“The Prophets Make Him Known”
January 24, 2016: The Third Sunday of Epiphany
Nehemiah 8: 1-3; 5-6; 8-10/ Psalm 19/1 Corinthians 12: 12 - 31a/ Luke 4: 14 - 21
Fr. Roberto M. Jorvina
This is the day that the Lord has made and because it is, we will rejoice and be glad in it. It is really a great time that we can gather. It is a favor that God gives us that we have the strength to be here. We have the resources to gather as God’s people because there is no other place on earth that we should find ourselves in on Sunday other than the place which God has designated as a place of worship. We gather here today for no other reason but to gather for Jesus and Him alone.
There should be an excitement in the air. It is not just an emotional feeling; but for the spiritually discerning of which we all are and should be, there should always be an excitement when the people of God gather together. There is a synergy when men of like precious faith are gathered together. We all have one thing in common: we all have the like precious faith that God has blessed us and we share it together. We all believe in Christ.
This Season of Epiphany, to make Christ known, is the time that we are to manifest or to show the effect of what Christmas is all about. Epiphany is right after Christmas. What was the effect of Christmas in our lives? We received blessings and gifts. People were happy and were rejoicing. We received so many things for what reason? Epiphany is to be able to give us an opportunity to show. What is the effect of the joy of Christmas in our lives? What has it done for us that we can now share with others? It is called the Season of Manifestation. It is to display this in our lives. When we gather together, we share that blessing. We share all of God’s provisions for His people.
Let us journey to about more than 2500 years before in a place called Jerusalem. Let us look into and view this service that was happening with the people of God in Jerusalem. The walls have just been built. Jerusalem for 70 years suffered a great catastrophe. The enemies of Jerusalem destroyed its temple, its walls, and leveled down the whole place. For seventy years, God’s people were held captive. Now, they are back and the temple has been restored and the walls have been built.
This is the setting that we see here in Nehemiah chapter 8. There are four characteristics of the people as they gathered together. We see how much the effect of them, their whole focus when Ezra brought out the book of the law, the Word of God. They openly and they boldly proclaimed and received it. The people were attentive. In verse 3, Ezra read from the book of the Law from early morning until midday in the presence of men and women. Those who could understand and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Paying attention, especially to today’s world requires effort. As I am talking now, oftentimes, our minds would drift away. From the shoes of the person in front of us, to the hair of our seatmate, to the cobwebs that we see in the ceiling, to the food that we are going to have for lunch and to a lot of many things. In verse 3, the people paid attention to the Word of God. The first characteristic of the people who gathered was that they were attentive.
The second characteristic of the people in the meeting was that they were reverent. They gave respect to the Lord. In verse5, “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.” There was a respect that was given. Not only were they attentive; they were respectful. People were not just walking around. Children were not just running around. As a people, we easily get distracted by so many things. Paying attention is very important and it requires effort.
The third characteristic of the people was that they were responsive. In verse 6, “Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” Their hands were not just in front of them, akimbo, shrugging and looking just like watching a performance. The liturgy and the Mass is not a show. The time of gathering is a place where the people are called to response. We say, “Amen! Hallelujah!” This is why when the reader says, “The Word of the Lord!” we respond with, “Thanks be to God!” When the deacon says, “This is the Gospel of the Lord!” we say, “Glory to You, Lord Christ!” When praise and worship comes, when the time of giving comes, people are called to respond. The celebration and the time of gathering is a responsive time. It is a practice for what we are to do. When the deacon says at the end of the Mass, “Let us go forth into the world and rejoice in the power of the Spirit,” we respond saying, “Thanks be to God!” as we take the light to the darkness that we have around us.
The fourth characteristic was that the people were repentant. They realized that when the Word was spoken, they had fallen short. They were repentant of that which they have missed for so many years. Perhaps, this is the first time they heard again the book of the law. They valued and remembered it from the stories their parents told them. They remembered how precious it was and that the law of the Lord is perfect, that it restores the soul. They remembered that the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple and that the fear of the Lord is clean, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the Lord is true, enlightening the eyes and it makes the path straight. They missed these and they cried and they wept. In verse 9, Nehemiah said, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” Yes, they were repentant, but perhaps, the repentance was not just a cry of sorrow. It may also be tears of joy. It is like two people who haven’t seen each other for a time or it may be a loved one you have missed for so long, and finally, the person is in front of you and tears of joy will continue to flow. The repentance, the sorrow, the grief were there. They missed the Word, but it was also a cry of joy.
