King Darius decreed: "Do not impede the work on this house of God; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. Moreover I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God: the cost is to be paid to these people, in full and without delay, from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province Beyond the River. May the God who has established his name there overthrow any king or people that shall put forth a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, make a decree; let it be done with all diligence."
So the elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of the prophet Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished their building by command of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia; and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. They offered at the dedication of this house of God one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. Then they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their courses for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses.
On the fourteenth day of the first month the returned exiles kept the Passover. For both the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were clean. So they killed the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. It was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by all who had joined them and separated themselves from the pollutions of the nations of the land to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. With joy they celebrated the festival of unleavened bread seven days; for the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.
I rejoiced when I heard them say:
'Let us go to God's house.'
And now our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem. (R./)
Jerusalem is built as a city
It is there that the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord. (R./)
For Israel's law it is,
there to praise the Lord's name.
There were set the thrones of judgement
of the house of David. (R./)
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."
The will of God was made known in a variety of ways. Ezra refers to imperial decrees from the Persian kings Cyrus and Darius, messages of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah read later this week), and financial help from Persia, as supporting the sanctuary liturgy and the functions of priests and Levites.
In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah the shape of Judaism that would last until Jesus' time and beyond was laid down. It codified the principles of Judaism by which the people kept their identity even into our own time. Religion regulated every aspect of life, and life found its principal meaning within the faith. Even if Ezra's story seems monotonous and impractical to us, it was vital for the future of Judaism. While Christians have abandoned this legalistic form of religion, we are challenged to entwine our faith with our lifestyle, as they did.
Whatever our level of faith, we need an openness to the real world and cordial relations with other people. Perhaps that was what Jesus meant in his reply to the message of his mother Mary and his relatives. His words may have seemed a repudiation of family ties: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it." More positively, they declare his total commitment to spreading God's word.
We call Jesus "Lord" and "Son of God" for so indeed he is. But in today's Gospel he says that his real family are those who hear the word of God and live by it. Clearly, Jesus wants to relate to us as family. He calls us brother and sister, and wants us to belong to his spiritual. The condition he lays down is for us to hear the word of God and put it into practice.
The whole focus of Jesus was on the word of God, the will of God. He heard that word so completely that it shaped everything he said and did. John's gospel goes so far as to call Jesus the Word made flesh. Our vocation as Christians is to hear the word and live by it. Like the seed that fell on good soil, we must take the word to ourselves and yield a harvest through perseverance. If we listen to the word of God and let it form us, we are family to Jesus our Lord.