We don’t often think about how all the various books of the Scriptures were brought together to create the complete canon of the Holy Bible. We know that the Scriptures are the inspired sacred Word of God and that many prophets and others of faith received the inspired Word of God. Beginning with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God spoke to those whose hearts were open to God. The communication of the sacred Word of God began as an oral exchange of God’s revealed plan of salvation. From the oral tradition, it then began to be shared in written form. But it would not be until the Israelites were taken into captivity in Babylon that the first written set of Holy Scriptures appeared. 

In the late seventh century BC, the Israelites were taken into captivity by the Babylonians and, while in captivity for 80 years, they put together the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures known to us as The Pentateuch; in Jewish tradition it is known as the Torah. The word Pentateuch is from the Greek and means five scrolls which contain the law. These first five books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Those five books give the law to the Jewish people and help to order their lives.

This is the background for Sunday’s First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Nehemiah: the people of Israel have returned from the Babylonian Exile to find Jerusalem destroyed. Ezra, the priest, leads the people in a liturgy of thanksgiving that gives them comfort and is familiar to them because it was handed down to them from their ancestors. This moment brings them to reflect on all that has happened to the previous generations and themselves, “Ezra read plainly from the Book of the Law of God and interpreted it so that all could understand what was read.” (Neh. 8:8-10) The people would rebuild their lives and their nation on the law of God.

We too must listen with our own ears what the Word of God is speaking to our hearts. Psalm 19:8 calls us to respond with our words and answer with our hearts, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The fourth verse says it most tenderly, “Let the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before you.” (Ps. 19:15) 

We are given to drink of the one Spirit as Paul tells the Church in Corinth. It is the one Spirit, which we are given in our baptisms, that enables many people from many lands to come together as one body in Christ. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” (1Cor. 12-30) The Scriptures compel us to hear the sacred Word of God with our hearts and to respond by giving our lives to God.  

The history of the compiling of the New Testament Scriptures can be read in Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21). “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided after investigating everything accurately anew, to write down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” Luke wrote his compilation between 75-80 AD, which included The Acts of the Apostles. 

Luke wanted to communicate to his readers the universal call to salvation, which Jesus Christ proclaimed through his life, death and resurrection. Mercy and forgiveness and a constant concern to help the poor, the sinner and the outcast are the themes of the Gospel of Luke. The universal call to salvation fills all those who hear this message with joy. When Jesus goes to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, he proclaims the universal call to salvation that humanity would be recreated in the same way the people of Israel were called by Ezra to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. “He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Lk. 1:14-21) 

Jesus told those present, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Like Ezra, Jesus proclaims within a liturgical setting, not simply a restoration, but rather a full recreation of all humanity. The sacred Word of God handed on to us from generation to generation communicates this call to universal salvation and we are called to hand on this sacred word on to the next generation.