Are these things happening in our lives? Do we have that sense every time we gather? All of these characteristics take an effort. It will not just happen. The enemy will try to steal our joy and he will try to make every distraction. Just this morning, perhaps, there was this traffic or perhaps someone in the house forgot something and you had to go back. Perhaps, someone did not cook breakfast or did not cook the breakfast you liked. There will be some cause for irritation or some petty issues that this will distract your focus on the Word of God and what you will do this Sunday morning. God wants us to see that we are gathered here for one purpose alone and that is that we can be disciples of Christ sitted at His feet, learning, attentive to His word. Why was Martha rebuked? I am not too convinced that Martha was rebuked because she was just busy with things she need to do and Mary was commended because she was sitting by Jesus’ feet. My interpretation is that Martha was rebuked because her attention was in so many things and she was confused.
God wants us that when we are in His presence, we set our minds to come to the next two hours, making an effort to be able to give attention to the Word of God – to the spoken Word and to the revealed Word in the Eucharist. We will set it apart because it is God’s word. It doesn’t matter who speaks the Word. The Bible says that it is not the reader, not the preacher because the word of God is the Word of God. The problem is not in the seed. The first parable Jesus taught before we understand all the parables was about the seed that fell on different soils. The seed is supposed to bear fruit. This is the design of the Word of God. The Word of God is proclaimed from the pulpit. It is God’s seed in our lives. What is the soil that we are preparing for the Word to be planted in? Is the soil dry and full of things that are bothering us? Or is the soil one that is good where the Word of God will grow and bear much fruit? The Word of God is designed to be fruitful, to be multiplying, and to be filled. Whether it does not multiply or not is not the fault of the Word or the preacher or the reader. It is our responsibility to pay attention, to cultivate, to keep and to make sure that we take care of that Word which is entrusted to us every Sunday, every day, because the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart,” because every day, God wants to speak to us. Are we paying attention?
We are called today to rejoice and to celebrate. Nehemiah said, “Don’t grieve. Don’t be sad. This is a time to rejoice.” Many times, we need to be forced by the worship leaders to stand and dance. It should come as a natural consequence of the salvation we have. It is not the bishop, the priest of the deacon who says, “Clap your hands.” The Bible says, “Clap your hands. Shout to God.” The people didn’t whisper, but they exuberantly praise the Lord whenever they gathered. Do not allow the enemy to keep you from doing something which will result in a greater transformation in your life. Do not let the enemy steal your joy in your life. Do not let things to confuse our minds. Let the Word of God richly dwell in us. We need to propagate this. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Another way to put it is, “Our strength comes in giving God pleasure.” Do we feel weak? Are we often tempted? After a day or two, do we lose our focus on God? Do we get tired with our routine every day? Do we lose our strength in what we face every day? This is because we don’t realize that our strength comes not from the blessings that we have but giving Him pleasure.
The gathering that they had in a story in Nehemiah was for celebration. We are gathered today, January 24, 2016, and it will never return in history. Today is the day God has made for us to be here, to gather together in order to praise and worship Him. This day will never happen again in our lives. Don’t let this day pass without us celebrating. This is the day for celebration. God blesses us when we celebrate. We focus on His Word, on His life.
1Corinthians 12 says that God has provided so many things. God has placed us in a setting – in the Body of Christ. It is to be with people and with so many things that He has placed and blessed us with. He has filled this Church with members and parts that are designed to meet every need. As we are gathered today, God has given each one of us somebody so that we can be blessed. We have different mindsets, backgrounds, idiosyncrasies, desires, and ways of doing things. Some are strong and some are weak, but remember, even the seemingly weak members of the Body have a part in meeting the need. We have sufficiency in everything because we are God’s people who have been blessed. This is the reason we can rejoice in everything.
We need to see another definition of blessing. We always look to blessings as “something favorable for me.” Blessing is not so much for us, but God’s provisions for God's purposes. You are blessed in order to do and to fulfill and to be equipped in doing God’s work. We say, “I had my Christmas bonus! Praise God! I have many opportunities to help others who are in need.” “I have a new car. Praise God!” Now, you will be on time on Sundays and when you have a meeting. The blessing does not stop from us. It is not for us to feel good. Today, the whole of objective of life is to have a good life and people define a good life as feeling good and having the goods. The good life is having the goods so that we can the work of God. We are equipped and blessed. If you have a good voice, it is not just to be thankful that you have a good voice. Join the choir because they need more beautiful voices. God’s blessings are God’s provision for God’s purposes and this is God’s life in us.
