Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Friday, October 14, 2005

Returning Home

Daily Readings
Sirach 33 + Ezra 1 + Zephaniah 2 + Baruch 2

Quote of the Day
For I know that they will not obey me, for they are a stiff-necked people. But in the land of their exile they will come to themselves and know that I am the Lord their God. Baruch 2:30, 31a

Daily Text: Ezra 1

Returning Home
Ezra is a continuation of II Chronicles. That can be seen by comparing the last two verses of II Chronicles 36 and the first three verses of Ezra. They are a repetition. Most scholars believe that the Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book, and certainly Ezra was written by the same hand as Chronicles. That is not so certain for Nehemiah.

The Judeans are in exile in Babylon. Others in Egypt, some undoubtedly in other places. Ezekiel is a central leader for them, and for awhile Jehoiachin’s continued presence in the king’s house must have given them hope. But it was with the accession of Cyrus of Persia, who was very congenial to the religions of the lands he had conquered, that real hope and possibility for a return to the land began to flower. Those who had been deported with Jehoiachin in 597 were the leaders of the nation and they were the ones given opportunity to return. There were many, perhaps most of the old nation, continuing to live in Judah, however, they were the poorest and the least educated and though political conditions were fairly stable under Persian rule, social conditions were chaotic. There was no ‘proper’ religious leadership, and if there had been there was no authority to rebuild what they had lost. That now comes from Cyrus and is given to those in exile who wished to return. They were supplied by neighbors and friends with the wherewithal to return. Cyrus himself made available vessels that had been taken from Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. So in 538 the first of them began that trek home. Excited and frightened and willing must have been emotions all present and accounted for.

Babylon: 539 B.C.E.
Charles Reznikoff

An Elder. Our fathers were saved from the deaths
others died by hunger, plague, or sword,
when the cities of Judah and Jerusalem itself were taken,
and from the deaths so many died
along the journey that left our fathers
--the hills of Judah and the sea
out of sight many months and years—
exiles by the quiet waters and willows of Babylon;
but for us the noise of battle, not the battle itself,
is over; there is no shouting of soldiers
to warn us; no arrows; no shrieks
of the wounded;
only the suction
of this city
to pull us off our feet
until the remnant of Judah—Jerusalem and our God forgotten—
are particles in the dust of Babylon,
like other thousands and tens of thousands
Babylon has taken.
Another Elder. Did the Lord, whom our fathers served,
come from the sky to stand beside them,
or even from the safety of the clouds with His lightnings
save his His citadel?—
an aloof God, saving a few alive
of all Judah’s thousands and tens of thousands.
Is there another people who, their cities taken,
the temple of their God become the stones it had been,
and they themselves scattered from the land,
are still worshippers of its God?
nor, as it might have happened, are we captives among a savage people,
a brutish people, living in tents or caves:
these Babylonians are a great people,
living in palaces and gardens—
but we were only shepherds and herdsmen,
tenders of vineyards and of trees, ploughmen;
this is a nation of merchants and warriors,
priests of triumphant gods.
It was meant for ill to us,
but it has been for good, as to Joseph
who was brought to Egypt among slaves
to be second in his master’s and in the king’s house
Messenger. To all you Jews,
captives of Babkylon,
Cyrus the Persian, worshipper of one god and hater of idols,
proclaims,
Joy and rejoicing!
Your enemy is about to fall
and Babylon become a proverb among the nations!
Return to Judah,
rebuild Jerusalem
and the temple of your God;
your captivity is ended!
The First Elder. Surely the sun rises in the east!
Let it not be said that God has forgotten Judah,
or that the Lord was aloof
when puddles of blood stood in the streets of Jerusalem;
we looked for one of us—
and our deliverer is a stranger;
now let us hear no more of the God of Judah,
but tell us of the Lord of the universe and of Eternity,
before whom the multitudes of Babylonia
are as powerless
as when their cities,
the great angels of granite before their palaces,
the great gods and the lesser gods,
will be looked for with spoons in the desert
and remembered
only because Judah has remembered them for evil.
An Elder. It was hard for our fathers when they were slaves in Egypt,
building a mountain range of granite
along the flat banks of the Nile,
under the quick fists and staffs of taskmasters,
to leave the pots of fish that were theirs for the taking
and the plentiful sweet water
for the wilderness
and the knives of its tribes;
how much harder will it be for you, Judah,
to leave the gardens of Babylon,
the suits of linen and the cloaks of wool,
the meats and the cool fruits and wine
to become again dusty shepherds and herdsmen
on your barren hills, Judah;
to toil in your fields
eating only of what they shall plant,
if locusts and grasshoppers
leave what is saved form drouth and the storm,
and thieves and armed bands
what is spared by the locusts and worms.
Now shall the longings of your heart
and the words of your mouth, Jacob,
the sighs and groans, the cries and outcries of fifty years,
be put to the proof;
for the time is come of choosing and refusing:
your deliverer
calls upon Judah with the crash of thunder,
speaking your name with the voice of the earthquake.
The Prince of the Captivity. Servant of Cyrus,
who hates even as we do,
the vanity of idols,
in a world where their worshippers are like the sands for number,
those who love the truth are drawn to each other
like particles of iron that have known the loadstone;
build on each other like coral in the sea
against the waves, the tides and spring tides, tempests and typhoons,
that would sweep us all away!
The Jews are few; Judah is small among the nations,
without cities and land,
and you Persians have become a mighty people;
but in the battle we have known a pebble in a sling
to do as much
as a spear weighing many shekels of brass,
and Judah will not forget the friendliness of Cyrus.
Now let the young men who are ill at ease
where all the ground is field and garden, street and square,
and all the water is canals,
or the smooth river flowing between steps,
men who like the taste of salt better than that of honey,
try their strength against the hills
and form the rubbish heaps that are Jerusalem
rebuild the city;
replant the land
with olive trees and fig trees, with vineyards and fields of barley,
fields of wheat:
so shall Judah like a tree that has seen many tribes—
many cities become mounds and heaps--
flourish and renew itself;
for here we are only so much timber,
although smoothed and polished.
And there is other work to do in Babylon—
in courtyards, where flowers and leaves are brilliant
against a white-washed wall, the only noise
that of the fountain and the long leaves of the palms;
in cool rooms
where one need only put out his hand
to take food from the dish
or lift the cup to his lips
while the noise of the street
touches the listener no more than rain;
here others have their work,
like the stars in their orbits, seemingly
motionless,
but shining, not without influence,
upon the action of the world.
Let hands build the walls
hands more numerous
may pull down again,
but we must build in Babylon
another Zion
of precepts, laws, ordinances and commandments
to outlast stone or metal,
between every Jew and the fury or blandishment of any land—
that shall keep up a man as much as bread
and swallows of water in his belly, strengthen him
like links of armor on his body.
Let other people come as streams
that overflow a valley
and leave dead bodies, uprooted trees and fields of sand;
we Jews are as the dew,
on every blade of grass,
trodden under foot today
and here tomorrow morning.
395:262

1 Comments:

Blogger Norm said...

Harry Truman, an active Baptist who had a conservative view of the Bible and its prophecy about Israel, defied the State Department and nearly all of his advisors both when he supported the American led United Nations resolution to establish the state of Israel in 1948, and when he declared American recognition of the fledgling state. When he was introduced at the Jewish Theological Seminary as “the man who helped create the state of Israel”, Truman protested, “What do you mean ‘helped to create’?! I am Cyrus! I am Cyrus!”

7:37 AM  

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