First Reading Commentary
This Reading along with this weekend's Gospel has settings of a gathered assembly. Ezra reads from the book of God's Law which most likely would have been from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. He proclaimed God's Law from daybreak till midday; that's about six hours. Okay, who is complaining about the length of the modern day Mass?
When Ezra opens the scroll, all the people rose much like we do at Mass when the Gospel is proclaimed. Ezra also interpreted what was read so that those present could understand. In our own tradition this would translate into a homily in which the homilist explains the Scriptures for us, not necessarily on a scholarly level, but more importantly on a level of application. That is to say, the homilist takes the events which occurred thousands of years ago and gives us some food for thought on how we can apply God's word to our own lives.
Ezra and the Levites said to the people: "Today is holy to the Lord your God." The Latin text reveals that this assembly occurred on the first day of the seventh month; therefore, this would not have been the Jewish Sabbath since the Jewish Sabbath is the seventh day. More than likely this was one of the high holy days since rich foods and sweet drinks followed; and such delights give us a sense of heaven.
Many of the traditions of our own faith come to us from the Jewish traditions and this Reading gives us an example. In the Jewish faith there was only one feast for mourning, which was the day of expiation. All the other holy days were joyful, hence the eating of rich foods and drinking of sweet drinks. It is for this same reason that the Church does not fast on joyful solemnities.
This Reading closes with the words: "Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!" Much later in history Saint Paul would preach very similar words except he would encourage us to rejoice in the Lord always. The Lord is indeed our strength and when we trust in that, sadness can never prevail.
Second Reading Commentary
This Reading teaches us to put aside our egos and also avoid the capital sin of envy. Perhaps there are times that our God-given gifts and talents may seem less useful when compared to the gifts and talents of others. This, of course, is not the case. Saint Paul uses the example of a human body to make this point. Some parts of the human body may seem less useful or less important than other body parts; but each body part is integral and contributes to the overall health of the entire body. The same is true for the Mystical Body of Christ. While we may wish that we could sing as beautifully as that cantor does or speak as eloquently as that priest does, the truth is that these envious gifts are given to these individuals by God for His own perfect reasons. Our calling is not to wish we were like someone else; instead, our calling is to offer to others the gifts we do have.
For most of us, the gifts that we have are meant for 'behind the scenes' work. Few of us possess gifts that are in the forefront or are publicly noticeable; but that doesn't make our gifts less important. On the contrary, in the Eyes of God we are all equal; and our journey to holiness can be best achieved by putting to maximum use what God has given us. On the flip side, if you do have gifts that are used mostly in a public setting, seemingly always prowling around is the temptation of pride.
As recipients of God's gifts, it is always commendable to set aside time to offer praise and gratitude to the gift Giver, without Whom our efforts would be useless. And so, even though we might be tempted from time-to-time to think that God somehow must have overlooked something by not giving us the ability to lay hands on someone and heal them, we are, nonetheless, still called to greatness by making the best possible use of what God has given us because service is our shared calling; and in doing so, we will be fulfilling our duty as a working, viable and crucial Body part in the Body of Christ.
In the first sentence the word "fulfilled" when read from the Latin Vulgate translates as "accomplished". Perhaps "fulfilled" is a better translation because it gives a sense of prophetic words becoming true to its fullness.
Saint Luke is addressing this to Theophilus who is probably a close friend or colleague since the name is preceded with the title, "most excellent". It should be noted, however, that the name "Theophilus" means "a lover of God". Therefore, if the name of Theophilus is used symbolically, we, as lovers of God, are minimally the intended secondary audience.
After Jesus reads the Scripture passage from the prophet Isaiah, He proclaims Himself as the fulfillment of that passage. "He has anointed Me to bring glad tidings to the poor." In this verse the word "poor" can be understood to mean the Gentiles since at that time the Gentiles had little knowledge of God, His Law, or His prophets. The big picture of this prophecy, however, deals with more than just the Gentiles. The overall theme of this prophecy is the redemption of humankind; and in this setting redemption was just proclaimed by the Redeemer Himself.
Keeping in mind that Jesus' audience is Jewish, the words "a year acceptable to the Lord" would be better understood by the ancient Jews because it is a reference to a jubilee year in which slaves were given their freedom. The understanding prophetically then, is that Jesus will set us free from our slavery to sin and death. This story is much clearer to those of us who already know the 'Jesus Story'. At the time that Jesus actually read this prophecy it's not likely that anyone present in the synagogue understood what He meant when proclaiming Himself as the fulfillment.
When reading the Gospels we find that Jesus had quite a few run-ins with the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes because they misunderstood and misinterpreted the Law and the Prophets; therefore, it seems reasonable to theorize that when Jesus had finished reading Isaiah's prophecy and then proclaiming Himself as the fulfillment, the hearers were left scratching their heads in bewilderment. In fact, we'll continue with this Gospel next weekend and you'll find that the assembly was amazed at the words that came from Jesus' Mouth; but as Jesus continued to speak, the assembly became filled with fury.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council expounds on Christ's proclamation of Isaiah by conveying that Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass. By His power He is present in the sacraments so that when anybody baptizes it is really Christ Himself Who baptizes. He is present in His word since it is He Who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, He is present when the Church prays and sings, for He has promised, "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name there am I in the midst of them."