Third Sunday of Ordinary Time – January 27, 2019
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19:8-10, 15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
I think we’ve all had that experience where we are waiting to hear back from someone. For some of us, we remember the brutal waiting period between sending someone a letter and waiting to get a letter back; it could easily be a week between writing and hearing back! Or even in conversation, especially a difficult conversation: you say something, unsure what the other person will say, and desperately await a reply. Or when there was that girl you liked, and you started—very indiscreetly—asking around hoping to hear that she liked you back. It is just our nature to eagerly wait to hear back, to wait for a reply, to hear the word we’re longing to hear. And then to respond, to reply, to act on it!
Ask your kids. There is actually a huge level of anxiety and cultural rules about this now. Have any of you heard, “They left me on ‘seen,’” or, “I left them on ‘seen’”? On a lot of messaging apps it will tell you when your message has been delivered and when the other person has seen it, when they’ve read it. Why? So you know if they have heard what you said or not, whether they just haven’t gotten around to reading what you said or whether they are just not responding to you. One of these apps, Snapchat, will even send you a message when the other person is typing their message. Not even their response! Just letting you know that they’re about to respond! Why? Because it taps into that basic human experience and desire: the desire for the other to respond, to hear from the other person, for their word to reach us. And when we don’t? Well, we all know how difficult it is when people don’t respond, when they won’t talk to us. Ask your kids: “how annoying is it, how mad do you get when someone leaves you on ‘seen’?” Ask them! I have seen friendships end because someone was left on “seen.”
Why do I bring this up? I bring it up because within each of us is that simple need that we often overlook, or disregard as unimportant: our need for a response, for a word. This is what our readings today are focused on: the Lord’s response, which is nothing other than Salvation.
In the first reading from Nehemiah, a book which takes place after the Israelites return from Exile, Ezra the priest stands on a wooden platform and reads from the scroll. He reads from the Torah, from God’s word; Ezra reads the words of God. And for the first time in a long time, the people hear the words of the Lord. And they are so overjoyed to hear His words once again, they are so overjoyed that they are even weeping. They finally have heard back from the Lord! After such a long time waiting to hear, to hear a reply, they hear the words of the Lord once again.
One time I was hanging out with a Vietnam veteran, and he told me an incredible story. He was with his platoon of Marines in a city, and all of a sudden they found themselves surrounded, outnumbered, and soon they were overrun. And so they made the call to the artillery, “Fire on our position.” In essence, “Shoot us, because that’s where they are.” And that’s what happened. And luckily many were able to escape. Forty years later, this veteran was working on a project, was running into some difficulties, and went to meet with a guy to resolve the issue. He walked into the office, and they started trying to hash out the issue. And on this man’s wall was a picture of him and other Marines during the Vietnam war. And so the man asked, “So, you’re a Marine?” They started sharing stories about their time in Vietnam. Eventually, the man I know was telling the story about the time he was in that city, surrounded, outnumbered and overrun, and how he called in the artillery and barely escaped. At that point, the other man started tearing up, he began weeping. And he said, “I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was the one that got that call. And that was the hardest thing I ever had to do: to fire on my own men. And I never heard back about whether anyone survived. I thought I had just killed my own men. I never heard back until just now.”
That man had been waiting for a reply for forty years! For forty years he had lived thinking that he had killed his own men. For forty years, there was no reply. Forty years ago, he received a very troubling word: to shoot at his own men. And he responded; that’s exactly what he did. He did his part, which was difficult, involved a lot of risk, and on and on; he carried out his mission, his role in the Marines. And then he waited forty years for a reply. And after so much time, after waiting for so long, he heard.
When Jesus Christ walked into that synagogue in Nazareth, he read from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He read the mission of the one the Lord had promised would come, the mission of the anointed one, the Christ. Just before this, the Spirit came down on him at his baptism in the Jordan; he was anointed by the Spirit. Today, he returns to Nazareth “in the power of the Spirit.” And he tells the people who were looking intently at him, listening attentively and with eager anticipation, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Today, today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing. The reply, the response you’ve been waiting for is here. Today, in your own hearing, this is fulfilled.”
Each one of us was anointed, each one of us possess the power of the Spirit, given to us at our Baptism. Each and every Sunday, we hear the Word of God, we hear of his reply, we hear of the story of Salvation, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The response we have been waiting for, we get it; each and every day, but especially in the mass, especially in prayer, we hear the Lord’s reply. And maybe it doesn’t always make sense to us, maybe like that Marine operating the artillery, the word we receive doesn’t make sense, or it’s scary, or it is prompting us to do something we don’t quite understand, it’s prompting us to take a risk.
But we were not anointed with the Spirit to sit back and not worry. No, we were anointed to act, to work as members of the Mystical Body, to be co-workers with Christ in the mission of Salvation. We have to take the risk! Each and every day, we have to listen to the Spirit’s prompting. And sure, we may not always understand where our action fits in to the bigger picture, we may have to wait forty years for a reply. But that’s where our faith cannot waver! As history has shown us, as Salvation history shows, the Lord has been faithful to his promise! His providence has overcome all, even death itself! And as members of his body, as Christians, as little Christs, little “anointed ones,” we can act with confidence and power, knowing that what the Spirit asks of us, the risks he asks us to take, will always be for the good, will always serve to further the work of salvation.