Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on January 23 and 24, 2016 on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) at the 4:00PM (Vigil), 8:00AM, and 10:30AM Masses
I found a nice leather bound edition of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table at Barnes and Noble, and after finally making it through the long line to the only open register in the store, the cashier informed me that the leather bound books were buy one, get one 50% off. “No, thanks,” I said. I have the book I want.” “Oh, no,” she said. “I don’t want you to miss out on the savings.” “That’s OK,” I replied. “The line is long and I don’t want to have to wait again,” “Go get another one,” she said. “These nice people will wait for you.” They may have been nice people, but by the looks on their faces they were not going to remain so for long. So I ran back, grabbed the first book I could find, and returned to the register. The woman looked at it as she rang it up. “Oh, how nice!” A beautiful children’s book!” Except that it really isn’t beautiful and really isn’t for children either.
You see I had picked up a copy of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales and they are indeed grim, as grim as the faces on the people in line that day. Many of the stories might not be appropriate for adults. I say that because most of us grew up on Disney fairy tales that have most of the horrible and gruesome details removed from them. The Grimm stories do have happy endings, if you can get past dark and scary parts, but reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales to a child is like reading Edgar Allen Poe or Stephen King to them.
In today’s first reading from the book of Nehemiah, the people of Jerusalem find the Word of God to be kind of grim as well. They are weeping as the priest Ezra reads the entire Law of Moses and interprets it for them. For some of the people I’m sure having to listen to someone read and preach to them all day made them sad, but if we look at the background to today’s reading, we can understand why everyone else were sad and weeping.
600 years before Christ, Jerusalem was conquered, the walls of the city and the temple destroyed, and the people taken as captives to Babylon, present day Baghdad, Iraq over 500 miles away. During the exile in Babylon the people felt alone, they felt that God had abandoned them. They remained captives in Babylon for about 60 years until King Cyrus of Persia, present day Iran, conquered Babylon and allowed the people of Jerusalem to return home, to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its temple. That is where we pick up the story in today’s first reading, the city of Jerusalem and the temple have been rebuilt and Ezra is reading the Word of God to the people, most of them hearing it for the first time.
The people realize during the reading that it was not God that had abandoned them, but they who had abandoned God. They realize that all that happened to them was because they went their own way and did not follow God and this made them sad and weep. They had exiled themselves from God, and not the other way around. They begin to realize that they needed to change, to follow God’s will and plan for their lives.
How often our world, our country, and even we ourselves are like the people of Jerusalem, going our own way and doing our own thing, instead of following God’s will and plan for us. We too exile ourselves from God. We want to write the story of our lives and we want the Disney version. But life is so often different than how we expect it or plan it, especially when we are with God and not exiled from him.
Friday was the March for Life and this year was the first time I participated in it. At the March and on the bus ride down and back, I could not help but think about a high school teenage girl many years ago who had something unplanned happen in her life, at least not that at that point in her life. It’s not how she would have written the story. But God had a plan for her, and for me. You see my teenage mom put her plans aside that I might be around to preach to you today. As a deacon I have some idea what it is like to follow God’s will in my own life, but until yesterday/Friday I had not considered what it took for my mom to follow God’s will in her life. It was never easy for her to be a teenage mom, certainly more Grimm that Disney for sure, although to be honest she never left me in the woods to starve to death or to be eaten by wolves as in the Grimm fairy tales, although again to be honest, at times she probably might have wanted to. It was certainly no fairy tale, it was very real. A young woman putting her faith and trust in God and his plan for her life, and I received the gift of life! That’s not how my mom would have written the story, but that’s how God wrote the story!
Today’s gospel shows us that God is not just writing the story, he is actively participating in it. When Jesus says in the gospel, “This Scripture passage is fulfilled,” he is saying, “This is not a 2,000 year old story. These are not just words. The Word is made flesh! God’s Word is living! God’s Word is alive!” He came to bring glad tidings to the poor, those of us who are poor in body, mind, and spirit. He came to proclaim liberty to captives, those of us who are captive by sin, addiction, and the pleasures and vices of the world. He came to give recovery of sight to the blind, those who of us cannot see with the eyes of faith and are filled with hopelessness and despair. He came to let the oppressed go free, those of us who are oppressed with fears, worry, and depression.
God is writing the story of our lives and is actively participating in it, and like the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, our lives will have some dark and scary parts, but the story always has a happy ending when we trust in his plan for us. Captivity and exile is followed by a return to God. The Cross is followed by the Resurrection. Death on earth is followed by new life in heaven.
This Year of Mercy is the perfect time to turn to the Lord and let him rewrite the story of our lives. No matter how much or how often we have exiled ourselves from God, no matter how badly we’ve written the story ourselves to this point, our Lord is ready to write an amazing ending to the story. It will not be sad. As Ezra tells the people in today’s first reading, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”
Thanks mom and thank you God for writing my story the way you did!
God’s Word is living! God’s Word is alive! Rejoice and be glad!