SUNDAY’S READINGS | January 23, 2022
Second only to the great story of God liberating the children of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, there is another freedom story, told in various ways and repeatedly, of the Jews living as enslaved exiles in Babylon, and then, after 70 years, returning home, to claim their land, rebuild their temple and city, and establish their social and religious community. In Babylon, they had learned to be Jews bereaved of their land and temple. So they relied on what was available, the recitation and study of sacred Scripture, laying the foundation of what would become synagogue worship.
In the reading from Nehemiah, we find the Jews returned to the land of promise, and we observe the importance of the sacred Scriptures to their lives. Ezra, a scholar of the law, brings out the book of the law of Moses, and he reads it before an assembly “both of men and women, and all who could hear with understanding” (Neh. 8:1-2). “The ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law” (Neh. 8:4). They are convicted by what they heard or perhaps moved by its beauty. “For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law” (Neh. 8:9). Ezra forbids their tears, saying, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep. . . . Go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:9-19).
Listening to the words of the law, reading it, and studying it can be a pleasure to the soul.
The Psalmist says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, revives the soul, is sure, gives wisdom to the innocent, is just, rejoices the heart, is clear, gives light to the eyes, is clean and endures forever, is true and righteous altogether, is more to be desired than fine gold and sweeter than honey in the comb” (Ps. 19:7-10).
We do not perhaps think of study and mental effort in this way, as a joy and a pleasure. And yet we have known this pleasure at times.
The people listen to the words of the law as a living voice that speaks directly to them. Similarly, the early Christians read the Old Testament, that being the only Bible they had at the time, as a living word about Jesus Christ. Everywhere they turned in the Law and the Prophets, they found intimations of all the mysteries of Christ. They read and listened, compared text to text, and often pursued imaginative and compelling interpretations.
If we listen with deep concentration today, our lives will change, and all for the better. “[Jesus] stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written; ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16-21).
In your hearing, Jesus Christ is announced and proclaimed as your true and everlasting Good News!
Look It Up: Luke 4:16
Think About It: Is it your custom to go to church on the Lord’s Day and hear his Word?