Weekly Meditation: 23rd January 2016

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Psalm 19

Luke 4:14-21

God’s Word is “living and active” (see Hebrews 4:12) if we allow it to work in our lives. For those of us whose Bible-reading has become a duty rather than a joy, for those of us who “tune out” during the reading of Bible passages in church, for those who do not open the Bible from one year to the next, today’s lectionary readings put us to shame.

King David – the writer of Psalm 19 – knew God well. He observed God’s Creation, and in seeing the order and splendour of what God had made, he came to trust the Lord and rejoice in him. David knew that the same God who had created the heavens could be trusted in his word. Therefore David could say without hypocrisy, “The law of the Lord is perfect … trustworthy …radiant … more precious than gold … sweeter than honey”. David loved God’s law; he clearly read it and took it to heart. All the kings of Israel were commanded by God to write out a copy of the law with their own hand when they acceded to the throne (Deuteronomy 17:18). The law was perceived as valuable and important. Over the decades, however, it became neglected and forgotten, and eventually the people were taken into exile in Babylon because of their unfaithfulness. It was in Babylon that – realising what they had lost – their interest in the law was rekindled.

On returning to their own land, God’s people were re-established in their faith. In the book of Nehemiah, we encounter them after Jerusalem’s walls had been rebuilt. They assembled in the square and Ezra the priest read the law to them. The people gathered included all the men and women, and “all who were able to understand” (v 2) so there would have been children present too. They stood and listened “attentively”, all morning “from day break until noon”. Whether the reading covered the entire Pentateuch – from Genesis to Deuteronomy – or was only the law as laid down in Exodus and Leviticus, this was a sizeable passage of Scripture. However, the people not only listened, they cried out “Amen”, worshipped the Lord, and wept (v 6, 9). Like King David before them, they clearly loved and treasured God’s law.

The books of the law are among those least read by us; we view them as dull, repetitive and condemnatory. Yet they were able to speak to these ancient people and to inspire them. We have far more than the law in our Bibles. But do we ever greet the reading of God’s word with such joy and responsiveness as these people showed?

When Jesus began his ministry in Nazareth, he entered the synagogue and read aloud from the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 61. The people’s attention was clearly riveted on Jesus and the words he was speaking – “the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him” (Luke 4:20) – and they received him favourably even when he made the startling claim that “today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (v 21). Of course, things degenerated afterwards when Jesus berated them for their lack of faith (v 23-30), but the purpose of our lectionary reading is to show the power of God’s word, and the avid interest in it that people have displayed over the centuries.

It is still early in the year, not too late to make a resolution to read more of God’s word, to read it every day, and capture the joy and delight that it can inspire in our hearts.

By Susan Thorne