If we were to give a title to today’s liturgy it would be: the role of God’s Word in our life. As individuals, God’s Word is for us a great source of comfort and light, just as it is for our Protestant brothers and sisters. However, it is self-evident that some of the insights we receive from our personal interpretation of the Bible could be incomplete, lacking in some ways or even erroneous.
This is precisely the reason why we have so many different Protestant denominations. Various groups of Christians start a new church as soon as the official interpretation of the former group is not accepted by them. Clearly, if there is ONE Spirit, there must be also only ONE correct interpretation of God’s Word.
In the Catholic Church this danger is minimized by the fact that we have only one official interpretation of God’s Word: that being the one of the teaching authorities of the Church (Magisterium). They are those who, under the assured guidance of the Spirit, have been appointed to offer us the true intent of God in revealing His will to us in the Sacred Tradition, both in written and spoken form: i.e. the truths handed down from one generation of believers to the next.
Let me prove this to you through a reading from the Book of Nehemiah. There are several crucial conclusions we must draw from it.
- Upon returning from the Babylonian exile, the Israelites discovered a scroll of God’s Word handed down to them from previous generations.
- God’s Word was lifeless, in an old moldy scroll until it became alive in the community under the leadership of Ezra the priest, and Nehemiah the governor.
- The Word of God becomes alive as it is done and lived by the community: “Today is holy to our Lord” as God and His people were “doing” His Word in such a forceful way that everyone was moved to tears of joy.
- They cried aloud “amen, amen”, enthralled to the point of staying there, “doing” the Word, from daybreak till noon.
- There was only one interpretation of the Word and that came from Ezra the priest, in his homily.
Additionally, from the Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:12-30), we can draw the following conclusions:
- In Baptism, the Word of God calls and makes us into one Body. The Word of God guides us to live in such a way that we avoid divisions in the Body of Christ; that we keep from hurting any part because, in that case, the entire Body would suffer; and we try to honor each part so that the whole Body may feel honored.
- The first three gifts of the Holy Spirit for the Body, for the Church, are in relation to the Word. Apostles: they are sent to announce it to others, thus enlarging the Body of Christ. Prophets are those called to be God’s mouthpieces in the proclamation of the Word, and finally, Teachers: who are called to teach the Word of God by offering the correct interpretation for the building up of the Body.
The Gospel of Luke (1:1-4; 4:14-21) also offers us some very important points of reflection. Again, as in the Book of Nehemiah, God’s Word is lifeless, in a scroll. It becomes alive in the community: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing. We keep hearing the word TODAY and NOW, mentioned. In the community of faith God’s Word is offered to us as a segment of His plan for us.
Taking this gospel, for example, this is what happens now: God tells us: My daughter, my son, do you want to have my Spirit upon you as He is upon Jesus? Do you let Him anoint you? Do you want to be sent to bring glad tidings to the poor? Do you want to be sent to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind of Macomb County? Can I count on you to go set the oppressed free?
We must stop thinking that the Word of God is a collection of nice stories from the past which we can listen to, enjoy, or dismiss. God has no past, no future, but lives in an endless present tense of eternal duration.
So does His Word.
Every time we gather as a community of faith because called by His Word in Baptism, formed by His Word into a functional, unified Body, we can “do” that Word, we can allow our little, flimsy, hurtful present to coincide with God’s endless present. In God’s present, as we “do” His Word with Him, our past is relieved of its painful burdens, and our future can be faced with resolve and courage.
One final point: having made the necessary changes, what we have here (in the Book of Nehemiah) is the pattern of our Holy Mass. The platform is now a podium; the Bible is read; a New Testament priest is presiding here instead of Ezra; you, the people of God participate fully; and you sing the great “Amen.” Then, we all eat rich food and drink sweet drinks and rejoice together in the Lord our strength. The Eucharistic bread and wine, the Flesh and Blood of our God are the source of our joy. This rich food and sweet drink, the Body and Blood of Christ give us the strength of mind to allow God to bring us into His endless present, to rejoice even now and to look with firm hope into the future. And most importantly, Holy Communion enables us to put into action our personal anointing of the Spirit, for indeed our God has grandiose plans for us all!
Within the Body of Christ many are waiting for us to exercise our gift of great deeds, or to heal them, or to assist them by carrying out important tasks, or to administer the goods we possess. We cannot overlook those who are held captives to fears and injustices, and greed, and selfishness. We cannot remain unmoved by the plight of the oppressed, the blind and the poor. The pain of anyone within or without the Body of Christ has to become our pain.
Naturally, we won’t know how many are waiting for us to share our gifts with them until we step forward and allow our timid, imperfect present to coincide with God’s present. Furthermore, the needs, the hurts are so severe that whoever acts on the Spirit’s anointing, obviously, won’t be having fun or enjoying a good time. However, eventually, anything done with humility and joyous self-giving will generate the same inner joy that the Gospel attributes to Jesus as he carried out the mandate he received from the Father.
The Lord who took very seriously the actualization of his anointing, knows of our likely hesitation. That is why, now and then, he intrigues us by pointing out to us one or several people who are truly serene and exude inner joy even as they perform demanding tasks and share their gifts with a generous heart. It could be our mom or dad, or an aging nun, a teacher from our old school, maybe even a dedicated priest. Intrigued by their serene facial expression we might be a bit jealous and wonder what we should do to experience even if only a fraction of their inner joy. Well, they are templates of that joy which the Holy Spirit would grant us for acting unreservedly on our own anointing.
Now that we know the secret to lasting inner joy we should be eager to experience it ourselves by being generous and untiring in the carrying out of our anointing as, from day to day, God’s Word shows us how.