(Neh 8.2-4a,5-6,8-10; 1 Cor 12.12-30; Lk 1.1-4, 4.14-21)
Last December, the Pew Research Institute in the USA released a major report. It surveyed a broad sample of 18,850 people in 17 developed nations asking the question, “what gives you meaning in life?” It analysed the answers into 17 broad fields, areas such as family, occupation, friends, religion, etc. The startling result was that family easily topped the list; in 14 out of 17 nations it was mentioned more than any other category.
Today’s scripture readings may help us understand why even in a world dominated by economics and entertainment, family was the clear winner. Our first reading from Nehemiah records a dramatic gathering. After seventy years in exile Jewish families, having returned to an ancestral home none would ever have seen, gather together to find a basis for their life together. It revolves around a reading of the Jewish law which is the repository of all the customs, rituals and actions that bind their families and entire community together.
When Paul writes to the first Christians in Corinth he too stresses unity. Comparing the Christian family to a body, he points out how all the various limbs act as one to bring health and safety. So too all the talents and gifts of each Christian must be utilised to ensure unity and peace to the entire Christian family. In this he builds on what Jesus said to his small village and extended family in Nazareth: that it is in caring for the needy and disadvantaged in our wider family that empathy, peace and trust are born and grow.
This message is utterly contrary to the flood of messages that assail us from radio, print and screen – that we attain happiness once we have won the economic goal to which each of us is entitled. Competition, individual goals, looking after number one, are portrayed as the keys to fulfilment.
The Covid pandemic has helped underline what a shallow and deceitful fantasy that has turned out to be.
Reflection 3rd Sunday of year CThis Sunday