So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading… all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.
—Nehemiah 8:8, 9b
[Jesus] stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
...The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
—Luke 4:16b-19, 20b
The book of Nehemiah tells about returnees from exile in Babylon. They are trying to rebuild, but the future is anything but certain. Enemies from outside and internal social fracture work against renewal. They gather. Ezra begins reading the Torah (essentially the first five books of our Old Testament) early in the morning. He doesn’t finish until noon. Everyone is listening and paying attention. And together the people weep.
We don’t really know why. Are they overwhelmed with grief? Despair? Possibility? Has the weight of the moment finally visited them?
Things happen when our eyes are opened. We will see over the next two Sundays what happens when Jesus reads what is essentially his—or Luke’s—mission statement for the Christian faith, and the response of “his hometown” when he puts the story in context. But for now, they too, are together in their attention to a reading that is for all of them, together.
With an astonishment we have probably lost over the years, Paul says, we are one body in this Spirit—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free (1 Corinthians 12:13). What happens to us when we truly hear and understand this good news?
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