Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C- Homily by Dr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12:12-30 and Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Your Words Lord, are Spirit and Life (Jn 6:63c)
The responsorial Psalm of today ‘“your Words Lord, are Spirit and Life” taken from John 6:63, summarizes the role of the Holy Scriptures in our lives. Scriptures that Nehemiah, Christ (Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21) and Paul (1 Cor 12:12-30) were passionate for in their missions of faith, unity and spiritual renewal.
Nehemiah was not a prophet, nor priests per se, but a lay man. He was called to serve God at a time when the people of Israel our ancestors in faith were resurfacing from the horrible years in exile. They were subjected by the Babylonians followed by the Persian domination. They lived as second or third class citizens without their Davidic king, sense of national security and full spiritual fulfillment and ideals. There were exiles, but there were no lands, temple and rigorous prophetic messages as before. Now that many were back in Judah, it was important for them to be renewed spiritually and otherwise, and to be reassured of the unchanging mercy God. Nehemiah, a lover of Scripture, is a visible reminder of this unchanging God’s mercy.
Today’s first reading is Nehemiah’s study in the centre of Jerusalem. We are told Ezra the priest brought the Law Book before a mixed assembly of men, women, and children, young and old, who were hungry for the Word of God which is life and Spirit. Together with Ezra Nehemiah encourage the people to respond to the Holy Scripture (Neh 8:8-10).
Those who attended this Bible Study from different parts of Jerusalem were united and very enthusiastic for a common purpose: to be attentive to the word of God (Neh 8:3), to be responsive to the word of God (Neh 8:5), to be submissive (Neh 8: 6) and to allow the word God to be part of their lives (cf. Raymond Brown, The Message of Nehemiah, pp. 128-136).
Similarly, from time to time we gather from different parts of (Holbrook) and beyond, from different homes, young and old, men and women, boys and girls to listen to the word of God. This is not to say that we do not have our individual dislikes, but listening to the Word of God must be one of our priorities during our worship. Nothing must stand between us and the Word of God.
You and I know that in spite of the elaborate preaching and teaching of the Church (Vatican II,) on inter religious/cultural dialogue and ecumenism Christians themselves are still been divided in a variety of issues. These include, Tradition and the Scriptures, ministry, ordination, baptism, the last supper, divine healing, visions and speaking in tongues, ecumenical involvement, patterns of worship, text and translation, the concept of the church, the work of the Holy Spirit, charismatic gifts, eschatology , issues of end times or the Second Coming of Christ.
Our society today is also crippled by selfishness and individualism. The sense of community living has disappeared from the lists of our values. Aggressive pursuit for personal satisfaction has left many of our communities little interest in communal projects. This is the age where computers are starting to talk to us while our neighbors are becoming more distant and anonymous. Some of our sick ones, the disadvantaged, the elderly are left staring hopeless at the doors and windows of nursing homes and hospices with no relative or Church member on sight to visit with them.
This was also one of the weaknesses of the early Church community of Corinth that St. Paul ministered onto in today’s second reading (1 Cor 12:12-4, 27). This church was known for all kinds of religious manifestations, they sang, they saw visions, they prophesied, they preached, they would danced, but all these were used for selfish purposes. They were envious of each other, with little agreement and would often engage in unhealthy politics and unhealthy competitions and lack of support for one another in times of need.
Paul uses the rhetoric of the popular and familiar image of the “body” to illustrate the importance of moral unity among members of the Church, the Body of Christ (Soma Christou), in listening and doing God’s Words. The gifts of each and every single of us need to be used for the common good. Just as every single other part of the body needs the other to function well we need each other as members of the body of Christ reveled to us in the passages of the Holy Scripture.
Like Nehemiah, Christ begins his public ministry in today’s Gospel (Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21) by appealing to the Holy Scriptures Isaiah 61:1ff,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to bring liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
However, differences and approaches we might take in understanding these passages, the role of the Church, the Body of Christ is to liberate those who derive joy in discrimination and division, by revealing the opportunities of freedom for common purpose and to realize how dependent we are on one another, men and women, children and adults, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, colleagues and fellow professionals.
Like the community that Nehemiah and Ezra shared the Scriptures with, let us pray at this Mass that though we may have our individual differences, may our common desire to read, study, listen, and obey the Word of God, which is Spirit and Life, inspire us, enrich our witness to Christ, and draw us closer to one another- as members of the Body of Christ.
Peace be with you.