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 have two rather long readings for today's liturgy and the Gospel is lengthy as well. All combined they might take twelve minutes to read or which to listen. As we say, "That's nothin!"compared to how long the people of Jerusalem stand! listening to the readings for this Jewish feast.
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.
The Gospel begins with a short explanation of why Luke is writing this account to a person whose name means, "God-loves" or "God-Lover". Luke is writing more specifically for those of Greek communities who have heard of the preachings from the Apostles.
We hear that Jesus, after His having spent time in the desert, was filled with the "Anointing Spirit" and had been preaching in the synagogues of Gallelee. He now appears in His home town to do more of the same. What we hear is only His reading verses from the prophet Isaiah. We do not hear about His preaching to His home-town neighbors and how, after hearing, they want to drive Him away and kill Him. What we hear is a prophetic statement that He Himself is the fulfillment of the prophesy He reads to them.
In a way, Jesus is laying out His platform after having been elected. He is telling all that this is how He intends to live out His calling. The listeners would be familiar with this text and would have been waiting for the coming of the person foretold. They cannot believe that Jesus, Son of Joseph, whom they knew, could accept the newness of a person whom they thought also that they knew.
We are in the spirit of the New Year ourselves and a new "liturgical semester." Professors here at Creighton University have been beginning their new courses by telling the students exactly what is going to be required; tests and papers, class participation and such are explained very clearly. It can seem a bit overwhelming to know what lies ahead in terms of home work. The professors do not say exactly all that they, themselves, are going to do. The students know the professors are going to make them work, learn, suffer and eventually grow and deepen.
We are invited to listen to the Divine Professor tell us what He is going to do for us. We will hear Him and of His doings during this year's liturgical course. We will be listening to Luke's Gospel during most of the Sundays in Ordinary time. What He will be doing and offering us, will be intended to deepen us, change us, mold us into our being His Disciples. We will not always like what we hear and what captivities and blindnesses we will be forced to admit and from which to be healed. It is one more year "acceptable to the Lord." These are meant to be "glad tidings", but we can love our prisons, our resistance to seeing and we won't find them "glad tidings" at all.
We are all pupils, learners and we can become so accustomed to what we already know and how we behave, that we do not want anything new and that is why Jesus was driven out of His home town and eventually out of the city of Jerusalem and why we are tempted to drive Him out of our own little personal temples.
"Look up at the Lord with gladness and smile; your face will never be ashamed." Ps. 34, 6
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