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.
The mother and brothers of Jesus 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 made known and carried out 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 lasting into the days of Jesus was laid down. This form of Judaism supplied the principles by which the people have kept their identity even into our own time. Religion was associated with 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 life of Judaism. We Christians cannot duplicate this legalistic form of religion but we are being continuously challenged to unite our religion and our life just as intimately.
Whatever our level of faith, we must arrive at an openness to the real world and form significant ties with other people. Perhaps that was the intention of Jesus in his reply sent by a messenger to his mother Mary and his brothers. Those words may even have seemed a repudiation of his own immediate relatives when he said, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it." To truly know that word we must be in contact with all that is sincerely responsive to life.
We venerate Jesus as Lord and as Son of God, for so indeed he is. however, Jesus identifies those who hear the word of God and put it into practice as his mother and brothers and sisters, as his family. In spite of his unique status and his unique relationship with God, Jesus wants to relate to us as family. He wants to call us brother and sister and for us to call him brother. For this to become a reality what he asks is that we hear the word of God and put it into practice.
Jesus was completely given over to the word of God, to the will of God. He heard that word and took it in so completely that it shaped all that he said and did. John's gospel goes so far as to say that Jesus is the Word, the Word made flesh. The essence of our baptismal calling is to hear the word and to put it into practice. Like the seed that fell on good soil, we are to hear the word and take it to ourselves and yield a harvest through our perseverance. If we keep striving to listen to the word of God and so that it shapes who we are and what we do, then the Lord will delight in calling us family.