Jan. 27 is the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Liturgical Year C, Cycle I).
Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10; Psalm 19:8-10, 15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 or 12:12-14, 27; Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21
Catholics sometimes take the importance of Scripture for granted. We have a healthy understanding of the key role the Church plays in our faith: We have the Catechism, the councils of the Church, the papal encyclicals and the magisterium to tell us about the mysteries of God.
But the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that Scriptures are the only inerrant, inspired works we have. The Church compares Scripture to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in its importance for the faithful.
“The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's body,” says the Catechism (103). “She never ceases to present to the faithful the Bread of Life, taken from the one table of God's word and Christ's body.”
Today’s readings show what it looks like to take Scripture that seriously.
Nehemiah was the man of action in the sixth century before Christ who restored Jerusalem’s walls. Just as those walls were the stronghold that physically protected Jerusalem, the Torah, the Law books of Scripture, was the stronghold that protected Jerusalem spiritually.
Ezra the priest was the religious reformer who restored the Torah, and today’s first reading recounts his dramatic reading of it.
When Ezra unrolls the Scripture scroll and reads, the reaction is one of deep reverence: “Amen, amen!” the people shout, and the reading adds: “Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the Lord, their faces to the ground.”
Notice, they do not make a sharp distinction between the word of the Lord and the Lord himself: They reverence both the same way.
In the Gospel reading from Luke, we see the same reverence for Scripture on Christ’s part.
This reading shows the majesty of the word of God, which is the Scripture, and the Word, or Logos, who is Christ.
Jesus, at his local synagogue, “stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah,” says the passage. “He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: ‘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 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.’
"Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
Next week, we will see the reaction this announcement caused, but, for this week, we are given just the essentials of what happened. And what happened was one of the most extraordinary moments in the history of the world.
This is bigger than the restoration of Jerusalem. This is a moment God has been preparing for ever since he told Adam and Eve that their sin has consequences and that he has a plan.
All of Scripture has led up to this moment, when God the creator enters his creation and announces himself. The power of it will get Christ killed eventually. But it will also send waves of reaction throughout time that reach even us.
The power of Scripture had not diminished between the time of the priest Ezra and Jesus of Nazareth. And it still hasn’t diminished today. It is important that Jesus does this not in Jerusalem, but in his local synagogue: It is not Jerusalem that is central to the story this time, but Scripture itself.
St. Jerome says, “Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The more we can investigate Scripture, the more we can grow in this Year of Faith.
Our daughter recently came back from a Fellowship of Catholic University Students' conference with a book that is a very good introduction to Scripture studies,The Real Story, by Ted Sri and Curtis Martin. It can be the start to a love affair with the Lord, who we meet in the word.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.