Today I am sharing the reflection given for morning prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Lent by Pat Nakagawa at a recent deacon training weekend. Pat is a deacon candidate for the Diocese of Knoxville from All Saints Catholic Church in Knoxville.
“Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not lament, do not weep! — for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength!” Nehemiah 8:9-10
In this morning’s reading from Nehemiah, we heard that the Jewish people were weeping after hearing Ezra read the Law. I propose that the “weeping” in Nehemiah 8:9 illustrates Spiritual Consolation from reconciliation.
Historical Context of Nehemiah Chapter 8
The Book of Nehemiah is one of the Historical Books of the Old Testament which describes the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was written during the Restoration Period, which occurred following the fall of Jerusalem. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BC. The first Jewish exiles returned to Judah in 538 BC. The rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple took place between 537 – 516 BC. Ezra, the scribe and priest, returned to Jerusalem in 458 BC. He was a great religious reformer who succeeded in establishing the Torah as the constitution of the returned community. Nehemiah was the governor/administrator of the province of Judah, a man of action who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and introduced necessary administrative reforms. The takeaway is that, from a historical context, Ezra the priest’s reading of the Law appears to occur in the midst of Nehemiah the governor’s rebuilding of Jerusalem.
Jerome’s Commentary on Nehemiah 8:9-10
Chapter 8 of the Book of Nehemiah describes the “Promulgation of the Law”. For eight days, Ezra read clearly the Book of the Law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. The Book of the Law of God was written in Hebrew, but the people, since their sojourn (exile) in Bablyon, now spoke Aramaic, and it had to be translated for them into that tongue. After Ezra finished reading the Book of the Law, Nehemiah the governor, Ezra, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people: “Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not lament, do not weep!” — for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the Law.
From the Commentary in the Didache Bible: “During the seven-day Feast of Booths, Ezra read the Law to the assembled people, which brought many in the audience to tears as they realized their transgressions. In verse 3, we are told that “In the square in front of the Water Gate, Ezra read out of the book from daybreak till midday, in the presence of men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” Consider this statement in light of what just occurred. The Jewish people were just preached to for a day on the Law of Moses. Ezra, the priest, explained the Law to the people and now the people were weeping from knowing and understanding how their lives may not have been in alignment with the Law — that they were sinners. Ezra continued: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength.” The takeaway is that after Ezra, the priest, read the Law to the people, the people were brought to tears as they realized their transgressions.
So how do the tears of the Jewish people tie in with spiritual consolation?
St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Third Rule of his Fourteen Rules for the Discernment of Spirits is of Spiritual Consolation: “I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator. When it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise. Every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.
Applicability to Us Today
Today, we can similarly associate the weeping of the Jewish people with reconciliation. Not just any reconciliation, but a reconciliation from a thorough examination of conscience. An examination of conscience which challenges us to look at ourselves through the lens of The Confiteor to see how I have sinned … that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.
Contemplatio (Contemplation). Thank you, Jesus, for giving us the gift of reconciliation where we can receive grace and draw closer to you. Let my action be to invest in a thorough examination of conscience, so that I may receive the Spiritual Consolation through reconciliation. (I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin.)
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.