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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

The prayer for Christian unity begins. Particular memory of the Catholic Church.

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

This is the Gospel of the poor,
liberation for the imprisoned,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Nehemiah 13,1-30

At that time they were reading to the people from the Book of Moses, when they found this written in it, 'No Ammonite or Moabite is to be admitted to the assembly of God, and this is for all time,

since they did not come to meet the Israelites with bread and water, and even hired Balaam to oppose them by cursing them; but our God turned the curse into a blessing.'

Having heard the Law, they excluded all foreigners from Israel.

Earlier, Eliashib the priest, who was in charge of the rooms of the Temple of our God, and who was close to Tobiah,

had provided him with a large room where they previously used to store the meal offerings, incense, utensils, tithes of corn, wine and oil, that is, the part of the Levites, singers and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests.

While all this was going on I was away from Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had gone to see the king. But after some time I asked the king for permission to leave,

and returned to Jerusalem, where I learned about the crime which Eliashib had committed for Tobiah's benefit, by providing him with a room in the courts of the Temple of God.

I was extremely displeased and threw all Tobiah's household goods out of the room and into the street.

I then gave orders for the room to be purified, and had the utensils of the Temple of God, the meal offerings and the incense, all replaced.

I also learned that the Levites had not been receiving their allocations, as a result of which the Levites and singers who performed the liturgy had all withdrawn to their farms.

I then reprimanded the officials. 'Why is the Temple of God deserted?' I asked. And I collected them together again and brought them back to their posts;

and all Judah then delivered the tithe of corn, wine and oil to the storehouses.

As supervisors of the storehouses I appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, Pedaiah one of the Levites and, as their assistant, Hanan son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, since they were considered reliable people; their duty was to make the distributions to their kinsmen.

Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out the good deeds which I have done for the Temple of my God and its observances!

At the same time I saw people in Judah treading the winepress, bringing in sacks of grain and loading donkeys on the Sabbath; they were also bringing wine, grapes, figs and every kind of merchandise into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. So I forbade them to sell the food.

Tyrians living there were bringing in fish and every kind of merchandise which they were selling to the Judaeans on the Sabbath in Jerusalem itself.

So I also reprimanded the leading men of Judah, saying to them, 'What a wicked way to behave, profaning the Sabbath day!

Was this not exactly what your ancestors did, with the result that our God brought all this misery down on us and on this city? And now you are adding to the wrath hanging over Israel by profaning the Sabbath yourselves!'

So when the gates of Jerusalem were getting dark at the approach of the Sabbath, I gave orders for the doors to be shut and directed that they were not to be opened again until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my attendants at the gates to make sure that no merchandise was brought in on the Sabbath day.

So the traders and dealers in goods of all kinds spent the night outside Jerusalem once or twice,

until I reprimanded them. I said to them, 'Why are you spending the night in front of the wall? Do it again, and I shall use force on you.' After this, they did not come on the Sabbath.

I then ordered the Levites to purify themselves and act as guards at the gates, so that the Sabbath day might be kept holy. Remember this also to my credit, have pity on me in the greatness of your faithful love.

At that time too, I saw Jews who had married wives from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab;

as regards their children, half of them spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, but could no longer speak the language of Judah.

I reprimanded them, I cursed them, I struck several of them and tore out their hair and adjured them by God, 'You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons or let their daughters marry your sons, or marry them yourselves!

Was it not because of women like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Although among many nations there was no king like him and he was loved by his God, and God made him king of all Israel, even then foreign women led him into sinning!

Were you obedient when you committed this very grave crime: breaking faith with our God by marrying foreign wives?'

One of the sons of Jehoiada, son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; I drove him from my presence.

Remember them, my God, for having defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priests and Levites!

And so I purged them of everything foreign; I drew up regulations for the priests and Levites, defining each man's duty,


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Son of Man came to serve,
whoever wants to be great
should become servant of all.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

With these pages concludes the book of Nehemiah, which has accompanied us through several days. The holy author presents us with the conclusion of the reading of the book of Moses, the Pentateuch. It is once again that the reading of the book of the Torah ratifies the unity of the people of the covenant with their God. After having dominated in all the chapters, beginning with the solemn reading done in chapter 8, the book of the word of God is again publicly read in order to apply it to the new situation that the people of God were living. The assembly of God has purified itself on the basis of what is written; it is thus a new community that lives in the holy city and which has undertaken the commitment to keep the Torah. Nevertheless, Nehemiah must immediately confront various problems that regard the application of the Word, which God has entrusted to his people. In fact, each day, the word of God asks the believers that they hear and live it, going beyond seeking their own personal interests, as can occur even to those who live in the house of God. A certain Tobiah makes improper use of the temple precincts; others use the provisions allocated to the Levites and cantors, while the tithe that should go to the support of those who serve in the temple is not given. And, once again, two problems are addressed, which are not easy to resolve in a community hardly reconstituted: respect for the Sabbath rest and the mixed marriages, which put at risk the keeping of faithfulness to the Torah. Keeping the Sabbath rest implicitly invites recognition one’s own dependence, and that of one’s work, on the Lord: no one is absolute master of what he possesses. The Sabbath rest - for us Christians, on Sunday - brings to mind the need for life with God, on whom we all depend. The call to the requirement that the tenth part of the produce of the land be given is placed in the context of the gift: not everything is ours, and what we possess is to be shared with the one in need. Nehemiah is aware of the difficulties that he will meet with in helping the community listen to the word of God and keep it. Yet he does not accuse others; he does not ask God to punish them, but turns to him in prayer, mindful that the Lord will accomplish that for which he sent him in the midst of his people. This is why he twice turns in prayer to his God: "Remember this also in my favour, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love" (v. 22); "Remember this also in my favour, O my God," precisely at the end of the book. God remembers us and frees us, helps us, saves us. His remembrance is as effective as His word. This is why we join ourselves to Nehemiah’s prayer, that the Lord may remember us and help us to do the good, which he, in his goodness, indicates to us every day through his word.

Memory of the Poor