We don’t need to ask why because we know why – Sunday dedicated to the Word of God
If Elon Musk or Mukesh Ambani stood up and said to you, I want to tell you about a book I am reading, a book that speaks to me, a book that moves and challenges me; everyone would want to hear the title of the book, the author of the book and the publishing house. Overnight sales would skyrocket and every single copy would be sold out and perhaps several editions might have to be re-printed. But our attention will only be piqued because Elon Musk and Ambani are business tycoons and we would certainly want to know every detail of the book that has made such an impact in their lives. Our hope would be that we too, reading that book would most certainly transform our lives if not our luck.
Yet we have a book that is well within our reach. We know that according to the Guinness World Records as of 1995, this book is the best-selling book of all time with an estimated 5 billion copies sold and distributed. It has a roadmap for a successful and happy marriage, a content life, perfect relationship advice. It was written to correct the misguided heart and move the soul to its divine destination; to inform and to instruct. It deals with this life and the afterlife. Yet this book written by no less the God the most powerful and supreme, lies dusty on our shelves and never read by most Catholics.
Today the Church celebrates the Word of God Sunday, a day dedicated to God’s word but subtly a day given to the clergy and laity to sit up and remind us of what ought to be important in our lives. I can’t help but compare this day to the lip service we pay to other such ‘special days’ that the secular world throws at us. Mothers and fathers may be important the whole year through but we are encouraged to buy a card for our fathers and get a rose for our mothers. Love can be celebrated on any day, yet Valentine’s Day is when we think of sunsets and dinners by candlelight when any Wednesday evening is good enough to say I love you. As heartwarming as these days may seem, the absurdity of these celebrations, limited to one single day, almost a reminder to humanity, cannot be lost on us; Love your mother, smile at your father, find some to express your love and all of this defined for us on a day. Sadly, I think we do the same with the ‘Word of God Sunday’.
I don’t want to sound like a preacher who because he has a microphone can lecture long and hard to a passive if not often a dormant congregation. The Sunday homily has become story time or even worse, five points to live a happy life. The Roman missal instructs the homilist to break the word. The homilists in not to break his thoughts or ideas; he is to break down the word of God which may not be clear to the congregation because of their lack of scripture study (not that it is not available to the laity). But as St Paul says, we pander to itchy ears. We have become a Church that wants to be entertained not educated. We want to hear breaking news rather than the good news that ought to broken for us.
The first reading of today taken from the 8th chapter of Nehemiah should have us hang our head in shame. The people of Israel were exiled into Babylonia, there to be subject to a pagan faith. Now under the Persians they have been allowed to return to their homeland. Today’s text tells us what happens when a community comes together to hear the written word proclaimed and interpreted. Women, men, and children, with a crowd of folks, lay and ordained, standing in the square as the word of God is proclaimed and interpreted. They hear of texts from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. For six hours straight they stand and listen and when six hours are up, begin to celebrate. People bless God. People give voice to their certainty, their faith, and their trust. People let the actions of their bodies match the words in their ears and on their lips, lifting their hands to God in petition because they recognize that God alone grants life (cf.Nehemiah 9:6). People fall to the ground in profound humility, knowing that God alone can lift them up and help them to stand.
When they hear the written word proclaimed and interpreted, people weep because they hear their sins spoken out loud and they know they are not innocent, but guilty. People weep because they fear death and the justice of a God who by no means clears the guilty (cf. 2 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 34; Exodus 34:7). People weep because they do not know how to bridge the gulf that separates sinful humanity from the faithful God who made them.
Yet none of that happens today and we don’t need to ask why because we know why