Discovering Who We Are

by Ben Cheng
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Nehemiah 8:2-4A,5-6,8-10

1 Corinthians 12:12-30

Luke 1:1-4;4:14-21

Suppose you are a fine lover of basketball. You discover a group of kids playing basketball and you would like to show them the world of basketball. You may say to them, "Just play to your heart’s content, do whatever you want." I would say “No” as they will never learn it this way. Instead, you would first play with them together, and through the process, demonstrate to them how to handle, pass, and shoot the ball. Once they show more interest, you would train them techniques such as jump shot, slam dunk, and crossover dribble. You may also strive with all your heart to bring these kids to see most famous basketball games. That way, when they get lured into the whole world of basketball, they may learn how to play better.

I am drawing through the above scenario to give a sense of what our first reading is about. No matter how passionately we feel about basketball, nothing can compare to the way Ezra the priest felt about his own people having forgotten who they were. In the 8th chapter of Nehemiah that describes the rebuilding of the city, we find an account of what the Israeli did behind its newly rebuilt walls. The entire people gathered together, “from the elders to those children old enough to understand” (Neh 8:2). They listened as Ezra the priest proclaim the Torah to them, stood from early morning until mid-day, and attended to the great stories, the laws of Yahweh that were given them. Then they bowed down on the ground and wept (ref. Neh 8: 1-6). It is an extraordinary, beautiful, and moving scene! By listening and remembering these stories, they are able to rediscover who they are, their identity as a people in relation to God.

You may say it is an interesting ancient Israeli history that is far beyond us. No, the story is all about us! Do we know spiritually who we are? Do we know the great stories, the great laws, the great rituals and practices that define us as a people? We, the new Israelis, are brought together in a similar way, by the story of creation, the fall, the promise of Messiah, the exhortation of the prophets, the commands on the Sermon on the Mount, and so on. We, as Christians, are supposed to be “salt and light” of the world (ref. Jn 8:12). The most alarming fact is that 75% of Catholics stay away from mass on a regular basis. If so, how would they know the stories, the rituals and ultimately, their true identity? One way that we can lose our identity is when we stop listening to the stories that define us. How many of us, fellow Catholics, drifted into a kind of Babylonian exile, largely assimilated ourselves to the environing secular culture? The sad truth is that popular culture or social media, the avatars of secularism often tell us who we are.

Imagine now, a present day “Ezra”, someone who witnesses the situation, and his heart is broken by it. How this “Ezra” would stand up one more time, gather the Church together, and tell us who we are? Do we have the courage to become a present-day “Ezra”? May we all be stirred today, to the same passionate actions that we see in Ezra the priest! May we all resolve today and strive to preach, to teach, to remember, and to draw once again into the power of the Bible and the Church of people who are drifted into exile! Please hold Ezra the priest in our hearts today.