Context is Everything

First Reading: NEHEMIAH 8:1-4A, 5-6, 7B-12

The whole people gathered as one in the open space before the Water Gate,
and they called upon Ezra the scribe
to bring forth the book of the law of Moses
which the LORD prescribed for Israel.
On the first day of the seventh month, therefore,
Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly,
which consisted of men, women,
and those children old enough to understand.
Standing at one end of the open place that was before the Water Gate,
he read out of the book from daybreak until midday,
in the presence of the men, the women,
and those children old enough to understand;
and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.
Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform
that had been made for the occasion.
He opened the scroll
so that all the people might see it
(for he was standing higher up than any of the people);
and, as he opened it, all the people rose.
Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God,
and all the people, their hands raised high, answered,
“Amen, amen!”
Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the LORD,
their faces to the ground.
As the people remained in their places,
Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God,
interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.
Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe
and the Levites who were instructing the people
said to all the people:
“Today is holy to the LORD your God.
Do not be sad, and do not weep”–
for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law.
He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks,
and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared;
for today is holy to our LORD.
Do not be saddened this day,
for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”
And the Levites quieted all the people, saying,
“Hush, for today is holy, and you must not be saddened.”
Then all the people went to eat and drink,
to distribute portions, and to celebrate with great joy,
for they understood the words that had been expounded to them.

Responsorial Psalm: PSALM 19:8, 9, 10, 11

R. (9ab) The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.

R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.

The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye;

R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.

The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.

R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.

They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
Sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.

R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.

Gospel: Luke 10:1-12

Jesus appointed seventy-two other disciples
whom he sent ahead of him in pairs
to every town and place he intended to visit.
He said to them,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way.
Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves his payment.
Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.’
Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you,
go out into the streets and say,
‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet,
even that we shake off against you.’
Yet know this: the Kingdom of God is at hand.
I tell you,
it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”


do not weep

I am not a scholar of Scripture, so when I read today’s First Reading, I was puzzled. Go back, sisters, and read again:

Why exactly were the people weeping?

It wasn’t until I went back to the first seven chapters of the Book of Nehemiah and gained some context that I began to understand this small slice of Jewish history. Here’s a recap: At the time of Nehemiah’s writing (I think about 430 B.C.) the vast majority of Jews had been exiled from Judah, and the holy city of Jerusalem lay in ruins. This was greatly troubling to Nehemiah. He returns to rebuild the city, despite some doubts among the orphaned Jewish flock and the threats of a number of oppressors. Eventually the wall of Jerusalem is completed and the exiles return.

Enter Chapter 8 (our reading for today), in which Ezra reads from the Law of Moses and tears come to the eyes of the people. It’s hard to know exactly what emotions they were feeling based on today’s reading. But if I were to take a not-so-giant leap, I wonder if they were deeply aware of their sins and the sins of their ancestors. Perhaps they were worried that they could never be redeemed, never “measure up” to the calling of their God. Perhaps our Jewish sisters had the same worries and felt the same inadequacies that you and I feel today.

“Do not weep,” say Nehemiah and Ezra and the scribes,“Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”

Do not weep, they say.
God’s love covers a multitude of sins.

Do not weep.
He welcomes you back with open arms.

Do not weep.
The only “measuring” that should ever be done is with our Lord’s merciful yardstick.

How fitting that we might learn this Jewish history of the feast of Saint Therese, who knew deeply that we should never have to worry about “measuring up.” Spend some time today reflecting on these lines of hers:

God would not make me wish for something impossible and so, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint. It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new. . . .  It is your arms, Jesus, which are the lift to carry me to heaven, And so there is no need for me to grow up. In fact, just the opposite: I must stay little and become less and less.

Karen Schultz is a birth doula who hails from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, where she is often found in or near one of them. She spends her free time reading, playing the mandolin, and proudly serving on the Board of Directors for Guiding Star Twin Cities. You can find out more about her here.

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