Today we repeat the heartwarming refrain of the Responsorial Psalm, “Your words, Lord, are Spirt and life.” In today’s liturgy, therefore, the Church invites us to ponder the meaning and importance of the Word of God for our lives. We take time to encounter the Word, the life-giving Word who was in the beginning with God (cf. Jn 1:1). From the Divine Word come words that are truly “Spirit and life” for us. These words include his decrees, his precepts, and his commands, which, as the Psalm tells us, give wisdom to the simple, joy to the heart, and light to the eye.
In today’s reading from the Book of Nehemiah we observe that the people of Israel were deeply moved, even to tears, as they listened to the words of the law of the Lord. Yes, “the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” Why were the people touched so deeply as they received the words of the Lord? Because they were previously in exile, which meant that for a long time they felt cut off from God and from his words. The Ark of the Covenant was lost, the temple had been desecrated, and the people had ignored or forgotten much of what God had told them. The absence of the Word of God was tantamount to the absence of God in their lives, which led to the loss of their identity and then to complete disorientation. How could they live as God’s Chosen People if they no longer knew who chose them or what he said to them? We recall that their being forced into exile was a result of their unfaithfulness to the word of God.
Now that the people have been brought back from exile and have rebuilt the walls of the city, it is an inexpressible joy for them to hear once again the words of the Lord, to be filled with his “Spirit and life.” It is like coming back to life. They are regaining their identity and finding once more meaning in their lives. It is no surprise that they spend several long hours listening attentively. In response they bow down in reverence, for the words of the Lord are the people’s living connection with the One from whom they come. The leaders remind the people that this day on which they receive the word of God is a holy day, a day for rejoicing in the Lord.
It is the same for us. Today is the Lord’s Day. We rejoice to be able to worship the Lord in the Church and to hear his word. As we listen, we take his word into our hearts, and consequently find our identity and meaning in our lives.
In today’s Gospel, we encounter the life-giving Word of God in a new and greater way: in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Jesus goes into the Nazareth synagogue and reads from the Book of the prophet Isaiah. The passage he selects is a summary prophecy, an inspired “job description” of the awaited Messiah, who will come to bring good news to the poor, to set the captives free, and to give sight to the blind. The words of the prophecy mirror what we learn from today’s Psalm. Just as the words of God – his laws, decrees, precepts and commands – give Spirit and life, so too does the Word made flesh give Spirit and life. The Messiah’s mission is to refresh the soul, give wisdom to the simple (the poor) and enlighten the eye (bring sight to the blind).
Jesus declares that the Scripture passage he has just proclaimed is fulfilled in the hearing of his audience. It is being fulfilled in our own hearing as well, as we ponder the word today. We meet Jesus in his word. Conversely, when we neglect the word, we neglect him. “Ignorance of the Scriptures,” St. Jerome says, “is ignorance of Christ” (cf. CCC 133). When the inspired word is proclaimed, Christ the Messiah is proclaimed. It is he who gives sight to the blind, giving us wisdom and freedom. Jesus the Eternal Word who speaks the good news of joy through the Scriptures is the good news in person; he is not just an abstract concept or an idea, he is the Word made flesh.
Jesus comes to us in a very special way in the Holy Eucharist. Through his Eucharistic presence, which is identical with his presence while he was on earth, he continues to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. When we encounter the Eucharistic Lord, the Word made flesh, we are filled with joy and peace; we receive wisdom and the true light of faith, to see clearly through the darkness of this world. He gathers us together and nourishes us with his life-giving word as he feeds us with his Body and Blood. Our life as a Catholic Christian community is and should be centered on the Holy Eucharist.
The Eucharist also expresses our unity as the one Body of Christ. Many though we are, our communion with Christ makes us all one. St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we are all one in Christ. We have been given different gifts as members of the one Body. We all have the responsibility to use whatever gifts we are given to build up the Body of Christ, the Church. “You are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” These words of the Lord also give us Spirit and life!
When have I felt as if I were in exile? How can I worship the Lord? Do I center my life on the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.