Lesson: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 All the people of Israel gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The Babylonian Exile ended in 539 BCE when the Persians defeated the Babylonians. Cyrus the Great then directed the Judeans to return to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE, and the reconstruction of Jerusalem took more than 90 years.
Ezra (mentioned in today’s reading) was sent to Jerusalem by the Persian King, Darius, in 458 BCE. According to the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, Ezra was a priest with direct lineage to Aaron (the brother of Moses), and a scribe (a highly educated person). Many Biblical scholars conclude that Ezra was the final “redactor” (editor and combiner) of the four literary sources (called J, E, D and P) from which the first five books of the Bible (the Torah) were derived.
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah are often treated as a single book in the Bible, but scholars today note that there are linguistic differences in the books and therefore have different authors. These books are part of the “Writings” (Kethuvim) in the Hebrew Canon and are part of the “Historical Books” in Christian Scriptures. Most scholars date the books the 4th Century BCE because, although it recounted events of the 5th Century BCE, it contained references to events that occurred later.
The stories in Ezra-Nehemiah began where 2 Chronicles ended – Cyrus’ sending of the Jews in Exile back to Jerusalem in 538 BCE. The Book of Ezra focused on the rebuilding of the Temple whereas the Book of Nehemiah focused on the resettlement of the returnees and the rebuilding the Jerusalem wall.
Nehemiah was a Jew who was cupbearer to the King of Persia. In 445 BCE, the King sent Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem and its walls. Nehemiah was a capable administrator and accomplished his tasks in a little more than a year.
Today’s reading recounted the first reading of the “book of the law of Moses” (the Torah). It was read aloud by Ezra in 443 BCE to all the people (men and women) to celebrate the restoration of Jerusalem and was done “with interpretation” (v.8) so the people would understand it.
Ezra is presented as a “New Moses.” According to the Jewish Study Bible: “The importance of Ezra for the creation and formation of what came to be known as rabbinic Judaism cannot be overestimated.”
During the period of Persian rule over Judea (539 to 333 BCE), Judea generally prospered, and the Judeans reconstituted themselves as “People of the Book.” During this time, many books of the Hebrew Bible were written (such as Job and Ruth) and others were codified in what was close to their final forms.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
12 Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.
Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was among the early Jesus Follower communities that Paul founded. Its culture was diverse and Hellenistic, and Corinthians emphasized reason and secular wisdom. In addition to Paul, other Jesus Followers also taught in Corinth, sometimes in ways inconsistent with Paul’s understandings of what it means to be a Jesus Follower. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the 50’s (CE) (likely while Paul was in Ephesus) and presented his views on several issues.
It is one of Paul’s most important letters because it is one of the earliest proclamations of Jesus’ death on behalf of sinners and his resurrection and it contains the basic formula for celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
Today’s reading is a continuation of last week’s reading in which Paul emphasized that all spiritual gifts come from God and are manifestations of the Spirit for the common good. In the continuation, Paul emphasized diversity in unity through the Spirit between Jewish Jesus Followers and Gentile Jesus Followers (“Jews or Greeks”).
He analogized the Jesus Follower Community to the human body (vv.14-24) and rejected a separatist or individualistic attitudes by any part of the body to other parts. He noted that all members have different gifts and roles to play in the Jesus Follower Community, just as each of our body parts functions as part of one human body. In proposing this metaphor, Paul rejected the class system that existed in the hierarchical structures of Greek Culture and the Roman Empire.
Gospel: Luke 4:14-21
14 Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek and presented Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasized the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel followed the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 50% of Luke’s Gospel was based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
Today’s reading is often referred to as the “Programmatic Discourse” – a statement in this Gospel of what the author perceived Jesus’ “program” was, particularly verses 18 and 19. This is a scene that is unique to Luke.
The ”program” was an amalgam of verses from Isaiah – 61:1, 58:6 and 61:2, so it would not have been a continuous reading. If the synagogue in Nazareth was prosperous enough to own a scroll of Isaiah, the reading would be of the “haftarah” – a reading from the prophets as a supplement to the weekly Torah portion. The reading of the haftarah in synagogues was a practice that developed during the First Century.
The Gospel author referred to “their” synagogues (v.15). In Jesus’ own time, the synagogues would have been the local gathering place for all Jews, but by the time the Gospel of Luke was written, the Jesus Followers were often not permitted access to the synagogues by the Pharisees. Use of the synagogues was part of the contest between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees for the control of Judaism. The Jesus Followers and the Pharisees were the only two sects that had survived after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and their contest eventually led to the so-called “Parting of the Ways” in which the Pharisaic Movement morphed into Rabbinic Judaism and the Jesus Follower Movement morphed into Christianity.
In the verses that follow today’s reading, Jesus noted that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown. Mark 6:1-6 contains a similar (but shorter) account of Jesus’ being rejected in Nazareth