On the Van Wyck Expressway from Kennedy Airport warnings are flashing that leaders from all over the world are coming to the United Nations. The Letter to Timothy we’re reading this week tells us to pray for them:
“First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.”
The reading from the Book of Esra (Esra 1,1-6) reminds us how important authorities are in fulfilling God’s plan. Cyrus, the King of Persia (Modern Iran), moved by God, issues a decree letting the Jews return to Jerusalem after about 70 years so they can rebuild their city and its temple. It’s not about a human homecoming; their return furthered on the plan of God.
Our reading makes the point that God moves the heart of King Cyrus. God is not only the creator of the world but its real ruler. He’s king, the one with power to change directions as he wills, and he can even change powerful kings like Cyrus.
Reading the Old Testament helps us remember that God acts in the real world of human affairs and creation itself. God’s action is mysterious, beyond our thoughts and ways. God’s kingdom will come, but not according to the calculations of pundits or prognosticators, or “the wise and clever.” We may believe mistakingly that it’s all politics and human motives and natural causes, but “God is king,” the Old Testament proclaims.
To know God’s activity we have to look into “the signs of the times.” Cyrus told the Jews they could return to their homeland and rebuild, but they had to take him up on his offer. Some did, who saw it as a sign from God – “everyone, that is, whom God had inspired to do so.” Some didn’t, for a number of reason: they liked where they were, they feared being deceived, they lost faith. But faithful Jews took the journey back.
The Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World offers a powerful invitation to respond hopefully and generously today to “the signs of the times.” Our times are not without them. A new Eucharistic prayer prays for the grace to accept that invitation:
“Grant that all the faithful of the church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of the faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the gospel.”
“Keep us attentive to the needs of all that, sharing their grief and pain, their joy and hope, we may faithfully bring them the good news of salvation and go forward with them along the way of your kingdom.”
Let’s pray for peace in Syria, Certainly “signs of the times” are out there. May we be inspired by God to look for them.