3d Sunday C (21 Jan 2007) Neh 8. 2-4a,5-6,8-10; Ps 19; 1Co 12. 12-30; Lk 1. 1-4; 4. 14-21
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Gift For Life
Certain words in other languages can’t be translated into English. For example, Panayotis is a Greek name for a man named after the Blessed Virgin. When my grandfather came from Greece and secured a job in a hotel kitchen, the chef introduced him to the man in charge of hiring. He asked my grandfather his name. When he heard my grandfather answer, Panayotis, the man said to him, “You’re name is Peter.”
Arabs welcome you to their home with ah-lan wa sah-lan. Ah-lan means kin and sah-lan means easy: you arrive as part of the family, may your entry here be easy.
One of the most important Hebrew words in the bible is torah. It gets translated as law, but that not only does not do justice to a word whose root meaning is “to teach”; translating torah with law constrains our appreciation of it; of God, the giver of torah; of the hearers of Ezra and of Jesus and why their hearers responded so deeply.
We cannot translate torah with an English word. The root meaning is to teach, yet instruction is too dry. The best we can do to capture the sense of this untranslatable word is the phrase “rule of life.”
Jews have always struggled to appreciate this. San Antonio, TX, Rabbi Allison Bergman Vann reminded her synagogue last May that this rule of life is God’s gift. She said:
A gift is most tended, most cherished, when we know what it is. At its most fixed definition, Torah is the scroll that I read from, containing the five books of Moses. Moving towards a more broad under-standing, Torah is also the entire Bible: the five books of Moses; the Prophets; and the Writings. At its widest and most flexible definition, Torah is the entire compendium of Jewish teaching, from the five books of Moses to the most recent commentary.For the Israelites returned to their homeland after their captivity in Babylon, Ezra’s reciting and unwrapping torah moved them to tears as well as shouts of Amen! Amen! as well as festive celebration, so deeply it touched their hearts.
Ultimately, Torah is the blueprint that guides the Jewish people. Contained within are ethics and moral lessons; a structure for Jewish life, including holidays and life cycle celebrations. From these stories and guidelines, we have derived our world view and theology. When we are able to unwrap it and allow it to inform our lives, change us, and help us to grow into our best selves, then we have fully received the gift of Torah. . . .
the gift of Torah is not to be stashed away in a drawer, or unwrapped without curiosity and challenge. A scholar, whose name is unknown, wrote in the 18th century: “When one utters words of Torah, one never ceases to create spiritual potencies and new lights. . .”/1/
For us Jesus embodied torah and lived his Spirit-anointing by fulfilling, that is, performing the prophetic reminder that all of us are to have especial care for those at the margins, to liberate those who are in bondage, to enhance others’ vision, to relieve those oppressed and burdened.
Jesus entrusts us with his mission to do that and nothing less. We do it in our own circumstances and in our own ways. All of us embody torah and fulfill it little by little because all of us are anointed with Jesus’ Spirit, his free gift, his lasting legacy. We translate torah not in words but by deeds. We are its witnesses, far more valuable than the most important teachers.
Each day this week, in your 10 minutes which you set aside to draw closer to Jesus, come into the presence of the Trinity and rest in their loving embrace. Hear Jesus announce his good news to you. Notice what his word stirs in you, to what his word invites you. Speak to Jesus as one friend to another asking for the grace to respond more generously to Jesus by responding more generously to others you encounter, especially anyone at the margins of your life, of society, of the Church. Close your prayer by slowly saying the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words are the best translation we have of lovingly living his life, becoming “spiritual potencies and new lights” for our world.
Photo by Shirley q, who allows it to be used without any restriction.