Memory of Jesus crucified

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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 1,1-11

The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah. It happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa,

that Hanani, one of my brothers, arrived with some men from Judah. I asked them about the Jews -- those who had escaped and those who survived from the captivity -- and about Jerusalem.

They replied, 'The survivors remaining there in the province since the captivity are in a very bad and demoralised condition: the walls of Jerusalem are in ruins and its gates have been burnt down.'

On hearing this I sat down and wept; for some days I mourned, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

I said, 'Yahweh, God of heaven -- the great and awe-inspiring God who keeps a covenant of faithful love with those who love him and obey his commandments-

let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to listen to your servant's prayer, which I now offer to you day and night on behalf of your servants the Israelites. I admit the sins of the Israelites, which we have committed against you. Both I and my father's House have sinned;

we have acted very wickedly towards you by not keeping the commandments, laws and rulings which you enjoined on your servant Moses.

Remember, I beg you, the promise which you solemnly made to your servant Moses, "If you are unfaithful, I shall scatter you among the peoples;

but if you come back to me and keep my commandments and practise them, even though those who have been banished are at the very sky's end, I shall gather them from there and bring them back to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling-place for my name."

Since they are your servants, your people, whom you have redeemed with your mighty power and strong hand,

O Lord, let your ear now be attentive to your servant's prayer and to the prayer of your servants who want to revere your name. I beg you let your servant be successful today and win this man's compassion.' At the time I was cupbearer to the king.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

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

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

A new figure comes into play, with a defining role for Jerusalem’s postexilic condition and for the reconstitution of the identity of the people who had been dispersed when the holy city was destroyed. If Ezra’s work had focused on the rebuilding of the temple and defining who belonged to the community of returnees - we find here in this context the issue of mixed marriages (cf. Ezra 9) - Nehemiah’s task, on the other hand, seems to have a more political character, concentrating on the security of the city and the rebuilding of its walls and its repopulation, together with a certain organization of the life of the citizens (chapters 7, 10, 11, 13). Altogether, Nehemiah’s mission is motivated by a deep religious consciousness rooted in the memory of the covenant and fidelity of God to his people, as is well expressed by the prayer in this first chapter. Fasting and prayer show consciousness of one’s own need, without which one remains a prisoner of the idea of being completely self-sufficient, which impedes the encounter with the Lord and with others. At the same time, while Nehemiah turns to God and acknowledges his greatness ("O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God"), his prayer becomes a petition for pardon of his and the people’s infidelity, which had resulted in the dispersion of the people, "We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses." But the Lord does not abandon his people; he is quick to forgive the ones who acknowledge their sin, and to restore them to friendship with him. In fact, he will do much more for them: "If you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place at which I have chosen to establish my name." The Lord hears prayer made with faith; he is not insensitive to the cry of the one in need. This is the experience we too can have every day, when in life’s difficulties we do not close in on ourselves, but rather open ourselves to hearing God’s word in order to receive his forgiveness and taste his friendship.