Friday, January 25, 2013

Did We Miss Something?

Reflection on Sunday's Readings (01/27/2013) Link

Ezra told the people “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” The people before Ezra had been scattered and abandoned for a time, but they had been reunited. Their heritage had been lost and their home was in ruins. Now, all of a sudden, they were back together and their greatest treasure, the law of the Lord, was being taught to them again. The people, filled with emotion, began to weep—perhaps they wept at what they had lost. Perhaps they wept because forsaking the law cost them their home. Whatever the reason Ezra and the other leaders urged them to eat good food and drink sweet drinks. Here we see that returning the word of God brought joy, but also sadness, to those who were present.

The Psalm today states that the law of the Lord “refreshes the soul” but the leaders of the people in the Old Testament needed to urge everyone to refresh themselves. Nehemiah and Ezra asked them to 'party', so to speak, in order feel the joy that they should be feeling. It's odd advice to tell someone to “be happy” after they've cried—have they just missed something?

We may also notice that the crowd gathered at the synagogue in today's Gospel reacted in a peculiar way. Luke recounts that Jesus was praised for his power and teaching. He stood up among those present and read from the prophet Isaiah where he proclaimed that this was a “year acceptable to our Lord," greater than the holy 'day' proclaimed by Ezra. As he sat back down everyone else sat in stunned silence. They maybe thought to themselves at the moment—“did we just miss something?” Jesus satisfies their curiosity by saying “this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Both of the stories today continue beyond this point, but it's worth pointing out why we've decided to stop at these particular points in both. The Old Testament shows the fulfillment of the prophets: the people have returned to Jerusalem. The New Testament proclaims fulfillment from God to those who need Him most. 

These accounts both present the fulfillment of a message and a reason to be happy, yet both groups present are not happy. 

It is strange that neither of these groups are particularly happy. The Jews longed in their heart for the word of God. Scripture says that it was explained to them plainly. When they heard it, they wept. The children of Israel waited for a savior, one who would lift the burden from the oppressed. When they saw Him, they remained silent. It's not unlike us nearing the end of a good book and we don't want to finish because it would mean leaving that world. It seems that when their aspirations and innermost hopes were manifested before their eyes they acted as if they were looking for something else.

Some people have said that the 'journey is better than the destination,' but while the journey is necessary the destination is the reason for that journey. Scripture today relates to us that when our senses come into contact with God we hardly believe it—sometimes because it's too good to be true, as with the Old Testament, and so we doubt; other times it's too true to be real, as with Christ, and so we brush it off. Is the same true with the Eucharist? Has God really visited his people in simple bread and common wine?

Jesus coming into our life should be an occasion for happiness precisely because he comes to us in the smallest of things. It stands to reason that he comes to us in a great number of things beyond it. If we deny Christ who is present before our eyes, who are we looking for instead—what are we looking for? There are those who suffer here in each of our communities and those who struggle right in front of us. They are the people who are urged to be most happy because God is with them. They are looking for God in the smallest of things. Do you think they would doubt or fail to recognize Him when they saw Him, even if it was through you?

Those who consider themselves fulfilled know they really aren't, but they look for that one perfect thing to complete them. Those who are starved are thankful with the smallest amount. 

Scripture is perhaps telling us to be hungry. But then it tells us to eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks. What fulfills us is here to be experienced: the consolation of the poor, the joy of those who mourn, and Christ fully present. We must believe that this is true and that this will make us happy, otherwise we'll always be looking for something else. Don't miss it.