The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord, and on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. For seven days you shall present the Lord's offerings by fire; on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation: you shall not work at your occupations.
The Lord spoke to Moses: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall raise the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall raise it.
And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord.
Speak to the people of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, and lasting seven days, there shall be the festival of booths to the Lord. The first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. Seven days you shall present the Lord's offerings by fire; on the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation and present the Lord's offerings by fire; it is a solemn assembly; you shall not work at your occupations.
These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you shall celebrate as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the Lord offerings by fire, burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day.
Raise a song and sound the timbrel,
the sweet-sounding harp and the lute.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
when the moon is full, on our feast. (R./)
For this is Israel's law,
a command of the God of Jacob.
He imposed it as a rule on Joseph,
when he went out against the land of Egypt. (R./)
Let there be no foreign god among you,
no worship of an alien god.
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you from the land of Egypt. (R./)
Jesus came to his home town and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?" And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house." And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
Today we have read from Leviticus, perhaps the most boring book in the whole Bible. Most of it seems hardly relevant to Church life and worship today. Perhaps that's why it is so seldom used in our liturgy. But when first written, the book of Leviticus was a synthesis of cultural practices, secular traditions and religious ritual. It evolved gradually so that Mosaic religion could move with changing times. Only hundreds of years after Moses, around 400 B.C., did Leviticus reach its present form. Its final achievement was to adapt to the postexilic age, quite different from any previous age in their history.
Today's text alludes to their most sacred of all days, later called simply YOMA, the Day of Atonement. That day combined a formal liturgy in the temple (Lev 16:1-19) with the colourful, outdoor ceremony of driving a goat (scapegoat) into the desert, loaded with all the people's sins, to be hurled over a precipice (16:20-28). However odd this seems to us, it pleased the popular religiosity of those days. What bothered the prophets far more than this consigning of sins to Azazel was the discordance between liturgical and daily life.
Jesus blended liturgy and life into authentic harmony. He began his word at Nazareth by quoting from Isaiah, about "glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight for the blind and release for prisoners." This was his response to the Year of Jubilee, discussed later in Leviticus. He encountered stiff, envious resistance in his home town. Seeing that they lacked an open heart to welcome a generous God, he could work very few miracles there. We might reflect on our own blend of liturgy and prayer. How does liturgy affect my daily life? Can I accept challenge and change, to help the poor and work for the good of the environment? Am I envious of, or delighted with, God's concern for others?
When Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth, the townspeople recognize him as the son of the carpenter, whose mother, Mary, and whose brothers and sisters are known to them. He is one of their own, just like themselves. Yet, in other ways he is not like themselves. The townspeople of Nazareth are astonished at his wisdom and his miraculous powers. They wonder where he could have got all that from. They were mystified by him.
The fundamental truth about Jesus is that he was both ordinary and extraordinary. He was like us in every way, except sin. He was fully human yet there was the wisdom and power of God at work within him. St John expressed it succinctly when he said at the beginning of his gospel that the Word became flesh. He was "flesh" like all of us, fully human, the son of a carpenter, from a particular place in Galilee who lived at a particular time in history. Yet, his man revealed God in a unique way. This is the scandal of the incarnation that so disturbed the people of Nazareth.
The son of the carpenter, the son of Mary, who is also Son of God, is with us today as risen Lord in and through the familiar and the ordinary. He said to his disciples, "whoever welcomes you, welcomes me," "whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me" and "as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me." The sacred and the secular are not so far apart; we meet the sacred in the secular, the divine in the human. We are always on holy ground..