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.
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 a portion from Leviticus, perhaps the most obscure, boring book for Christians 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 achieved a synthesis of cultural practices, secular traditions and religious ritual. It evolved gradually so that Mosaic religion reflected changing times. Only hundreds of years after Moses, around 400 B.C., did Leviticus reach its present form. Its final achievement was to absorb the prophetic preaching of Ezekiel and so 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 attempted to blend 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 practical response to the Year of Jubilee, discussed later in Leviticus. He encountered stiff, envious resistance in his home town, and as they lacked faith in a generous God, he could work very few miracles there. Today we can reflect on our own blend of liturgy and prayer. How does my part in liturgy reflect my daily life and our contemporary world? Can I accept challenge and change, to help the poor and 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. This is the fundamental mystery of Jesus. He was like us in every way, except sin; he was fully human and, yet, there was more to them than that. There was a divine wisdom and power at work within him.
St John the evangelist expressed that mystery of Jesus very succinctly when he declared that the Word who was God 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 flesh revealed God in a unique way. This is the scandal of the incarnation that so disturbed the people of Nazareth. God came to us in the ordinary, the familiar, in the life of a carpenter's son. That son of the carpenter, that son of Mary, who is also Son of God, continues to come to 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 one such child in my name welcomes me" and "just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me." He reminds us that the sacred and the secular are not all that far apart; we encounter the sacred in the secular, the divine in the human. We are always on holy ground.