19 Sept, Monday of Week 25
Ezra 1:1ff. Cyrus allows the Jews return home and orders their neighbours to help them rebuild their temple.
Lk 8:16ff. A lamp must go on a lampstand, to brighten the house. Whoever has spiritual depth will be given more.
The Power Of Cryptic Statements
Jesus’ word about the lampstand is clear, though startling in its implications; his next word, however, about having and gaining, or not-having and losing even that little, is enigmatic and baffling, like so many of the best proverbs in the sapiential literature.
The First Readings for the next three weeks are drawn from the early postexilic literature that centres on the temple: Ezra and Nehemiah, the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, Baruch, Jonah, Malachi and Joel. The readings from cycles I and II are both from the postexilic age, yet the wisdom writers pay little attention to the temple, while the prophets, despite their diverse attitudes and responses, urgently consider the role of the temple in people’s lives. With its long history and variety of human authors, the Bible’s final answer depends on prayer, prudence, and a sincere desire to follow the will of God.
Jesus’ cryptic statement in the Gospel, “The one who has, will be given more; the one who has not, will lose even that little.” can perhaps be paraphrased: the one who has time to pray and reflect will be given more; the one who has not taken the time to turn to God and friends for advice will lose even the little wisdom that he or she possesses. The sapiential books in particular remind us that the Bible is not a child’s answer book but an adult’s reflection book. The variety of postexilic prophets leads to the same conclusion.
We are introduced to this long, generally bleak and unexciting period, from 539 B.C. onward, by the Book of Ezra. The Israelites, dragged into exile in 597 and 587 B.C. when the Babylonians twice captured Jerusalem, are among many captive peoples set free by the benevolent despot, Cyrus the Great. Two years after his army entered Babylon without even a whisper of opposition, he permitted all exiles to return home. The account here centres on the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin; the ten northern tribes, deported in 721 B.C. by Assyria, are lost to history. We notice how the writer has a keen literary sense and models this return on the exodus from Egypt, when, to hasten their departure from the land, the Egyptians helped the Israelites (Exod 12:33-36).
The returning Israelites had to leave everything behind. We know from other documentation that life in Babylon (then a province of Persia) had become pleasant and prosperous. The Jews who never returned eventually produced the famous Babylonian Talmud, still the book of regulations for devout Jews. To return to the homeland meant a drastic, dramatic decision for the Lord. This action was like taking the lamp from under a covering and place it on a lampstand. It allowed others to walk in the beam of its light. We will always be greatly enriched, if we leave everything behind us for the Lord’s sake; if we seek his will unreservedly, everything will be given to us. Whoever has wholeheartedly followed the Lord will be given more; whoever has not obeyed his inspiration will lose all, through excessive caution.
First Reading: Ezra 1:1-6
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: “Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people – may their God be with them! – are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”
The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites – everyone whose spirit God had stirred – got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbours aided them with silver vessels, with gol, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered.
Gospel: Luke 8:16-18
“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”