At the evening sacrifice I, Ezra, got up from my fasting, with my garments and my mantle torn, and fell on my knees, spread out my hands to the Lord my God, and said,
"O my God, I am too ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been handed over to the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as is now the case. But now for a brief moment favour has been shown by the Lord our God, who has left us a remnant, and given us a stake in his holy place, in order that he may brighten our eyes and grant us a little sustenance in our slavery. For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem."
Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money--not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them." They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
Ezra was like another Moses, urging his people to keep their covenant with God. Although the Jews began their return from exile in 537 B.C., about all they accomplished on reaching the Promised Land was to rebuild a bedraggled city and a very modest temple. They were discouraged and weary but Ezra set himself to encourage and guide the people. He reedited the Books of Moses and urged compliance with them, and began a series of oral interpretations of the law that developed several centuries later into the famous Talmud.
He begins with a confession of sins, identifying himself with the people in their guilty plight, "My God, I am too ashamed to raise my face to you, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads." Then he assures them that God's mercy has blessed them again; they are a remnant, a stake, firmly planted in the holy land and they have the good will of the Persian king, and the house of God has been rebuilt. A sober realism marks this sermon of Ezra. Sometimes we need to be told things bluntly, admit our mistakes and take responsibility for their effects, and then count our blessings, for things are not as bad as we suppose. There is a future for us and for our people, our church.
On a happier note is the gospel account Jesus sending out the twelve first Christian missionaries, to cure the sick and proclaim the coming reign of God. These traveling missionaries need not carry bread or money, not even staff and traveling bag. They brought a blessing by their joy and confidence, inviting others to rejoice and thank God. Occasionally the shadow of a living saint crosses our path in somebody we meet. We should encourage their ideals, stand by them, support them, receive them into our homes. Then the reign of God will be in our midst.
When Jesus sent out the twelve on mission he called on them to travel light. They are not to be too self-sufficient. Instead they are to depend on the hospitality of those to whom they preach the gospel. Rather than be overly self-reliant, they are to leave space for themselves to become reliant on others, to become reliant on the Lord present to them in others. We all like to be independent and self-reliant to some extent, and, indeed, we need to be. However, today's gospel reminds us that we can never be fully self-reliant. We began life completely dependent on others, and as we come towards the end of our life we can find ourselves once more completely dependent on others. But even between these two moments of high dependence, we continue to depend on others in so many ways. Throughout our lives we depend on others to bring to us what we do not have within ourselves. We can make the mistake of trying to go it alone and depriving ourselves of rich resources that others can bring to us. The Lord is always inviting us to be open to the service that he renders us in and through others. Each one of us has much to give and much to receive. The Lord who wants to serve others through us also wants to serve us through others.