Doing as Jesus Did
The Book of Nehemiah follows on from the Book of Ezra: Ezra, a priest, led the first two groups of the Jewish people from exile back to Jerusalem. Whereas Nehemiah, a layman, was an important official in the Kings court while in exile. He used his influence to get the Persian King to help rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. He sacrificed his important and comfortable position so to use his political and practical skills to manage the rebuilding.
In the Gospel we hear Jesus selecting his manifesto, his “reason for coming as a man”:
“He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the down trodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.”
You might ask, what is the link between the Gospel and the First reading? I believe it is this: Nehemiah was a layman like most of the people of God; but he united the Jewish people after 70 years of unhappy exile in Persia. They were divided, unhappy and under constant threat from the Samaritans.
By helping the people rebuild their faith (through good actions and reading of the Scriptures), with the Temple worship (rituals), the people were again united and prosperous.
Jesus brought the Good News back to earth: the desire of God to give people life (joy) and true freedom (unity), to bring healing for past and present wounds (shelter).
When we apply it to the First Reading, it reminds us that we cannot be united and prosperous unless we bring healing, hope and freedom for all members in our communities.
This is why the Church is always urging Governments to look after the poor.
This idea of unity and ensuring care for everyone in the community, is reinforced by the Second Reading where St Paul reminds us we are all part of ONE body and if one part of the body is suffering, eventually, the whole body will suffer.
A good example in our present times is family life and the wounded men and women who try to create new families and struggle to find happiness and peace:
often it’s because they have not been released (healed) from their past wounds.
The identity of Nehemiah reminds each of us of our individual and collective duty to use our skills to bring unity and healing, and to create frameworks (or infrastructure), which allows people to participate and even create new things.
A good example of how today’s readings are present in this day and age is a group of men in Australia called menAlive. Robert Falzon and one or two others co-founded the group about 15 years ago: they are successful businessmen, who are now full time – supporting themselves – creating gathering spaces for ordinary men to come together to face their “demons,” and rediscover the Father’s Dream for them: www.menalive.org.au
I worked with them (2005 – 2010) and, today, they remind me of Nehemiah: building Unity, & being the presence of Jesus Christ as they give many men new freedom and new sight for life.
Along the way, they’ve created multiple local teams around Australia so that more and more men are finding new life in many places: truly, when we try to imitate Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit steps in completes the “work.”
The image of food that Nehemiah uses in the First Reading is not a simple command to go and enjoy yourself. It’s a sign/reality of what happens when we treat others like Jesus Christ did.
A Jesuit priest once explained mercy: “to be merciful is to enter into the chaos of another person’s life.” This is a good thing to remember, because it’s exactly what Jesus did.
May we also look within ourselves and see what gift/ability or opportunity have I, now,
that I can share/use to help others “see again” and find “true freedom.”
Then we can all feast together at the banquet: eating and drinking peace and joy.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI