3rd Sunday of the Year

3rd Sunday of the Year
Nehemiah 8:2–4, 5–6, 8–10; 1 Corinthians 12:12–30; Luke 1:1–4, 4:14–21

Three ears
We should listen to God’s words with three ears: the ear of the mind, the ear of the heart, and the ear of the soul.

In the time of Jesus, there were two places of worship in Israel: the Temple and the synagogue.

There was only one Temple; it was located in Jerusalem.
But there were hundreds of synagogues; every village had one.

The Temple was a place of sacrifice. There Jews offered to God such things as lambs and doves.

The synagogue was a place of instruction. There Jews listened to God’s Word and tried to apply it to their lives.

As you’d expect, the synagogue service and the temple service
have their counterparts in our Mass.

The first half of the Mass is like the synagogue service.
It’s called the Liturgy of the Word and deals with reading Scripture
and applying it to our lives just as Jesus did for the people of Nazareth in today’s gospel.

The last half of the Mass is like the temple service. It’s called the Liturgy of the Eucharist and deals with offering  sacrifice
just as Jesus did at the Last Supper. There we read:

“In the same way,he gave them the cup after the supper,saying, ‘This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.’ ” Luke 22:20

Let’s now look more closely at the first half of Mass, the Liturgy of the Word.

Our main activity during the Liturgy of the Word is listening to Scripture. The key word here is listening.

Years ago there was a Broadway play called The Royal Hunt of the Sun.It was about Spain’s conquest of the Indians
in Peru in the 16th century. In one scene someone gave
the Indian chief a Bible and told him, “This is God’s Word.
He speaks to us through it.’’

The chief took the Bible cautiously. He studied it carefully,
and gently raised it to his ear. He listened and listened, but he heard nothing.

Then, feeling put upon, he slammed the Bible down angrily.

That dramatic scene makes us ask ourselves, “Well, how do we listen to God’s Word?’’

The answer is that we listen to it in three ways. We listen with the ear of the mind. We listen with the ear of the heart.
We listen with the ear of the soul.

First, the mind. How do we listen with the ear of the mind?

We do this by trying to understand God’s Word. We do more.
We try to make God’s Word come alive for us.

For example, St. Ignatius of Loyola did this by closing
his eyes and imagining that he was present in the synagogue
of Nazareth, listening to Jesus.
For instance, he’d imagine the emotion that certainly choked the voice of Jesus when he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. . . .”

And he’d imagine the excitement that certainly electrified the congregation when Jesus said, “This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.”

And so listening with the mind means not only understanding God’s Word but also making it come alive.

The second way we should listen to God’s Word is with
the ear of the heart. This means we take God’s Word to heart.
We try to see how it applies to our own life situation.

Years ago Charlie Pitts owned the construction company
that built the Toronto Subway in Canada. The more Charlie’s business grew, the most his personal and family life suffered.

One day things got so bad that Charlie turned to the Bible for help. As he read it one sentence suddenly leaped off the page.
It was these words of Jesus:

“Will a person gain anything if he wins the whole world but is himself lost or defeated?” Luke 9:25

These words spoke right to Charlie. They said to him, “Charlie, this is what’s happening to you!’’
And so listening with the heart means taking God’s Word to heart and seeing how it applies to our own situation.

The final way we should listen to God’s Word is with the ear of the soul.
This means besides taking God’s Word to heart, we also talk to God about it. We do more; we do what Charlie Pitts did.
We ask God to help us take the necessary steps to make our lives conform with his Word.

For example, after Charlie Pitts prayed over his situation
and discussed it with his wife, he sold his company before
it destroyed him.

Charlie went on to buy and manage a hotel and a golf
resort. And the income from this enterprise was donated
to the spread of the Gospel.

The third step, then, in listening to God’s Word is talking it over with God to see what he may want to say to us about it.

Of course, we don’t expect God to answer us in words.
He usually speaks to us in a spiritual way in the depths
of our soul.

One thing more is true about God. He doesn’t always speak
to us immediately, during the time of prayer. Often God does this outside the time of prayer, in the course of our daily life.

For example, we may begin to experience a growing desire
to do something about our situation. We may begin to get ideas on how to deal with our situation. We may begin to feel a subtle pull toward one of these ideas.
All of these spiritual movements may be God speaking to us in a wordless way in the depths of our soul.

By way of conclusion, we may say this. We should listen to God’s Word in three ways: with the ear of our mind, with the ear of our heart, and with the ear of our soul.
In other words, we make God’s Word come alive in our mind.
We take it to heart. We talk to God about it and listen to what he might want to say to us about it.
 
