Some eight years ago or so, my son played baseball with a boy named Cyrus. They lived down the street from us and I enjoyed talking with the father. He was from Iran and self-identified as a former Muslim and a Persian. He said he was a follower of Zoroastrianism (an ancient, dualistic religion from the region of Iran). His use of the term Persian was an application of an ancient name to his contemporary identity. As we all know there is a great deal of stress and tension between the US and Iran, something which is only increasing with the advent of advances in nuclear material suitable for creating a bomb. In fact, there is some reason to believe that Israel may bomb Iran this week or next. Such an event could unravel into a serious war affecting much of the world (gives you something to pray about!).
Currently our Daily Office has readings from Ezra and Nehemiah (and the prophets at that time). Ezra and Nehemiah are interesting documents. Many believe that the human author(s) of these works (there are definite signs of multiple sources) are from the school of 1&2 Chronicles (which are obvious re-editions of 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings). The historical reconstruction of the period based on Ezra and Nehemiah is much debated in terms of chronology. Part of the problem is the writings are driven by a non-chronology agenda. The focus is on the more important to the less important. Even so, there is historical value in the books.
One major theme is new life (resurrection) as the exiled Jews return to their land and rebuild. The spiritual reading of the text provides ample cause to trust God for the future, even when, perhaps especially when, things look hopeless. Even if judgment is harsh and seems complete (as in the Fall of Jerusalem and the leveling of the Temple) there is always hope for a future restoration. Today, there are many Jews (and Christians) who hope for a third Temple rebuilt in the place of the Second Temple destroyed in 70AD .In my own prayer over the readings I find myself reviewing "the fall" of Christian faith and the church in contemporary culture and remind myself that there is always reason to believe the future is in God's hands.
Another element is the use of ancient terms (like "Israelites," or calling the peoples of the land by names of folks who were long since gone) which convey the writer's desire to describe the return from exile as The (Second) Exodus. If you pay attention to the parallels it is pretty clear. This is a reminder that we are a "Remembrance" Religion. The Judaeo-Christian faith is rooted in remembering the saving event in the past and participating in it in the present. The Jewish Passover and the Christian Eucharist (a redefined & reconfigured passover meal itself) are all about remembering. Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me." We live in an age of forgetfulness where history is considered a useless pursuit. I sometimes wonder if the disease of Alzheimers is somehow a result of that (like the go-go 90's and hyperactivity and ADHD). If my reading is accurate, then the Ezra-Nehemiah cycle is a blue print for understanding the circularity of history and the realization that the biblical story is OUR story as well (in each age).
One last thing. Today's reading is about the Persian King Darius being told by the Jews that they were rebuilding the Temple based on the decision of King Cyrus (who is, in Isaiah's prophet work, an unknowing messiah working God's will for His people). Darius tells his aides to search the records which they do, and they find the original declaration. The Jews receive Darius' blessing (and financial support) to continue and finish their work. When was the last time you thought of administration and bureaucracy as God blessed endeavors? And yet, it was archivists and and functionaries who play the key role in saving the day for the Jews. Samson and King David get wide play in Heroes of the Bible because of the "action/adventure" element. My guess is government employees are seldom told that they, too, can be heroes in the Biblical model. Yet, that is how God saved the Jews and the Temple was rebuilt.
Some things to ponder and think about today....