Year C: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Nehemiah 8: 2-6,8-10
The Exile of the Jewish people in Babylon seared itself into their folk memory but today’s First Reading reminds us that, in time, the exiles were allowed to come home and to re-establish their way of life.
It was inevitable that during their exile, many of the traditions of their faith and religious practice would have been forgotten. Living as strangers among a new people causes people either to cling more closely to their traditions - or quietly to let them go so that they can assimilate and “get on” in their new home.
When the people returned to Jerusalem, they were given permission to rebuild their Temple under the direction of Nehemiah. Some years later, another group of exiles returned - among them Ezra an expert in the Law. He brought with him a stricter interpretation of the Law of Moses than the people were used to - for example, on discovering that some men had foreign wives, it was his directive that the women and their children should be sent away.
From our perspective, the sending away of wives and children seems unduly harsh but few would object to the promise to cancel debt every seven years. The work also re-established the vital importance of the Temple and worship at the heart of the community. Extensive provision was also made for the upkeep of the Temple and the support of the priests, Levites, musicians and others vital to the worship of the people.
Ezra - like Jesus - is setting before people the promise of a new way of life. For Ezra it is the return to the Law of his ancestors - for Jesus, it is a fulfilment of that Law and the brokering of a new life filled with the Spirit. The old Law provided stability and certainty - the new Law opened up new possibilities - new sight - liberation - Good News.
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