I want to begin my homily by reminding you of the words we heard in our first reading from Nehemiah:
He read out of the book from daybreak till 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.
So I hope you won’t mind if I preach from daybreak to midday!
Today’s readings remind us that we are always in the “school” of the faith. We don’t ever graduate from that school, until, of course, that great day, when we stand before our Lord to be judged, relying on his mercy and on our relationship with him, which is always a gift. Those who unite themselves to our Lord in faith throughout their lives, those who continue to study the Scriptures and see them fulfilled in our hearing, they have the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
Saint Jerome, whose feast we celebrated earlier this week, underlined this for us. He said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ, because for all of us who did not live in the same time as Jesus, we rely on the Scriptures not just to tell us who Christ was, but also to have a relationship with him, remembering that Jesus is always present in the proclamation of the Word of God.
We see two Scriptural moments in today’s Liturgy of the Word. First, the Word is proclaimed. Second, that Word has an effect on its hearers. So first, the Word is proclaimed. In the first reading, Ezra the priest reads from the scroll from daybreak to midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand. It was quite the proclamation, and also included a kind of homily, apparently, since the reading tells us that Ezra provided an interpretation.
The second Scriptural moment is the Word’s effect on its hearers. For Ezra, the Word produced a very emotional response. The people bowed down in the presence of the Word, and began to weep. The weeping is presumably because, hearing the Word, they realized how far they were from keeping its commandments. I think we might have that same reaction sometimes. Nehemiah then instructs them not to weep, but instead to rejoice and celebrate, because the proclamation of the Word on this holy day was an occasion for great joy.
And so today, as we hear the word of God, we too have to let those words have effect on us. We are sent out as Jesus sent the disciples, with little but his own instruction. That’s enough, and if we are faithful, we will see the word of God have an effect in every place we bring it. Praise God for his powerful, effective Word.