Series II
3rd Sunday of the Year
Nehemiah 8:2–4, 5–6, 8–10; 1 Corinthians 12:12–30; Luke 1:1–4, 4:14–21

The starfish thrower
Jesus’ inaugural address ushered in a new era in human history and is an invitation to each of us.

One of our nation’s biggest celebrations occurs not every year, but every four years. It’s the inauguration of a new president.

No amount of work or money is spared. For example, the five-day inaugural of President Bush in 1989 cost an estimated $25 million.

Five separate inaugural banquets served 5,000 people who paid $3,000 a couple for food and drink.

“Dinner for two at the inaugural banquet,’’ said one man, “cost as much as providing food for one poor person for an entire year.’’

Not surprisingly, several social organizations sponsored a counterinaugural banquet of chili, bread, and coffee for 500 homeless in front of Washington’s Union Station.

One man said, “That counterbanquet was one of the ‘thousand points of light’ that President Bush talked about
in his acceptance speech in New Orleans.’’ Bush repeated
the “thousand points of light’’ image on the opening night of the five-day inaugural, as 40,000 people switched on 40,000 tiny flashlights to dramatize his words.

The highlight of every presidential inaugural, of course, is the inaugural address.

Who can forget the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
in 1933, when he said to a nation in the midst of a terrible depression,

“This great nation will endure. . . . The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’’

Or who can forget the words of John F. Kennedy in 1961,
when he said, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’’

Or who can forget the words of President Reagan in 1985
when he said, “Hopeful, bighearted . . . daring. . . . That’s
our song.’’

All of the pomp and pageantry that marked the inauguration of George Bush stands in stark contrast
to the inauguration of another president named George:
George Washington.

After his inauguration in 1789, Washington called it a night at 10 P.M., stepped out into the darkness undetected, and walked the entire distance from the inaugural hall to the presidential mansion on foot.

Today’s gospel describes another inaugural address of a new leader. It’s the inaugural address of Jesus as he begins
his mission as Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world.
And it, too, is filled with exciting phrases as every inaugural address is. Jesus says:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen
meto bring good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,to set free the oppressed.”

And what Ezra says to the people in today’s first reading,
Jesus might also have said to the people in the synagogue
at Nazareth:

“This day is holy to the LORD your God, so you are not to mourn or cry.”

The words of the inaugural address of Jesus are filled with hope for the poor, the helpless, and the oppressed.

In this respect they are like the words that every president has spoken in every inaugural address since 1789.

They are words that cannot be carried out by one president working alone. They must be carried out by everyone.

For as Paul says in today’s second reading, we all form one body. We all share the responsibility of making the dreams
of our leaders come true.
And so it is with Jesus’ inaugural address in today’s gospel.

The dream that Jesus sets forth is a dream that can be realized only if we, his followers, make it our dream as well.

If the victims of poverty in today’s world are to hear the good news of Jesus, we must tell them about it.
If the victims of blindness, AIDS, and other tragedies are to recover vision and hope, we must minister to them.

If the victims of political oppression in prisons throughout
the world are to be set free, we must raise our voices in their support.

If the darkness of our world is to be lit up by “a thousand points of light,’’ we must switch on our tiny flashlights
and help make it happen.

An old man was walking along a beach after a big storm.
Fifty yards ahead of him was a young woman. She was picking up starfish that the storm had stranded on the
beach, and was throwing them back into the sea.

When the old man caught up with her, he asked her what she was doing. She replied that the starfish would die unless they were returned to the sea before the sun began beating down on them.

The old man said, “But the beach goes on for miles and miles,
and there are thousands of stranded starfish. How can your small effort make a difference?’’
Picking up a starfish and holding it lovingly in her hands,
she said, “It makes a big difference to this one.’’ And with that, she returned it to the sea.

The spirit of that young woman is the kind of spirit
that every Christian should strive to imitate.


When someone asks us, “How can your small effort make a difference in a world filled with millions of people crying out for help, our answer must be the same as the young woman’s.

“It makes a big difference to the ones we are able to help!’’

And if we give generously of our own loaves and fishes,
Jesus will find a way to multiply them and feed the hungry multitude.

This is the message of today’s gospel.

This is the good news that the victims of social injustice are waiting to hear.

This is the kind of faith that can inspire others to join us and, indeed, create “a thousand points of light’’ that will dispel the darkness of our world.
 
Series III
3rd Sunday of the Year
Nehemiah 8:2–4, 5–6, 8–10; 1 Corinthians 12:12–30; Luke 1:1–4, 4:14–21

Listening to God’s word
Listen with faith, openness, and perseverance.

