There are a couple of very important things, it seems to me, that we need to reflect on as we listen together to the Scripture lessons this morning. The first thing is about that passage from the book of Nehemiah. As I mentioned in introducing the reading, the Chosen people had returned from exile. When they had been driven out of their own country, their temple had been destroyed, their homes demolished -- everything was total destruction, they had to come back.
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
They were beginning to rebuild. It would take quite a while to have the temple restored, but they began to gather together on the Sabbath day. This is when they began the practice of listening to God's Word. As we heard in that first lesson, they're trying to rebuild the community. They had been scattered in exile and now they're coming back to be God's people once more. What's the best way for them to be bonded together?
What would be better than to hear God's own Word as it had been kept in the Hebrew Scriptures? So the leaders brought all the people together, and it mentions even the children were there to listen to God's Word. What was the purpose of that? It was because they not only had to rebuild their temple, their city, and their homes, but they had to rebuild their sense of community. What could bind them together more deeply than hearing together God's message of love for them and for all creation?
Isn't the same thing true for us? That's why we come together every week and listen to God's Word. It's to enable us to form deeper bonds built on that Word of God that makes us a community, binds us together, hearing how God loves us, trying to respond to that love to God and to one another. We are bound together in this community of the church. I suggest that it's important for us to really take this liturgy and the Word seriously every week.
Read the lessons ahead of time. Be prepared to hear them, to reflect on them, to let them form us individually, but also as a community, to bind us together. Remember, we're part of a billion people around the world who are listening to the same message every week. If we really let that Word of God seep into our minds, our hearts, and our spirits, we would become a powerful force of love in the world. That's what the church is destined to be. It really would help to make that happen if all of us committed ourselves to listen deeply every week to God's Word and to let that Word form, shape, and guide us just as those Chosen people did after their exile.
This morning, we hear a very important part of God's Word -- the beginning of the public preaching of Jesus starting at Nazareth. Luke was writing his gospel and we heard the very first part of it, he said, "The Word of God has been (he didn't use this word -- floating) around; we've been hearing it. The different witnesses from the time of Jesus have been recalling and retelling the message of Jesus." Luke says, "Now it's time to put this down in an orderly fashion," so he sets out to write the gospel and then later a second book: the Acts of the Apostles.
But then there's a couple of chapters which we've heard -- the Nativity stories and all that happened immediately after that, but now in chapter four, Jesus begins his public life. When he went to the synagogue that Sabbath day and was asked to read and given the scroll of Isaiah, it wasn't just happenstance that he came upon the 61st chapter of the book of Isaiah. He carefully unrolled the scroll until he found the place. He knew what he wanted to read.
Then he read those powerful words, "The Spirit of God is upon me. God has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to give the blind new sight, heal the brokenhearted, set the downtrodden free, proclaim God's year of favor -- the Jubilee time when all creation comes into harmony and peace. Everyone has a chance for a full human life." This is the beginning of the preaching of Jesus. It might help us to understand how important this preaching is, to recall that
before Jesus came into that synagogue in Nazareth, he had been baptized.
We heard the account of that last Sunday -- his baptism when he experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, "You are my Son, my beloved. In you I am well pleased." Jesus was affirmed as the Son of God. But then (and we didn't hear this part), Jesus was driven out into the desert and he spent 40 days and 40 nights in prayer and fasting, in deep communion with God. Now he comes back to begin his public preaching. He announces that marvelous message, "The reign of God is at hand and the Sprit of God is upon me. Here's what God is sending me to do."
And he announces the good news, "This day, the Scripture passage is fulfilled as you listen." So what is he telling us? He's saying, "I am here to proclaim the reign of God and to begin to make that reign of God happen because I am bringing good news to the poor, set the downtrodden free, to bring justice into this world, to give the blind new sight, and not only the physically blind but the spiritually blind, to enable us to see, understand God's Word, proclaim God's year of Jubilee."
Jesus came to do this, which means to bring about a time when every person enjoys full human life. God had made the world for all so that everyone at all times, all places would enjoy the fullness of life. Of course it hasn't happened yet. That message of Jesus when he says, "This day is being fulfilled as you listened," (fulfilled in him) has to be carried out now by his followers, by us. I won't spend time on all this message of Jesus, but just point out one thing: bring good news to the poor. We have a long way to go because actually, what's happening in our world is the opposite. The poor are becoming poorer.
Just about ten days ago, Oxfam, an international charity organization, published its yearly report. It pointed out the extraordinary inequality in our world where God intends everyone to have an opportunity for a full human life. Here's what's happened: Sixty-two people have as much wealth as half of the human race -- 3.5 billion people. The gross inequality is almost unbelievable and it keeps getting worse. Five years ago, it took 388 people to have the same wealth as the bottom half of the world's people. Now it's 62. The poor get poorer; the rich get richer.
There's something wrong in the way the wealth is distributed, the way the wealth is accumulated, and who gets it. You and I can't change it all at once, of course, but this report from Oxfam points out the ways that it needs to be changed through public policy, through tax laws, and so on. We can begin to think about how we might work at that. I know here, at this parish, you do much for the poor. But each of us could maybe make even more of a commitment to work for the poor in our midst, in our community, in our city, our neighborhood, our country -- do more to make sure that the message of good news is being proclaimed to the poor so that they will be poor no longer.
They could begin to share the gifts that God has given for all and not for a few. That would be one of the things that, obviously, we could work on and continue to build up in our parish family -- a spirit of sharing, of trying to make sure that everyone has enough. We don't need more than enough. Everyone should have enough for a full human life. We have to try to work to make that happen. That would be one of the ways in which we would follow this message of Jesus.
He came to change our world, to transform this world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible. That's what he proclaims in today's Gospel message, "I'm here to transform the world, to make it clearly the reign of God where everyone has a chance for a full human life, where there is peace and joy, fullness of life for all."
There are so many ways in which we have to work to make that happen. Again, if we come to our parish celebrations every Sunday and listen deeply to the Word of God, gradually, Jesus will be sharing with us how we join that work of transforming our world so that our world becomes, indeed, the reign of God. Listen deeply to God's Word, follow that Word, and you will share in the work of Jesus of bringing good news to the poor and fullness of life to every person.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]