Week of Proper 20: Tuesday, Year 1   6 comments

Above:  Darius I of Persia

Image in the Public Domain

Hearing and Doing

SEPTEMBER 26, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Ezra 6:1-8, 12-18 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Thereupon, at the order of King Darius, they searched the archives where the treasures were stored in Babylon.  But it was in the citadel of Ecbatana, in the province of Media, that a scroll was found in which the following was written:

Memorandum:  In the first year of King Cyrus, King Cyrus issued an order concerning the House of God in Jerusalem:  ‘Let the house be rebuilt, a place for offering sacrifices, with a base built up high.  Let it be sixty cubits high and sixty cubits wide, with a course of unused timber for each three courses of hewn stone.  The expenses shall be paid by the palace.  And the gold and the silver vessels of the House of God which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away from the temple in Jerusalem and transported to Babylon shall be returned, and let each go back to the temple in Jerusalem where it belongs; you shall deposit in in the House of God.’

“Now you, Tannenai, governor of the province of Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai and colleagues, the officials of the province of Beyond the River, stay away from that place.  Allow the work of this House of God to go on; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this House of God:  the expenses are to be paid to these men with dispatch out of the resources of the king, derived from the taxes of the province of Beyond the River, so that the work not be stopped….And may the God who established His name there cause the downfall of any king or nation that undertakes to alter or damage that House of God in Jerusalem.  I, Darius, have issued the decree; let it be carried out with dispatch.”

Then Tattenai, governor of the province of Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their colleagues carried out with dispatch what King Darius had written.  So the elders of the Jews progressed with the building, urged on by the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo, and they brought the building to completion under the aegis of the God of Israel and by the order of Cyrus and Darius and King Artaxerxes of Persia.  The house was finished on the third of the month of Adar in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.  The Israelites, the priests, and the Levites, and all the other exiles celebrated the dedication of the House of God with joy.  And they sacrificed for the dedication of this House of God one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lamps, and twelve goats as a purification offering for all of Israel, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. They appointed the priests in their courses and the Levites in their divisions for the service of God in Jerusalem, according to the prescription in the Book of Moses.

Psalm 124 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 If the LORD had not been on our side,

let Israel now say,

2 If the LORD had not been on our side,

when enemies rose up against us;

3 Then they would have swallowed us up alive

in their fierce anger toward us;

4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us

and the torrent gone over us;

5 Then would the raging waters

have gone right over us.

6 Blessed be the LORD!

he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.

7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler;

the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

8 Our help is in the Name of the LORD,

the maker of heaven and earth.

Luke 8:19-21 (The Jerusalem Bible):

His [Jesus’] mother and his brothers came looking for him, but they could not get to him because of the crowd.  He was told,

Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you.

But he said in answer,

My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.


The Collect:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some dates will prove useful in comprehending the material from Ezra.  So, courtesy of The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press, 2004), here they are:

  • Reign of Cyrus II (the Great) = 559-530 B.C.E.
  • Capture of Babylon = 539 B.C.E.
  • Reign of Cambyses = 530-522 B.C.E.
  • Reign of Darius I = 522-486 B.C.E.
  • Reign of Xerxes I = 486-465 B.C.E.
  • Reign of Artaxerxes I = 465-424 B.C.E.
  • Reign of Darius II = 423-405 B.C.E.
  • Reign of Artaxerxes II = 405-359 B.C.E.
  • Exiles begin to return from Babylonia in 538 B.C.E.
  • Second Temple completed in 515 B.C.E.

“Artaxerxes” is Artaxerxes I, in case you were wondering.

Cyrus II had authorized the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem, but politics stopped the process.  The Assyrians had settled other peoples in Judea, and some of the descendants of these ethnic groups obstructed the effort.  The logjam ended during the reign of Darius I.  Thank goodness for archivists!

There is a plethora of Christian theological writing regarding the will(s) of God and the ability of humans to interfere with it/them.  One of the more accessible works on this subject is The Will of God, by Leslie Weatherhead.  As I have lived, read, and pondered, I have concluded that Weatherhead is correct:  the ultimate will of God will come to pass, regardless of what we mere mortals do.  That said, we have the power, through the abuse of our free will, to derail more than one divine path to fulfilling that ultimate will.  In other words, we can stand in the way of God’s Plan A, and Plan B, and Plan C.  Yet, sooner or later, one way or another, God’s ultimate will is going to come to pass.

We function as obstructions when we fail to be both hearers and doers of God’s word and ultimate will.  Yet, when we hear then do, we act as faithful members of the household of God.  Is not that much better than being stubborn, spiteful, and petty?

So, why are we stubborn, spiteful, and petty?  Some of us might not realize what we are doing.  These are those who are so caught up in themselves that they cannot see the detrimental effects of their actions upon others.  Still others of us, if we do know what we are doing, might have distorted values systems which glorify stubbornness, spitefulness, and pettiness.  Then there are those who try to do the right thing, as they understand it, but get it wrong.  These are not bad people who wake up each day and plot their disobedience.  But perhaps cultural blinders prevent them from seeing clearly.  And, of course, all of us are prone to stubbornness, spitefulness, and pettiness from time to time.  Stubbornness, in the service of a good cause, is persistence, a virtue.  So context matters here.

Sometimes, then, we hear and try to do,  but fail.  Other times we hear and do not try to obey.  Still other times he hear but misunderstand.  And sometimes we do not hear at all, so we cannot obey in such circumstances.  Sometimes instructions from God seem quite clear with the aid of hindsight and tradition.  Yet other times traditions distort those instructions.  What are to do?  How can we know how to discern between correct and distorted messages?

This is not a simple matter, and I have not encountered a burning bush in my life.  I have opinions, many of which I voice on this weblog and others within my blog network.  Yet I try to maintain proper theological humility; I can be wrong.  I stand by my opinions today, but I might change some of them by next year.  I am fallible.

So I try to remain open to God’s leading and the Holy Spirit, to confirm when I am correct and tell me when I am not.  The best I can do is the best I can do.  It is not enough, but it does not have to be, for God is all-powerful.  And, even in my worst moments, the worst I can do is delay the fulfillment of the ultimate will of God.  At best, however, I will be part of the fulfillment of that will.  But God will’s is going to come to fruition, with or without me.  I prefer to be part of the solution, not the problem.  By grace, I will succeed more often than not.



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