The Glory and Wonder of the Word of God
User’s Guide to Sunday, Jan. 23
The Gospel for this Sunday is continued next week. We can reflect on it then. Instead, let’s focus on the first reading, from Nehemiah 8. It is a wonderful meditation on the glory and wonder of the word of God, and it deserves our attention.
The timeframe of the reading is the return of exiles from Babylon, in about 515 B.C. Along with the rebuilding of the Temple and city, there is also a spiritual renewal that was spurred on not only by the purification of exile, but also by the rediscovery of certain lost or forgotten sacred books, probably the Book of Deuteronomy. On one occasion the people gathered to hear the proclamation of one of the lost books. That is where we pick up today’s reading. Note the following qualities of the word of God we are taught here.
Hunger for the word of God: “And all the people gathered as one man into the square … and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel.”
Note that the people are hungry for the word of God. They have gathered together and now make the unified request that the Book of the Law be brought and proclaimed to them. Are you hungry for the word of God?
Hearing of the word of God: “And Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly. … And he read from it … from early morning until mid-day.”
Note the amount of time: The proclamation of this word took place from “morning to mid-day.” People find so much time for other things, yet so many have so little time for the word of God, and many are so impatient that the sermon be over.
Honor for the word of God: “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people. … [A]ll the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord … and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
Note the remarkable honor given to the word through joyful listening. The key point is to honor the word of God, whether by reverent silence or exuberant response.
But in no way should the word of God leave one bored and unmoved.
Help unto the word of God: The text says, “The Levites also helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. And they read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense so that the people understood the reading.”
The word is not alone. It is explained and interpreted here. Devotional reading of the Bible is good, but we must read it with the Church and gather to be taught the Scriptures by the bishops, priests and deacons commissioned to do so.
Heartfelt reaction to the word of God: The text says, “All the people wept when they heard the words of the Law. ... So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, ‘Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’”
They are so moved by what is proclaimed that they weep. Their weeping is due to the realization of the disaster their past stubbornness has brought about. True listening to the word of God should bring forth a response. The purpose of the word of God is not only to inform, but to transform. It might make you mad, or sad, or glad, but if you are really listening to the authentic word of God, you cannot remain unmoved.