It is not often that the three major Sunday Scriptures have a great thematic unity. This Sunday’s readings are one of the exceptions. The first reading from Nehemiah presents us with the scene of Jewish people who returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. Work has begun on the restoration of the wall of the city (!) and of the reconstruction of the Temple which had been destroyed. While the excavations are taking place, the Book of the Law is discovered in the Temple ruins and Ezra the prophet has called the people together to hear the Word of God. This is a defining moment of the re-newed covenant of God with Israel. As the prophet proclaims and translates the Word of the Torah, the people, men women and children, rise to their feet with acclamations. Their gestures show that they understand that this Word is a proclamation of the renewed Covenant of God with God’s Chosen People. The sins of infidelity of the past are over and the people once again accept God’s covenant with them with resounding “Amens!”
This week’s Gospel text from St. Luke gives us Luke’s written testimony to Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Word made present in the synagogue, God’s Word made visible in the synagogue. God’s covenant with the Chosen People is renewed in Jesus’s proclamation of the words of Scripture and even more importantly in his physical presence. He is God’s covenant made visible, incarnate before us.
We might say that in the excerpt of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is spelling out for these Gentile Christians what it means to live as the Body of Christ. The Greeks dismissed the importance of the body, preferring intellectual ideas and concepts. In a sense, we could say that Paul’s lesson in anatomy uses our knowledge of the interaction of the parts of the human body to school us in their contribution to the well-being of the whole body. The more we understand the role of the different parts, the more we understand what each one’s contribution is to the body as a whole. And so, Paul moves from describing the parts of the body to talking about the service of the various parts to the whole. Every part is significant in its contribution to the well-being of the whole.
And so, as we begin these weeks of the new year, we are challenged by God’s Word to leave our old ways behind and to accept anew God’s presence in our lives, in our faith communities, in our world. This acceptance will be made real by our acts of charity and justice on behalf of those people who have no power, no strength: the unborn, the undocumented, the victims of political and societal repression, the victims of institutional cover-ups and injustice—by our recognition in action of our feeling the pain of these members of the Body of Christ.
Unlike the Jews who returned from exile in Babylon or the self-perfecting Corinthians, we are to recognize our call as members of the Body of Christ to forsake the rebuilding of walls and the allure of intriguing ideas and theories. We are called to ask ourselves: “Today, is God’s Word fulfilled through my/our efforts?” “Today, does another person experience the loving kindness and mercy of our God through me, through us?”
-Sr. Mary Laura Lesniak, ssmn
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