“And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.” (Nehemiah 8:9).
Secretly, many of us can recall a performance review or a point in a conversation where we heard, “I have been really meaning to tell you…” with confidence and excitement, believing that some special praise or affirmation was on the way. But what is more painfully unsettling than to be (seemingly from out of nowhere) kicked in the gut?
Conversely, perhaps you entered the conversation with appropriate dread, knowing exactly what would be said and yet fearing the confirmation. All in the name of a “friend” or “concerned colleague” it’s pointed out that you have some flaw you never thought of or a list of concerns and or quirks which are thought to be inhibiting your “full potential.”
Regardless, our first reaction is often to deny such claims, or at the very least, to come up with a list of great excuses. Sometimes our excuses are very good, and sometimes the criticism is, in fact, ungrounded. However, when you then see that task done properly by a coworker, or when that relationship is finally made whole again – you finally feel that ache that, in fact, I really did blow it. The blare of the criticism lingers, and you cannot escape the resounding echo of it in your mind. You see a picture of what was meant to be, and perhaps for the first time, feel the pain of what you weren’t.
Leading up to today’s reading from Nehemiah, the Israelites were reproved again and again for their sin in turning away from the Lord towards false gods. Here in Nehemiah 8 (in response to the unwarranted mercy of God in bringing these people back to Jerusalem and in providing a wall of protection from foreign attack) the people of Judah stand as the Law of the Lord is read aloud in its entirety before them.
How do the astonishingly blind and hard-hearted people of Israel respond to the reading of the Law? Here in tears, they finally see a glimpse of the great gap between what they have done and all that God is. Yet twice Nehemiah is forced to repeat to the people, “do not be grieved” (Nehemiah 8:11).
God has spoken firmly and has said to us: today is a day of joy, not of sadness. Today, your promises are not necessary, but I have and will continue to do this for you. Every day it bears reminding for children of God, despite our obvious weaknesses and those more easily concealed, we no longer need to weep or listen to the powerful echoes in our minds. Through Jesus Christ (and altogether without our help), all these promises of the Law have been fulfilled, and “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes” (Revelation 21:4).