25 September, 2013. Wednesday of the Twenty Fifth Week
Eza 9:5ff. At the time of the evening sacrifice, Ezra acknowledges God’s mercy.
Lk 9:1ff. Jesus sends out the twelve on mission, travelling light, dependent on alms.
First Reading: Ezra 9:5-9
At the evening sacrifice I got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said,
“O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favour has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.
Gospel: Luke 9:1-6
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
The diversity of the biblical message is again apprent today. We need all of the options it proposes, for its variety is not a matter of passages more inspired or less inspired. Holy Scripture is a pastoral document, and we have to decide, through prayer, guidance and community wisdom, which parts of it are best adapted to our current situation. Ezra expects us to be satisfied with small achievements and Proverbs with healthy moderation. The gospel sends us out like the twelve, poor, dependent and enthusiastic over the reign of God now in our midst. It paints an attractive ideal, brimming over with contagious joy and simple trust.
Ezra fills the role of another Moses, being the parent of legal Judaism as was Moses of Israel’s basic covenant with God. Although the Jews began their return to the Promised Land in 537 B.C., about all they accomplished in that generation was to rebuild a bedraggled city and a very modest temple. They were discouraged and weary but Ezra set himself to straighten out the confusion and guide the people with clear direction. He reedited the Books of Moses and urged compliance with them, and began a series of oral interpretations of the law that developed several centuries later into the famous Talmud.
He begins by confessing aloud the sins of the people, identifying himself with the people in their guilt and wretchedness, “My God, I am too ashamed to raise my face to you, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads.” Then he addressed the people, whose social status in the Persian empire was very low, assuring them that God’s mercy has reached them; they are a remnant, a stake, firmly planted in the holy land and they have the good will of the Persian king, and the house of God has been rebuilt. A sense of sobriety dominates this sermon of Ezra. Sometimes we need to be told bluntly, first to admit our mistakes and to take responsibility for their effects, then to count our blessings, for things are not as bad as we suppose. There is a future for us and for our people, our church.
On a happier note is Jesus sending out the twelve first Christian missionaries, to cure the sick and proclaim the coming reign of God. These traveling missionaries need not carry bread or money, not even staff and traveling bag. They brought a blessing by their joy and confidence, inviting others to rejoice and thank God. Occasionally the shadow of a living saint crosses our path in somebody we meet. We should encourage their ideals, stand by them, support them, receive them into our homes. Then the reign of God will be in our midst.