jesus experienced Scripture in this way. When he stands up at in the synagogue in Nazareth, he reads words from Isaiah and then proclaims them fulfilled in himself. This suggests that Jesus’ understanding of God, of the human predicament, and of his own identity and calling, have been shaped by years of careful listening to the Scriptures as word of life, as promise and possibility. And Jesus’ life, shaped by prayerful engagement with Scripture, is a life that builds community by reaching out to the marginalised and the struggling.
As the body of Christ – to use St Paul’s terminology – we are called in community to continue Jesus’ mission. The individuals that make up the community have different strengths and callings, but together we are called to bring freedom, healing and wholeness to the world. We can’t all be Scripture experts, but together, with our different insights and gifts being used for the benefit of others, we can become a community shaped by the biblical story in a way which makes us hopeful, joyful and agents of God’s transformative love.