Both today’s first reading, and the Gospel, describe the public reading of Sacred Scripture which challenges the hearers to make a “fresh beginning” with a new outlook. As we commemorate, today, the Sunday of the word of God both readings teach us importance of word of God.
In the First Reading, we see Ezra, the great priest and scholar of the Law, reading the law of Moses aloud to the people of Israel after their return from Babylonian exile. The context is this: after defeating Babylon, King Cyrus of Persia decreed that the exiled Jews, who had spent seven decades of exile in Babylon, could return home to Jerusalem. The Jews who returned rebuilt their ruined Temple (Ezra 6:15-17), and finished rebuilding the city walls under Ezra, and Nehemiah (Neh 6:15). The Lord gave an important mission to both men. They were to teach the Hebrew Scriptures and inspire the people to the high ideals of their ancestral religion. As we see in today’s reading, Ezra is leading the people in a “Covenant renewal” ceremony. In this ceremony, Ezra reads and interprets the Law for the Jews gathered before the Water Gate, from early in the morning till mid-day on the first day of the Jewish year (Neh 8:8). The Torah, thus, becomes a living Word of power, grace and forgiveness for these exiles. It evokes from them a dramatic response. They have come to realize the many ways in which they have failed to keep God’s Commandments in their lives. Hence, with tears of repentance in their eyes and joy in their hearts, the people respond with a great “Amen!” Israel, as we sing in today’s Psalm, was rededicating itself to God and His Law. And then Nehemiah ask them: “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him 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 8:10). The word of God then finishes like this: “all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (Neh 8:12).
Here we find the primordial form of Holy communion: They stood up, listened to the word, they responded "Amen", lifted up their hands, they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord, they ate together. What we do in the mass? First, we hear the word of God and meditate. It is an important part in the Holy Mass. It is the moment in which power of the word of God works in the hearts of the faithful. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12). So, If we close our doors to the word of God, no change will occur in our lives. Let us remember what says in the book of revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20). That is, if we do not open the door, we alone are going to eat at the table. That is why the faithful who comes after the gospel do not receive Holy Communion. This is also the reason many times we go back home without any change in our minds and heart and even without any blessings.
Remember what God says in Exodus: “in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you” (Ex 20:24). The word of God is the simplest way to remind the name of God. That is why we are asked to read the Bible in the families so that families may receive blessings.
Now I remember my father who bought three bibles for us and asked us to read it completely. I must testimony that I finished it reading when I was 15 years old. My sisters finished it reading when they were at the age of 13 and 12. To be honest, I finished it reading, but obviously I did not understand everything. But it is not important that you understand but your life will change. That is kind of power the word of God has. I think my father was convinced of what St. Paul says to Timothy: “from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”. (2 Tim3:15).
If you remember the creation story we read: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” The spirit of God and the word of God. Those are the two things that give form and order to the whole universe. It is the same word and spirit that gives form and order to our lives as well. If we feel that our family and personal lives are empty and disordered the solution is the word of God. So let us give space for the word of God to work in us.
There was a poor boy who received every Monday a long letter from his friend who studied with him and then worked abroad. Although he knew and loved this beautiful, rich, studious and smart girl, he did not find time to read her entire letters which narrated all the stories of her family members. In his old age while he was going through his old files, he came to notice these letters and started to read. He was shocked to read those letters and realized her love and propositions. He then lived with the grief of not having read those letters at that time and therefore not having understood her love.
We are like this man who never finds some time to read the letters from our Heavenly Father who narrates his story and of his family. We can’t know his love and his promises unless we read his letters.
St Augustin had similar experience and later he wrote: "Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within, and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely, created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours”.
Dear friends, today let us take a firm decision to read the Bible, the word of God which is the foundation of our Christian life, on regular basis every day. Let our hearts be filled with his love, peace, joy and happiness.