In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, so 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 gold, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered.
When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage,
it seemed like a dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
on our lips there were songs. (R./)
The heathens themselves said:
'What marvels the Lord worked for them!'
What marvels the Lord worked for us!
Indeed we were glad. (R./)
Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage
as streams in dry land.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap. (R./)
They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing:
they come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves. (R./)
Jesus said in a parable: "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."
Our readings over the next three weeks are from the early post-exilic period, from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Baruch, Jonah, Malachi and Joel. A shared concern for these late Old Testament writers was a focus on the Jerusalem temple as the central shrine of Judaism. While the wisdom writings (Ecclesiastes, Sirach, Wisdom etc.) pay little attention to ritual matters, the more nationalist Jews who returned from Babylon to resettle in Israel placed a high value on their rebuilt national shrine. This era is generally known as the Second Temple period.
Our introduction to this period (539 B.C. onward) is from the Book of Ezra. The returning exiles left most of their property behind when they headed back to Israel. Their life in Babylon (by then a province of Persia, conquered by king Cyrus) had prospered. The Jews who stayed in Babylon eventually produced the famous Babylonian Talmud, a detailed code of Jewish practice. To return to Judea meant accepting lower living standards, in order to live in the land the Lord had given their ancestors. For them, it was like taking a lamp from under a bucket, to set it on a lampstand. Their return was like a light of hope for other Jews, and even called on God-fearing Gentiles to share in the light of the God of Israel. Other people can be enriched, if we leave all behind us for the Lord’s sake. If we seek the house of the Lord, all that we need will be given to us.
The image about lighting a lamp refers to an oil-amp with a wick that could be lit. Many such ancient oil lamps have been found in the Mediterranean area. Such lamps would light up a house when darkness came. As Jesus says, no one who lit such a lamp would hide it under a bowl or a bed, for that would make no sense.
If the lamp of faith is lit in a human life, it is not meant to be covered or hidden; rather it should shed light. The light of our faith needs to shine through how we live, what we do and how we do it. To nurture the light of faith we listen to the Lord’s word. Jesus says, "Take care how you hear, for anyone who has will be given more." After listening to his word, we let that light of faith shine out, through our words and our lifestyle.