Date: Sunday, January 23, 2022
We have odd saying “soap box” that refers to a temporary platform that elevates a speaker above the crowd to improve the chance of being seen and heard. Boxes from dry good stores were used for this purpose – thus a “soap box.” In church the elevated place to proclaim the Word is called the “Ambo” from the Latin and Greek word meaning “step” or “elevation.” It is a sacred place that honors the proclamation of the Word of God.
Our first reading, the Book of Nehemiah, takes us back 2500 years or 500 years before Christ and the Common Era. Jewish people are returning from exile in Babylon. They find the city of Jerusalem and temple in ruins. They are exhausted physically and spiritually. Nehemiah is the governor. Ezra is the priest. They recognize a hunger within those who have come home. Nehemiah and Ezra realize what must be done. An assembly is called near the Water Gate including men, women, and children. Ezra stands on a wooden platform so everyone can see and hear. He opens the scroll and blesses the Lord. The people respond, “Amen” and bow. Ezra reads the book of the Law, the Torah, plainly. Nehemiah and scribes offer commentary. After this “Liturgy of the Word,” the people disperse for a feast of rich food. The Jewish community is known as the People of the Book!
In the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus returns home to Nazareth and according to his custom goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. Jesus stands to read. The scroll of the Prophet Isaiah is handed to him. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” Rolling up the scroll and handing it back to the attendant, Jesus sits down and says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” A one sentence homily! Next Sunday we will hear the response of the “minyan,” the Jews present in the synagogue. What Jesus says in applying these verses from Isaiah to himself is Sacred Scripture is fulfilled in me. Can we imagine hearing Jesus speak to us as the Word of God?
Growing up the Liturgy of the Word was secondary at Catholic Latin Masses. It was understood that Catholics could miss the first part of the Mass and just come for the Offertory, Consecration and Communion and still fulfill their obligation. After the Second Vatican Council, the Latin Mass was translated into the vernacular and the Liturgy of the Word was once again seen as integral to our Sunday worship. Pope Francis has called the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time “Sunday of the Word.” It is an occasion to remind all of us how essential and important the Word of God is for Catholics. Jesus is present both in the Word and in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, the vernacular of his day, stressed, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
We are growing in our appreciation of the living Word of God, written down in the Bible, proclaimed at Mass, explained in the homily, and then reflected upon during the week. It is our spiritual nourishment. Sacred Scripture underscores our bond the with Jewish Community – the People of the Book – and it is the source of our unity with Christian Churches. Please consider joining one of our Bible Study Groups announced in the bulletin. Those who do make a commitment testify how important breaking open and sharing the Word has become in their personal lives especially when they reflect on Scriptures with others.