Reflection on the Daily Readings for 10/01/09 by Fr. Bertrand Buby, SM
Scripture: Lectionary # 458. Thurs. of 26th week. Nehemiah 8:1-4.5-6.7-12.
Psalm 19:184.108.40.206. Luke 10:1-12.
“This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not; nor weep.” (Neh.8:9).
Ezra, the scribe is appointed by Nehemiah the governor or leader to read
the Torah in front of the people. He is elevated above the people so that
he may be seen and heard. They are so moved that many weep and mourn for
not having observed the precepts of the Lord, but Ezra realizes that this
is not a day for fasting or mourning but for rejoicing. The passage is
beautiful and remarkable for its description and leads historically to a
transition from the time of the prophets to the new era of Judaism when the
syngagogue will become central. We are historically around the time of 485
B.C. and the people are being prepared for the future of the nation and its
worship of the one true God. The celebration precedes or sets the way for
Sukkot– a time of thanksgiving and joy for the harvest. Here it is the
return of the people to the holy city and holy land.
It reminds us of the Acts of the Apostles where there are several summaries
by Luke who tells us of the celebration and joy of the first Christian
community in Jerusalem. “And continuing daily in one accord in the temple
and breaking bread in their houses, they took their food with gladness and
simplicity of heart, praising God and being in favor with all the
people.” (Acts 2:46-47).
Sukkot or the Festival of Tabernacles is a time for thanking God for the
harvest. It resembles Thanksgiving Day in some respects but is the oldest
festival of this type thus giving us a model for thanking God and having a
joyful celebration. The narrative of Nehemiah is an excellent context for
appreciating the joy of the people of Israel coming home again. It is an
appropriate introduction to Sukkot. Fortunately, the Catholic lectionary
has chosen Psalm 19 for its Responsorial Psalm and this is also one of the
Psalms for Sukkot. In a book called the “Joys of Hebrew” by Lewis Glinert
we have this description of Sukkot: “Five days after Yom Kippur in
mid-autumn, comes the festival of Sukkot, which has to be seen to be
believed. The word literally means “booths.” For the week-long festival,
Jews traditionally eat, drink, and sleep “under the sky”– in a little
sukkah roofed over with temporary vegetation, commemorating the wandering
in the wilderness. This is also the harvest season and a time of judgment
for rain, and there are a plethora of other customs and ceremonies to
match. Provided it doesn’t pour with rain, Sukkot fully lives up to its
nickname of zman simchatenu, “our season of joy.” Amen.