Jesus] stood up to read the Scriptures. . . . All the people . . .
had their eyes fixed on him. Luke 4:16, 20

Years ago the Romanian government released a number
of political and religious prisoners. Among them was Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran pastor, who had been in prison 14 years.

In his book God’s Underground he describes how one day a new prisoner named Avram arrived. He had apparently been injured seriously. His upper body was encased in a plaster cast. When the guards left, Avram took out a tiny book concealed beneath his cast.

None of the prisoners had seen a book of any kind in years.
“It’s the Gospel of John,” Avram said. Then he held it out to Wurmbrand, who said later, “I took it in my hands as if  it were a live bird. No life-saving drug could have been more precious to me.”

From that day on, the tiny book went from hand to hand among the prisoners. In time, many learned it by heart and
discussed it daily among themselves.
Idon’t know about you, but for me, a story like that rekindles my appreciation of what an incredible gift
the word of God really is.

That brings us to the word of God and its role in the Liturgy of the Word, which we are celebrating now.

As we all know, the Mass divides into two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which we will celebrate in a few minutes.

In ancient times Jewish kings used to keep the scroll of God’s word near the throne. Some Jewish generals even carried it into battle. Today, before reading from it, Jewish congregations carry it in a solemn procession around the synagogue.

In his book The Jewish Jesus, Robert Aron describes the procession, saying people reach out to it, that everyone
crowds in upon the scroll, trying to touch it with the end
of their tallith, or prayer shawl. Then they kiss the part of
the shawl that touches the scroll.

The reading of God’s word from the scroll is the most solemn moment of the synagogue service. Luke refers to this most solemn moment in today’s Gospel, saying, “[Jesus] stood up to read the Scriptures.” He unrolled the scroll and read. When he finished, he explained the meaning of the passage.


The Liturgy of the Word at Mass follows a similar pattern.
It begins with the reading of God’s word and ends with an explanation of it.
Years ago there was a Broadway play called The Royal Hunt of the Sun. It concerned Spain’s conquest of the Indians of Peru in the 16th century. In one scene an Indian chief is handed a Bible and told that it is the word of God.

He put it to his ear reverently and listened.When he heard nothing, he felt duped and threw the Bible down. That scene, among other things, makes us ask, How should we listen
to the word of God in the Scriptures?

The most important thing is to listen to God’s word with faith. We must listen to it, knowing that it is God himself who gives his word the power to touch us deeply. All we can do is open ourselves to it.

Listening to it with faith is not easy. It requires special effort on our part. A third-century homilist, named Origen, used to tell his congregation and I quote:

You receive the body of the Lord with special care and reverence,
lest the smallest crumb of the consecrated gift fall to the floor.

You should receive the word of the Lord with equal care and reverence,lest the smallest word of it fall to the floor and be lost.

In addition to listening to God’s word with faith and openness, we should listen to it with faithful perseverance.
That is, we should listen to it, believing that at some point on some occasion God will touch us, through it, in a way that will make all our listening infinitely worth all our previous effort.

Years ago a student (of the author) returned home from a canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness. He described how one day he and his companion were very tired and badly in need of prolonged rest.

As they paddled along the river, miles from civilization, they suddenly spotted a small trapper’s cabin, sitting back among the trees about 20 yards from the river bank.

They beached their canoe and headed toward the cabin.
The door was not locked. They went inside. The cabin
was empty, except for an open Bible on a bunk bed. His companion went over to it and saw a note lying across it.
He picked up the note. It read:

Your cabin saved my life. I had taken ill and needed shelter.
Your cabin provided it.I cannot repay you with money, only with God’s blessing. Read thepassage in my Bible below this card.

He picked up the Bible and read:

“Then the King will say . . . ‘Come and possess the kingdom. . . .
I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink;
I was a stranger and you received me. . . .

“ ‘I was sick and you took care of me. . . . [W]henever you did this for one of the least . . . you did it for me!’ ” Matthew 25:34–40



The student said he had read this passage and heard it read
at Mass many times. But it never touched him so profoundly
as it did at that moment.

That beautiful story illustrates the point that if we listen to God’s word with faith, openness, and perseverance, the day will come when we will hear it in a way that touches us deeply.

That brings us to the homily, or explanation of God’s
word. Just as it is God who speaks to us through his word
in Scripture, so, also, it is God who speaks to us through the homily. Saint Augustine said:

When the Sacred Scriptures are read and explained, it is Christ himself who speaks to us through them.

In saying this, he is merely echoing the words of Jesus, who told his disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me.”
Luke 10:16


The point is that the homily may not always be to our taste, but if we listen to it with faith, openness, and perseverance,
the day will certainly come when God will use it to speak us
in a life-changing way that we never thought possible.