3rd sunday in ordinary time
23rd january 2022
Year C – Psalter Week 3
The scene described in our first reading from the book of Nehemiah is a moving one. The people had been exiled from the land for seventy years following the Babylonian invasion, with Jerusalem and the temple being destroyed in 587BC and the Jewish people being deported. The Second Book of Chronicles tells of how, as prophesied by Isaiah for example, Cyrus the pagan king of Persia, the new great superpower, issued a decree for a house of God to be built at Jerusalem, and that the Jewish people who wanted to build this and worship there should return home.
As the Jewish people had been exiled in three waves, so their return from exile would be in three waves. The first return was in 538BC, during which the temple was rebuilt under Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest, with the financial help of the Persian royal treasury. The second wave of return occurred in 525BC, when Ezra revitalised the people by teaching the Word of God. The third return was in 444BC, when Nehemiah rebuilt the wall around the city of Jerusalem.
Once lesson that we can draw from this Sunday’s readings is the importance of knowing the scriptures, and the promises that are contained therein. In fact, without knowing the Bible, we can’t really know the mind of Christ or interpret correctly the signs of the times. Ezra the priest was commissioned by God to strengthen the people of Judah in the knowledge of the Law as found in the writings of the Old Testament and helped the people to interpret it correctly by ‘translating and giving the sense, so that the people understood what was read’ and could put the Law of God into practice in their own lives. In the gospel meanwhile, Jesus draws upon the following prophecy from Isaiah which foretells his own ministry: ‘The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the down trodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour’. “This text”, Jesus goes on to say, “is being fulfilled today even as you listen”.
Pope Francis has asked for this Third Sunday of the Year to be called the ‘Sunday of the Word of God’ and to be a day to encourage us in the reading of the Scriptures. As St. Jerome once said, “Ignorance of Scripture, is ignorance of Christ.” The Bible is not a dead word, but a living word. The letter to the Hebrews declares: ‘The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts.’ In his advice to Timothy, an early Church leader, St. Paul says that from the scriptures ‘you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy. This is how the man who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work.’
The reason, then, that we hear from the scriptures at every Mass and are encouraged to read the Bible at home, is precisely to allow God to bring about a transformation in our lives and to see as God sees, or as St. Paul says, to come to know the ‘mind of Christ’, who is himself the Word of God.
There are many excellent resources available to help us understand the scriptures better. One of the best courses that I have come across is the Bible Timeline by Jeff Cavins, that explains which books of the Bible contain the main story, and where all the other books fit in. There is also a free podcast called ‘Bible Timeline in a Year (with Fr Mike Schmidt)’ which consists of a daily twenty-five minute podcast which takes you through the Bible in one year and has short but very helpful commentaries. I completed that last year and found it to be very inspiring, informative, and helpful in grasping the bigger picture of salvation history. CAFE produced a Bible course and DVD entitled ‘The Big Picture’ which helps people to find their place in the big picture of salvation history. Good News books at the back of St. John’s also has many useful resources.
 2 Chronicles 36:22-23. See also Isaiah 45:1-4
 See Ezra 1.
 Isaiah 61:1-2.
 Hebrews 4:12.
 2 Timothy 3:15-17.
 Cf. Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:16.
 The Book version of this course is entitled ‘Walking with God – A Journey Through the Bible’ by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins.
nehemiah 8:2-6. 8-10
Ezra read from the law of God and the people understood what was read.
Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.
1 corinthians 12:12-30
You together are Christ’s body; but each of you is a different part of it.
luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
This text is being fulfilled today.
The Lord has sent me
to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives.