ordinary time The Sánchez Archives

Year C

Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

Rehab By The Word

NEHEMIAH 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10
1 CORINTHIANS 12:12-30
LUKE 1:1-4, 4:14-21

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and due in no small measure to advances in science and technology, a new methodology dealing with society’s physical, psychological, ethical, moral, and social ills has been developed. Foremost among these methods is that of rehabilitation. From the Latin re, which means again, and habilitare, which means to enable, rehabilitation has been refined as the process whereby: (1) a handicapped or otherwise incapacitated person is restored to useful life through education and therapy; (2) the good name of a person is reinstated; (3) the rank, privileges and rights of a person are restored; (4) a person is returned to his/her former state or condition.

Criminal offenders who were once simply relegated to prison to protect society are now being rehabilitated through treatment and training so as to be rendered capable of returning to society and functioning as a law-abiding member of the community. Persons with addictions to gambling, drugs and/or alcohol, people with eating disorders, people with other compulsive behaviors, etc., now have hope for rehabilitation by participating in extensive programs offered at special centers by qualified therapists and counselors. Patients with physical challenges suffered as a result of accident or illness (stroke, heart/lung disease, etc.) can also benefit from courses of rehabilitation therapy. In the past few decades some inner city neighborhoods that have been allowed to degenerate into urban jungles have been rehabilitated through the cooperative efforts of caring citizens.

In today’s scripture readings, the gathered assembly is invited to appreciate and become participants in another sort of rehabilitation, viz. that which is freely offered to all people through the power of the Word of God. Ezra in the first reading is presented as addressing the entire assembly of the Israelite people, “men, women and children old enough to understand.“ In the aftermath of the exile, the returnees from Babylonia and their leaders were in the process of rebuilding their land, its buildings, businesses, homes and shops, its roadways as well as its reputation. Aware that the moral and spiritual infrastructure, i.e., the covenant with God and their observance of the law were also in need of rehabilitation, Ezra summoned his contemporaries and proclaimed the word with all its truth, healing and challenge in their midst. As an indication of their willingness to be restored and rehabilitated by the living, active and transforming Word of God, the people responded: Amen, Amen! So be it! Fiat!, let it be done to us according to your word (as per Luke 1:38).

Jesus, as presented by Luke in today’s gospel was also addressing a people in need of rehabilitation. No longer political or geographical exiles in need of renewal and restoration, Jesus’ listeners were nevertheless in moral and spiritual exile. Through his ministry, he spoke into the world a word of loving forgiveness that called all people home to God. Through his ministry, he offered rehabilitation to the physically and spiritually handicapped, the economically disadvantaged, the mainstream and the marginalized of society.

Paul in his continuing correspondence with the Corinthians reminds the gathered assembly that the rehabilitation of each of us is inextricably bound to the rehabilitation of all of us. As the one body of Christ, the well-being and conversely the suffering and difficulties that each of us experiences and by which our lives are sculpted have a necessary effect on who we are as a community. When one of us grows, all of us grow; when one of us stagnates, all of us are diminished. When one of us is in need, all must feel the pinch; if another suffers, I may not choose to be unscathed.

At the outset of this new year and with the third Christian millennium approaching, believers in Jesus are called to be rehabilitated by the power of the Word of God and to participate in the church’s mission of rehabilitating all of humankind.

NEHEMIAH 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10

As a reminder of the law of God by which they strive to live, some contemporary Jews fasten a mezuzah or small scroll to the doorposts of their homes. On the scroll are inscribed two extracts from Deuteronomy (6:4-9; 11:13-21) that call believers to love God and to obey the commandments. On the reverse side of the scroll, the name Saddai (God of the Mountain or more commonly Almighty) is written. Observant Jews touch the mezuzah as they enter the house in remembrance of their commitment. In ancient times, remembrance of God and the commandments was fostered by public recitations of the law. As is reflected in this excerpted text from Nehemiah, such occasions afforded the community an opportunity for a renewal of its commitment to God and to the terms of their covenant with God, viz., the law. As the Hebrew scriptures attest, Israel participated in covenant renewal at crucial moments in its history, e.g. at Sinai after the first breach (Exodus 34); after the initial infiltration of Canaan (Joshua 24); and during the religious reform begun by Josiah (2 Kings 22-23). Some scholars (following the lead of Sigmund Mowinckel, 1884-1965) have suggested that the covenant was renewed annually at the new year but this has yet to be substantiated.

