3rd Sunday Year C
January 27, 2013


The people during Nehemiah’s time had a compelling reason to be emotional. The first reading says they were weeping as they listened to Nehemiah’s reading with attention and deep interest. Nehemiah, of course, was reading for hours on end the completed Book of the Law, known to Jews as the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.

When was the last time, you and I wept over an attentive and rapt reading of Scripture? Was there ever a time when the words we read or heard so convicted us or so convinced us, and by their power, moved us in the same way as Nehemiah’s listeners were moved?

Today, I stand before you and I start with a little confession. I confess that preaching has become of late an even harder task to do. It never was, in the first place. While Nehemiah read for hours, and people were moved by what he read, people now are moved by something else – by entertainment brought by a mass media crazed culture of entertainment and showbiz. People cry “Amen, Alleluia” after every line from a media savvy preacher who, more often than not, end up merely entertaining, and not preaching the Word!

It is hard now to reach out to young people who come to Church armed to the teeth with their powerful smartphones. It is hard now to preach on the Word of God to a “hooked-up” generation who are always connected, but never seemingly attached; perpetually wired, but never attuned.

But this is precisely why I need to preach. This is precisely why we priests need to do a Nehemiah and “preach in season and out of season.” This is precisely the reason why we need to become what God has called us to – evangelizers who bring to people, not just pleasant and saccharine news, but the Good News of salvation.

But I would like you to know that I pine for the hearers and listeners of Nehemiah. They were humble … “they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the Lord.” They were attentive … “all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.” They were malleable and formable … “all the people were weeping as they heard the words.”

They had, in a few words, what we call “audience sympathy” – that welcoming attitude of openness that is essential for the two-way dialogue of faith communication to happen.

Maybe we all need to be reminded of this. Faith is a two-way traffic. Salvation is a give-and-take. For salvation to happen, there ought to be two parties: God who redeems, and man (or woman, or child) who works out his or her own salvation “in fear and trembling.” This, among others, is what we hear Paul say in the second reading .. that the Church is one body with many parts, and every part has to feel and show that it belongs to the body. Rejection does not make for salvation. Refusal is not the language of openness and openness is what acceptance of the Word is all about. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again, the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’”

We all have experienced being rejected. We all have suffered due to some level of non-acceptance and rejection. But we all know how good it feels to be welcomed, to be received with open arms,  and to be accepted as we are.

Even the Lord Jesus knew what it was to rejected, right in his own hometown …  “What good can come from Nazareth?” “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?”

But rejected or not, the Lord came with a message and a gift. He came as light, even when men preferred to live in the darkness. The gospel passage we just heard tells us he went even to Nazareth. And there, he entered a synagogue and, there, too, he stood up to read … proclaim is more like it …

“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Even here. Even now. Also here, also now. And I am a humble unworthy instrument of this proclamation. But I beg you, dear brothers and sisters … you need to help me here. I find it harder and harder to preach, for the reasons (and more besides!) that I said above. You’ve got to help us help you. You’ve got to have the right attitude, even as we need to preach better and more intelligibly. It takes two to tango. Redemption is a task and a gift given to us by God, in and through Christ. But salvation is a task and a responsibility that is incumbent upon us all to do.

You and I. We all. Together. We need to journey together to get there … and we need to help each other “bring the good news to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.”

But we need to “let the oppressed go free.” And among the oppressed is us … oppressed by a culture that is hooked up, and always connected without being attached, aware of everything, but never really attuned – to God, to others, to the One Body that is His Church!

Let the oppressed, beginning with us go free! And today, our faith tells us, this is being fulfilled in your hearing!