Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Liturgical Pattern of Joy – 24 January 2016 – Third Sunday after the Epiphany

The readings from Luke and Nehemiah show us people at worship. What do we see? A gathering, a reading from the holy book, a commentary on what is read, and at least in Nehemiah, a feast and a sending to those who have nothing.

What shall we make of this? As narrative, as history, as poetry, as the depiction of a one-time event – whatever the the actuality, whatever the rhetorical offering – scripture gives us an image of worship. Notice that pattern is linked to the teachings of liturgical renewal:

Finally, the people are commanded to rejoice: “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine… for this day is holy… and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10)

Luke 4:14-21

Today's selection tells of Jesus at the synagogue on a Sabbath in Nazareth, where he reads a scroll that Luke cites as Isaiah 61:1–2; (4:16–19). This postexilic text from third Isaiah likely originated as “the call” of its author to proclaim an eschatological vision of a redeemed Israel.

Luke clearly senses this vision fulfilled in Jesus when he claims that Jesus concludes the reading by stating that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21). Here we sense that Luke's Jesus is aware of his empowerment by the Spirit that descended upon him at his baptism (3:22).

While today's selection allows for the community to celebrate its understanding of Jesus as one who fulfilled messianic prophecy, preachers need to recognize that fulfillment is a secondary post-Easter interpretation that has led the church into the ideology of supersessionism that is rejected by Catholics and all mainline denominations today. – Regina Boisclair

Nehemiah 8:-13, 5-6, 8-10

This episode clearly associates Ezra with the identification of texts as sacred. It bears witness to the idea of a sacred text given by God that gained prominence early in the postexilic era (c. 400 B.C.E.) Today, most scholars sense that what Ezra may have promulgated was some rendition of Deuteronomy. Dating this event on the first of Tishri (Rosh Hashanah [v 2], the Jewish New Year) underscores the idea that something new is taking place. The setting of this episode in the square before the water gate, which allows for all persons to be present including those ritually defiled, suggests that whatever Ezra's role, the issue of mixed marriages was resolved for the moment. Both men and women voice an amen of ascent that is reinforced with uplifted hands and prostration. – Regina Boisclair

Read this scene with care. Notice that the people beg to hear the scripture, are deeply moved, accept responsibility for disobedience, and then obey Ezra's command to celebrate.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

The people gathered around Nehemiah and around Jesus in the temple are from a different era than our own, yet they remain close to us. Paul gives us a way to understand our relations with our ancestors and ourselves.

Although Paul stresses the unity of the community, he does not consider all equal. Just as he considers parts of the body more honorable than others (vv 22–24), he ranks for the church: apostles, prophets, teachers, then he lists miracles, healing, assistance, leadership, and tongues (v 28). Stressing that none have all charisms (vv 29–30) he calls all to seek the greater gifts (12:31) that will identify those that build up the body (14:4–5). – Regina Boisclair

The story of Ezra and his people serves as a reminder of the humanness of our biblical brothers and sisters. It is the type of story that enables us to relate to them in their pain, remorse, and hope for a brighter future. It might also create a thirst for churchgoers to expand their knowledge and understanding of the wide variety of stories and lessons held within the Bible, and create a deeper kinship with those whose stories offer a snapshot of life in centuries past.

When viewed in the full context of last Sunday's epistle lesson, today's lesson from Corinthians refers to the ability to interpret scripture, and also serves as an affirmation of all members of the body of Christ. Therefore it fits in nicely with the theme of knowing, understanding, and celebrating the fullness of our faith tradition.
Carol J. Noren

Regina Boisclair, a Roman Catholic theologian, is professor of religious studies, Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage.

Carol J. Noren, a United Methodist pastor, is the Wesley W. Nelson professor of homiletics at North Park Theological Seminary. She served chuches as pastor in Minnesota for twenty years.

Homily Service 40, no. 2 (2007): 45-56.

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