In Luke 4:14-21, we see Jesus coming to the fulfillment of God’s purpose. “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” This is impressive, but what was the power of the Spirit for? It was not just for Jesus. He is the Son of God, after all. The power of the Spirit was not for Him, but for those whom He began to minister to in the surrounding districts and in the synagogues and then all the people praised Him. The blessings are not for us to keep, but the blessings are for us to be a blessing to others.
There is this story of a weightlifter, a muscle man, who went to Africa. While in Africa, he made a demonstration of the many things that he did as a weightlifter by showing his muscles, his biceps, his triceps, his gastrocnemius muscles, his torso, and his ABS. The tribal chief saw him and said, “That is very impressive.” He asked the weightlifter, “What else can you do with those things?’ The man said, “Nothing, I just show-off my muscles and this is what I do for a living.” The tribal chief said, “What a waste!”
What a waste to have all of the gifts of God that we saw at Christmas, to have all the blessings of God – all our abilities- and use it for nothing. What a waste! Jesus said that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him because He was anointed firstly, to preach the gospel to the poor. There are about 2,000 verses about ministering to the poor in the Scriptures. The poor have a special place in God’s heart and they are not necessarily poor in finances, but those who are marginalized, those who are forgotten, those whom the people have rejected. Secondly, the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus because God has sent Him to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind. How many people are held bondage by so many things? Many times, we stand in judgment. Many times, we look down upon those drug addicts. We say, “Dapat, matuto na yan. Dapat sila ipapulis at ipakulong.” “Dapat talaga mabigyan ng hustisiya kasi mga drug addict yan. Bahala sila sa buhay nila.” How many of us come in judgment over them and when we do, we keep them captive rather than fulfill the law of Christ which is to set them free?
The Spirit of the Lord brought recovery of sight to the blind. How many people are blind? This is not just physically, but blinded to the blessings that they have, blinded to the truth. They are blind to, “What is the good thing to do?” But most of the time, our reaction is irritation. Our response is, “Don’t disturb me. I am doing something important.” How many times would people approach us in the streets and we give them a token as to say to ourselves that it is to appease our conscience and to get us get rid of them so that we can go on our way?
We hear God’s Spirit calling us today. We are a blessed people. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us so that we have all these blessings to fulfill God’s purpose. I am not just saying that we just go and give and give indiscriminately. There is also wisdom needed. This is a challenge for all of us to begin to evaluate what we have. Maybe, we are blind. Maybe, your child is blind to many truths and we just get irritated with them because they don’t do what we want. It is time that we open their eyes by taking time to sit with them and begin to minister to them. Some people are blind even though they have 20/20 vision. We may be blind to our own sins that stifle our spiritual growth. We may be blind to the needs of others around us. We may be blind to the opportunities God regularly presents by which we can grow spiritually and be a minister to others. Jesus opened peoples’ eyes to this opportunity. We have the spirit of God to be able for them to see this.
Thirdly, the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus to set free those who are downtrodden. Fourth, the Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. In another translation, it says, “The favorable year of the Lord is that God is ready to give blessings to all who come upon Him.” God’s ready to that poor neighbor. God’s ready to fulfill your blessing. This is because this is what the favorable year is. He is calling us and part of our purpose in life is to be an ambassador of the good news; to go forth. In Romans 10:14, “How, then, shall they (the poor, the downtrodden, the captives, your neighbor who is very irritating, your classmate, your officemate, your boss, your friend) call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news?’”
It is our task and our responsibility. You are here receiving the good news, being blessed by the body and blood of Christ, being blessed by the Word. We are here because there is someone God will put in our pathway who will need to hear the same good news that you have heard. Now is the time for God’s favor upon you!
St. Paul’s shares his testimony in Acts 20:24, “ But my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned to me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the good news about God’s mighty kindness and love.” This is the work assigned to us. This is what life is all about. This is what Epiphany is all about. This is why we are here and this is why this is the day the Lord has made. This is why we can rejoice and be glad in it and we have been blessed to fulfill His purpose. Amen!