All three readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time seem to proclaim a simple message: We all belong to each other and God, and we all need each other.
The first reading has profound implications for us. The Israelites have returned from exile to which they were sent because of their disobedience. Now that they have returned home, two leaders of the community, Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the community organizer, called together all adults and children old enough to understand to reflect on what God does in their midst.
They meet from early morning until noon. Ezra reads from the book of the law, which was lost and then rediscovered in the Temple. Now Ezra tells them the wonderful promises God had made to the Israelites, but to which their ancestors had neglected to listen.
The people are weeping. What God had offered seems so beautiful and seems to come from a caring God, and now they see what their ancestors had neglected. They weep for sorrow at what their ancestors had done, but they also weep for joy because of how much God cares.
Ezra and Nehemiah tell them to stop weeping and to eat rich food and rejoice in the love of God. God’s law, which their ancestors found inconvenient to follow, is now seen as a rediscovered love letter from God.
This reveals the power of God’s word to unite them as children of a loving God and to energize them to work together as a community of love. The ultimate model for community is no less than the Holy Trinity. The word of God coming from the Holy Trinity will replicate on earth what has been transpiring in heaven from all eternity. The more we live that word, the more we will desire to develop and live that sense of community.
This sets the stage for St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, which uses the imagery of the body and the unity of its parts. Each part of the body participates in the health of the whole body. That is how it is with communities formed by the word of God. Each individual has gifts, which the rest of the body needs. We are so lucky to be created by God to need each other and to have the privilege of helping each other.
The Gospel is the capstone of the day’s readings. Here we have Jesus, the Son of God, coming in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s desire to offer mankind the kind of help for which it is crying out.
Quoting Isaiah, Jesus says: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has appointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
After quoting Isaiah, Jesus says: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
What a dramatic beginning to a Gospel that is noted for its outreach to the poor, the disenfranchised, the alienated, sinners, people distressed in mind and body and those afflicted by demons.
With such a beginning we have a hunger to read and to heed every word that comes forth from the lips of Jesus, because it’s powerful to bring all hurting people the hope of a better life and a deeper meaning for the hunger in their hearts.
Think of the power of those words that came from the lips of Jesus in the synagogue. Think also of what all these words have accomplished through the ages and what will be accomplished by His words as humanity moves forward in time.
Think also of the profound difference those words are destined to make in your life and mine. There is no sin that God doesn’t want to forgive; there is no hurt that He doesn’t want to heal; there is no loneliness that He doesn’t want to replace with His love.
This means that you and I should get in touch with our poverty and come to God’s word with abundant faith and hope. God is the remedy for all human poverty and all division in our midst. This relentless God won’t be satisfied until we all enjoy in glory what the Trinity has always experienced, and that is love.
Even though God’s word is all-powerful, it can’t change me without my permission. I need to want the transformation God is offering me. I need not only to ask Him for His gifts, but I must also welcome His transforming love and forgiveness into the depths of my soul.
That is why reflecting on God’s word daily is so important so that I am reminded of His promises for help. That is why daily prayer is so important. That is why Sunday Mass and keeping holy the Lord’s Day for rest and reflection is so necessary if we are to form community with each other and with God.
The most peaceful people I know are those who have taken the time to welcome God’s word into their hearts, to allow it to nurture their spirits and to call them to repentance. The reason for all of this is simple: God’s word works only if I give it time and permission to change me. Then peace breaks out.