THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY
27 January 2013
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book, probably intended to be a sequel to Chronicles. Chronicles tells of the Babylonian exile and the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the return from the exile and the re-establishment of a Jewish society in and around Jerusalem. Under Nehemiah’s supervision, they have rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, including a gate on the east side of the city called the Water Gate. Now the people have gathered before the Water Gate to hear Ezra read to them the laws promulgated by Moses. The laws are written in Hebrew, but Nehemiah and others interpret them for the people in Aramaic, for in this period Aramaic is the language of the Jews.
Our reading today is a continuation of that of last week. Despite their differences, members of the community are unified in baptism, and all are “made to drink of one Spirit” – an appealing image for a desert people. There follows a playful riff on the joys of difference. But he soon slips into serious talk about caring for one another and sympathizing in the sufferings of others. He does not forget that the new Church is apostolic, and he gives a hierarchy of apostles, prophets, teachers, and so on. But the most wonderful line, perhaps the best Paul ever wrote, is “Now you are the body of Christ.”