I am not totally convinced that every preacher or homilist has only one good theme and they dress it up to appear differently at each liturgy. I do believe that each of us has one good poem within us which usually remains unwritten. Shakespeare had more than a few. I propose that each of us has one basic prayer as well.
As we go along in the daily encountering of our own and others' humanity, we might say little askings for this or them. Those are a kind of prayer, but beneath them is a wordless something. It is a longing for wholeness or union, or peacefulness. That groaning or wanting seems to underlie all the more surface, yet important, prayers which situations provoke.
As we walk the human path toward the Eucharistic celebration these days, it would be interesting for us to dip a little deeper into the more central mystery of ourselves and perhaps find our basic prayer-place where God's grace is already laboring to comfort us. It is like the boiling oil and our verbal prayers are like the popcorn which explode up and out from the heat. Taste the popcorn first, these days, and ponder what is our boiling point.
We hear from the prophet Nehemiah in our First Reading. Ezra is the prophet's scribe and he has a big job to do. The people have recently returned from exile and are rebuilding and repopulating their city and country. Ezra gathers the people for the liturgy of the Reading of the Law and they listen attentively from dawn until noon. And then there is this experience of their weeping. They are told to stop crying and get to celebrating this feast of the Seventh Month, which was the New Year celebration.
The people do go off and have a good time, but we might ask about the weeping while hearing the Law of Moses. They might be confronted with the Law's demands which they had not obeyed and so had gone into Babylon's captivity as punishment. Their tears flow from regret and perhaps the remembering of their pains while being banished from their holy city.
Their weeping may have come from sensing the love that God has had for them in bringing them back and giving them a second chance. They might be reflecting upon the first exodus and how God had formed them into a free people and had guided them through the desert to the abundant life they were encouraged to enjoy.
Upon hearing the demands and customs of the Law, they may have experienced the sadness of their being told that they had responsibilities to being so loved. Their individual freedoms may have been challenged and they would have to surrender their individuality for the sake of the community. Maybe they were just tired of standing all that time in the hot sun and they were hungry.
At the beginning of Matthew’s account of the public life of Jesus, we read the famous Sermon on the Mount within which we hear three chapters of what His followers are to do. In today’s Gospel we hear a little introduction of why Luke is writing this account and then we hear Jesus’ reading from the prophet Isaiah and his saying all the things He was going to do in fulfilling the prophecy.
Jesus is back in His home town where folks thought they knew Him, because they knew His parents. Jesus is asking all His hearers to get to know Him in faith. The Elders know well the scriptures and especially those applying to the coming of the Messiah. Jesus not only reads this passage, but then startles the gathered assembly by saying that He, Jesus of Nazareth is the One of Whom the prophet foretold. He claims in public what He had heard at His baptism and in His Own reflections upon the Scriptures and in His Own prayer. He had to listen to and then accept Who He was and what He would do as healer, freer, and the announcer of Who He was, the Good News.
Two weeks ago we celebrated Jesus’ being baptized into His true identity. In Luke’s account the announcing voice of God is not heard publicly. With last-week’s Gospel story of Jesus’ changing water into wine, we do begin to experience the publicly living out of His name, His mission.
Today we hear Jesus very publicly stating that what He reads in the prophet Isaiah is going to be translated into the works of His life by which He will be known beyond the definitions of family relationships. He has to do Who He knows Himself to be, knows by faith and His works are not a proof to Him, but an expression externally of the interiority of God.
This past Sunday I was invited to celebrate the Sunday-morning’s Eucharist at Our Lady of the Sioux in the little town of Ogallala on the Lakota Reservation in South Dakota. I was sitting quietly before mass in the celebrant’s chair when somebody tapped me on the shoulder and shook my hand. I asked the person’s name and a deep voice said, “George.” I asked him how he knew that this was his name. He answered, “George Looks Twice.” I asked him again how he knew that this was who he was. He replied, “That’s who I’ve been all my life.” With that he returned to his pew. I found out later that George, G.L.T. to his friends, actually does do his name all the time. He looks twice and thrice for strangers to meet and welcome and if he can, he will help them in any way.
We are baptized into Christ, into being public, into accepting our identities and doing who we believe we are. More than water was poured on us at our baptisms. We were anointed with the oil of holiness. The word “Christ” means, “Anointed”. Holiness then is centered around being holy as something we received. We are not holy because of what we do. We are holy because of who we are in Christ, blessed, anointed and presented to also bring good news, sight, freedom and life into this world with Jesus.
We may have to look twice or thrice or more at Jesus and into Jesus and within ourselves to discover whether or not we know and believe who we are and what is our name.
“Look toward the Lord and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed.”
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