January 27, 2019: The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Associate Pastor’s Corner
Five hundred and eighty-six years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the military might of the Babylonian Empire. The Judean royal family, aristocracy, prophets, and every entity of influence were either killed, exiled, or transported to Babylonia. The Temple that King Solomon the Wise built was brought down, not a stone unturned. The Southern Kingdom was lost.
Forty-nine years later, King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and promulgated the Edict of Cyrus, which declared that all exiles are welcome to go home to their own land, and to rebuild their cities, temples, and homes. Israel, or rather, the holy remnant of Israel, was invited to reclaim the Holy Land and to rebuild the Temple of God. A steady stream of 40,000 Israelites returned to the Promised Land and began to build.
Enter today’s first reading. Ezra, a priest and scribe of the Law of Moses, and Nehemiah, the cup-bearer of King Artaxerxes, are the main characters of the Book of the Prophet Nehemiah. In it we witness the re-institution of the people as a Mosiac People, and a re-establishment of the Temple, complete with liturgy and sacrificial offerings.
Remember that for forty-nine years, the people of God were unable to express their love and gratitude to God through the liturgy. Yes, they had time to study the Word of God, but imagine not being able to go to Mass because there were no churches, no priests to attend to your spiritual needs, no sacred site in which to pray to the God of your ancestors. No wonder Ezra begged the people to “do not weep”—these were not tears of sadness, but tears of joy! Finally, God has answered the cries of His People and sent them Cyrus to indirectly establish the people of God. God and His People are finally united through the life of Temple worship.
Indeed, when Jesus returns to Nazareth, not only does Jesus recall that day in which Ezra read the scrolls of the Law, He renews the Law, the very thesis of Temple Worship. His ministry was to renew the People of God. And not only renew, but also to untie unbreakable knots. He was sent by the Father to “bring glad tidings to the poor,” to speak especially to those anonymous faces lost to the washes of history. The Father sent Jesus to “proclaim liberty” to those imprisoned by unchecked vices, addiction, and pains of the past. He was sent to recover “sight to the blind”—to allow the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Gianna Molla to ring true. To allow all people, no matter their age, race, religion, or past, to be truly seen and their dignity granted or restored. He was sent “to let the oppressed go free,” to bring health in all its forms to those who have been ignored or imprisoned in any sort of way. Jesus was sent to “proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord”—a time of Jubilee, of joy, of celebration, and of peace.
Every time we encounter and receive the Eucharist, we are restored and renewed. The Law of God physically enters into our very bodies, giving us that sublime opportunity to “bring glad tidings to the poor.” Through reverse osmosis, that little bit of what-was-bread and that little sip of what-was-wine is all we need to bring about healing to this broken and divided world. May we muster the courage to bring those tidings to all we encounter this week, and bring the Lord’s healing, unity, and gentle charity.
~Fr. Isaiah Mary Molano, O.P.