Our lectionary readings from the Old Testament last week and this week are about the Restoration Period in Jewish history, the time when the Jews returned to Jerusalem and Judea from exile around 520 B.C. Our readings are from the Prophets Zechariah and Baruch and from the Book of Nehemiah this week.
In the restoration period not all the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. Some waited to see how it worked out; others decided to stay in Babylon for good.
Those who did return found it hard building a temple and restoring Judaism. Jerusalem and Judea were now under Persian control. The Jewish monarchy was gone. Foreigners had moved into the city and were resisting attempts at restoration. Some Jews who stayed on were not interested in restoration either. Facing this, the returnees had to wonder about the promises made by prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah.
In our reading today, the Prophet Zechariah reaffirms God’s promise – all nations will come to Jerusalem and its temple:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: There shall yet come peoples, the inhabitants of many cities; and the inhabitants of one city shall approach those of another, and say, ‘Come! let us go to implore the favor of the LORD’;and, ‘I too will go to seek the LORD.’
Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to implore the favor of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men of every nationality, speaking different tongues, shall take hold, yes, take hold of every Jew by the edge of his garment and say,“Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zech 8:20-23)
God’s plans are greater than you think, Zechariah says, but he gives no indication when this will happen, and so the Jews certainly wondered if this were true.
The Prophet Baruch whom we read on Friday and Saturday this week compares the Jews in exile questioning the prophets to the Jews in the desert questioning Moses. But exile, like the desert, is a time of God’s mercy, Baruch says. Wisdom comes in time of exile. Exile, like the desert, is a place where God helps you grow.
“ In the land of their exile they shall have a change of heart; they shall know that I, the LORD, am their God. I will give them a heart and ears that listen and they shall praise me in the land of their exile, and shall remember my name. Then they shall turn back from their stiff-necked stubbornness… And I will bring them back to the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and they shall rule it. I will make them increase; they shall not be few.” (Baruch 2:30-35)
Last week the Passionists concluded a symposium in Rome on “The Wisdom of the Cross”, part of the 300th anniversary celebration of their community’s foundation. Some speakers at that symposium suggested the wisdom of the cross is a wisdom for today, when our world and our church wonder whether there’s a future at all.
“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word.When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1: 1-4)
The mystery of the Cross is a revelation in Jesus Christ that keeps us aware of God’s plan for our world and for us. It’s our desert and exile when we keep it in mind. It’s where God changes our heart, gives us ears to listen and draws us to hope for the promised land. It’s a mystery we should share.