The covenant renewal presented in today’s first reading took place during the ministry of Ezra the scribe, in the fifth century B.C.E. Having lived in Babylon during the period of its Persian domination, Ezra was sent by the Persian king to Jerusalem to organize the rehabilitation of the returned Jewish exiles. To that end, Ezra instituted a religious reform that radically transformed the traditions of ancient Israel. Whereas the law had initially been regarded as the terms of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel, it grew into an immense compendium of detailed legislation. As it became more complex and central to the governance of the people, the relational aspect of the law received less attention. This emphasis of law-over-and-above-relationship resulted in a tendency toward legalism against which Jesus would counsel his contemporaries a few centuries later.

As a result of the heightened attention to the law among the post-exilic Israelites, those with expertise in the law, e.g., scholars, priests and scribes (such as Ezra) became increasingly more important. These “legal eagles” lent their expertise to the general population, helping them to apply the detailed prescriptions of the law to every aspect of daily living. Because of his powerful influence during the post-exilic rehabilitation and reconstruction phase of Israel’s history, Ezra has been called the father of Judaism.

It was in his dual role as father and scribe that Ezra summoned the people to attend more carefully to the living word of God. In the presence of all who had reached the age of reason, and at the site of one of Jerusalem’s several entrances, called the Water Gate, because of its proximity to the Spring of Gihon. Ezra called his people to be refreshed and renewed by the law. It is significant that among the rabbis and at Qumran, the law or Torah was described as a fountain of living water. Recall the first psalm (1:1-3) wherein the person who keeps the law is compared to a tree planted near running water. Ezra would have his listeners draw life and flourish from a renewed commitment to God’s law. Later in the Johannine gospel, believers would learn that Jesus had replaced the law as the source of life-giving water for all who thirst.

Today Ezra and Jesus call all in need of rehabilitation, refreshment and renewal to come, listen, drink, learn and love.

1 CORINTHIANS 12:12-30

Before her tragic death in 1997, Princess Diana was championing the cause of those who had been victims of land mine explosions. In the weeks following her funeral, the video footage of her last visit to Bosnia ran again and again on televised news programs. Featured in the footage was the Princess, reaching out in compassion to those who had survived the explosion but who would hope to live the rest of their lives maimed by the loss of one or more of their limbs. Her care for these wounded members of society was a poignant reminder of what Paul teaches in today’s second reading. Just as every part or member of the human body is necessary to the well-being of the whole person so every member of the human family is necessary to the well-being of the body of Christ. Therefore each member must be cherished, valued, respected and protected.

These exhortations to the Corinthians are better understood as a continuation of Paul’s advice regarding the charisms or gifts given by God to each member of the community. Some members of the community were thought to be less important than others because their gifts were deemed less valuable. Paul wished his readers to understand that God has given each believer a gift and a ministry that contributes cooperatively and mutually toward the well-being of the entire community or body. In explaining the ethical implications of each ministry, Paul stressed that each was unique and indispensable. Therefore the loss of a member and his/her gifts affects the unity and harmony of the whole community.

