Week of Proper 21: Thursday, Year 1   13 comments

Above:  Ezra

The Joy of Forgiveness

OCTOBER 5, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Nehemiah 8:1-12 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

When the seventh month arrived–the Israelites being [settled] in their towns–the entire people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the scroll of the Teaching of Moses with which the LORD had charged Israel.  On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the high priest brought the Teaching before the congregation, men and women and all who could listen with understanding.  He read from it, facing the square before the Water Gate, from the first light until midday, to the men and the women and those who could understand; the ears of all the people were given to the scroll of the Teaching.

Ezra the scribe stood upon a wooden tower made for the purpose, and beside hm stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah at his right, and at his left Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, Meshullam.  Ezra opened the scroll in the sight of all the people; the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; as he opened it, all the people stood up.  Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” with hands upraised.  Then they bowed their hands and prostrated themselves before the LORD with their faces to the ground.  Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites explained the Teaching to the people, while the people stood in their places.  They read from the scroll of the Teaching of God, translating it and giving the sense; so they understood the reading.

Nehemiah the Tirshatha, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites, who were explaining to the people said to all the people,

This day is holy to the LORD your God:  you must not mourn or weep,

for all the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the Teaching.  He further said to them,

Go, eat choice foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our Lord.  Do not be sad, for your rejoicing in the LORD is the source of your strength.

The Levites were quieting the people, saying,

Hush, for the day is holy; do not be sad.

Then all the people went to eat and drink and send portions and make great merriment, for they understood the things they were told.

Psalm 119:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Happy are they whose way is blameless,

who walk in the law of the LORD!

2  Happy are they who observe his decrees

and seek him with all their hearts!

3  Who never do any wrong,

but always walk in his ways.

4  You laid down your commandments,

that we should fully keep them.

5  Oh, that my ways were made so direct

that I might keep your statutes!

6  Then I should not be put to shame,

when I regard all your commandments.

7  I will thank you with an unfeigned heart,

when I have learned your righteous judgments.

8  I will keep your statutes;

do not utterly forsake me.

Luke 10:1-12 (The Jerusalem Bible):

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself wast to visit.  He said to them,

The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.  Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.  Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals.  Salute no one on the road.  Whatever you house go into, let your first words be, “Peace be to this house!”  And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you.  Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.  Whenever you go into a town when they make you welcome, eat what is set before you.  Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near you.”  But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you.  Yet be sure of this:  the kingdom of God is very near.”  I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.


The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The reading from Nehemiah is, at least in The Episcopal Church, one of those readings one might dread when it appears in the lectionary.  Why did so many Biblical parents insist on such difficult-to-pronounce names?  Why did they not name a son Bob or Harry?  For liturgical reading, at least, there is an easy fix, which is slight rewording of the text to avoid having to read all those name.  For example:  “Ezra the scribe stood upon a wooden tower made for the purpose, and he stood in the middle of a group of men.”  Now the lector can move along to the main point of the passage without tripping his or her tongue on polysyllabic names.

The main point is this:  The Jews in Jerusalem had sinned out of ignorance.  But, when they learned of their sins, they repented.  Ezra told them to focus on the future and to live faithfully from now on, not to berate themselves for prior errors.  How were they to know how to live unless someone had told them?  But, now that they knew, they were responsible.  They ought to live faithfully and joyfully in God, who had provided this law for them and forgiven them.

The fact remains that many people do not know of the God of the Bible because of time, geography, and the fact that nobody has informed them yet.  What about them?  I propose that the best answer to this question comes from Paragraph 1281 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (1997):

Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized.

Grace goes where it will, regardless of what we humans think about that.

As much as there is forgiveness, there is also judgment.  Often they coexist within the same passage of scripture.  Consider the lesson from Luke.  The Synoptic Gospels tell virtually identical stories of Jesus sending the Twelve Apostles out on a preaching mission.  Here in Luke, however, Jesus also sends out the newly-minted seventy-two disciples for a similar purpose.  They will face rejection, Jesus knows.  He tells them to leave places where this happens and to leave the rest to God.

God, of course, judges, but also forgives us and continues to seek us.  So only God and a person really know what goes on between God and him or her.  The rest of us ought not to judge, not that this stops us sometimes.

I write these words on Good Friday 2011, so I give special attention to our Lord and Savior’s prayer for those who executed him and who looked on.  “Forgive them,” he said, ” for they do not know what they are doing.”  What we do to each other in ignorance can be devastating, but it lies within the range of forgiveness.

Perhaps the best way to close this devotion is to quote a prayer from a Rosh Hashanah service, courtesy of Gates of Repentance:  The New Union Prayerbook for the Days of Awe (New York, NY:  Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1978), page 371.  This seems appropriate because The Jewish Study Bible informs me that the gathering in Nehemiah 8 occurred on a date known later as Rosh Hashanah.

Lord, we are not so arrogant as to pretend

that the trial of our lives

does not reveal our flaws.

We know ourselves,

in this moment of prayer,

to have failed

the ones we love and the stranger,

again and again.

We know how often

we did not bring to the surface of our lives

the hidden goodness within.

Where we have achieved, O Lord,

we are grateful;

where we have failed,

we ask forgiveness.

Remember how exposed we are

to the chances and terrors of life.

We were afraid.

We sometimes chose to fail.

And we ask:

Turn our thoughts from the hurt to its remedy.

Free us from the torments of guilt.

Forgiven, O Lord, we shall then forgive others;

failing, we shall learn to understand failure;

renewed and encouraged, we shall strive to be like

those who came before us:  human.

Sinners sometimes, yet a blessing.




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