Paul’s concept of the church as the body of Christ, united in its head and various members, may have been drawn from either or both of two sources. Near Corinth’s northern wall, stood the temple of the Greek god of healing, Aesclepius. Recent excavations in the area have unearthed a great number of terra cotta body parts, arms, legs, ears, eyes, etc. that are thought to represent the cures effected by the god. Similar representations of cures can be seen at Christian holy places where healings have occurred. If these body parts were formative in Paul’s thinking, they may have offered an image of what the body of Christ should not be, viz., lifeless and divided. Gnostic factions in Corinth also used the body concept to describe the unity between the revealer-redeemer and the redeemed. However, while the gnostic Christian understood that solidarity as an identity with Christ, i.e., sharing the same substance as Christ, Paul correctly maintained the distinction between Christ as head, independent of but united with believers as members of his body.

With the ever increasing participation in the ministry on the part of the laity and given the shift in the church’s hierarchical structure since the second Vatican Council, the spiritual gifts of more and more believers are gradually being recognized. With this recognition comes appreciation and respect. However, in the workaday world of jobs and wages, certain professions and occupations continue to be valued over others simply for reasons of prestige and/or the amount of salary received. Perhaps Paul’s exhortation can also be understood as an appeal to contemporary believers to offer similar admiration and acceptance to the sanitation worker, teacher and short order cook as to the professional athlete, movie star and media mogul.

LUKE 1:1-4, 4:14-21

All across the globe, the beginning of a new calendar year proffers an opportunity for leaders to address their people and deliver a speech which sums up their vision for the months ahead. Presidents will comment on the state of the Union, governors on the state of the state, monarchs on the state of the realm. On those occasions when a leader is elected, re-elected or ascends to the throne, their address takes on a more inaugural character. Jesus first public address as presented in the Lucan gospel, can be characterized as both visionary and inaugural.

As regards his vision, Jesus shared with his contemporaries the good news that the messianic era had arrived. Through Jesus words and works, God initiated the rehabilitation of a world that had fallen prey to sin and its consequences. As visible testimony to Jesus’ salving and saving power, the sight of the blind would be restored, prisoners would gain their freedom, the poor would hear good news and all would know a year of favor. The combined text of Isaiah 61:1ff and 58:7ff, which Jesus read in the synagogue, can be understood as his inaugural address for in it he set forth the terms, goals and objectives of his mission.

In describing Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and his hometown of Nazareth, Luke used a series of verbs in the imperfect tense to communicate the sense of repetitive actions. Jesus was behaving “as he was in the habit of doing” (v. 16). Because of Jesus’ habitual teaching and healing touch, humankind was being gifted with a year of favor (v. 18). Scholars agree that the proclaimed year of favor referenced the Hebrew custom of observing a year of jubilee. First legislated in Leviticus (25:8-55) as a year of grace wherein debts would be erased, slaves would be freed, all property would be restored to its rightful owner and the land was left to lie fallow. Scholars also agree that the jubilee year was more of an ideal than a practicable reality; nevertheless, this ideal readily lent itself to the messianic vision of Israel. Jesus’ declaration of the year of favor was yet another signal that Israel’s hope of salvation was being realized.

Luke was firm in his conviction that Jesus’ ministry was to be continued by the church. This conviction is obvious in the first half of today’s gospel wherein the evangelist introduced his experience of the good news and set forth his catechetical purpose. Intent upon illustrating that the church’s mission enjoyed continuity with that of Jesus, Luke reassured his readers of the asphaleia or reliability of the katechethes or instruction they were receiving. By using the term catechesis (instruction) rather than evangelion or gospel, the Lucan author affirmed his intention that his work be used as a source of faith-sharing among the initiates in the faith.

With the new chronological year just beginning and the new liturgical year already well underway, the faithful are privileged to have Luke as their guide. His special insights into the words and works of Jesus, viz., (1) that the call to salvation is universally extended to all peoples; (2) that the salvation of humankind begun by Jesus continues to be accomplished within the arena of human history; (3) that prayer is as elemental to the life of the believer as is breathing; (4) that sinners, the poor, the disenfranchised, sick, lost, otherwise needy members of society are God’s predilect. These special insights continue to inspire and challenge the church as it furthers the process of rehabilitating the world in and by the power of God’s word.

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Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.

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