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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Ezra 4,1-24

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building the Temple of Yahweh, God of Israel,

they came to Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the heads of families and said, 'Let us help you build, for we resort to your God as you do and we have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.'

Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the other heads of Israelite families replied, 'It is out of the question that you should join us in building a Temple for our God. We shall build for Yahweh, God of Israel, on our own, as King Cyrus king of Persia has commanded us.'

The people of the country then set about demoralising the people of Judah and deterring them from building;

they also bribed counsellors against them to frustrate their purpose throughout the lifetime of Cyrus king of Persia right on into the reign of Darius king of Persia.

In the reign of Xerxes, at the beginning of his reign, they drew up an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

In the days of Artaxerxes, Mithredath, Tabeel and their other associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia against Jerusalem; the text of the letter was written in Aramaic writing and dialect.

Then Rehum the governor and Shimshai the secretary wrote a letter to King Artaxerxes, denouncing Jerusalem as follows:

'From Rehum the governor and Shimshai the secretary and their other associates, the judges, the legates, the Persian officials, the people of Uruk, Babylon and Susa -- that is, the Elamites-

and the other peoples whom the great and illustrious Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the towns of Samaria and in the rest of Transeuphrates.'

This is the text of the letter which they sent him: 'To King Artaxerxes, from your servants the people of Transeuphrates:

'May the king now please be informed that the Jews, who have come up from you to us, have arrived in Jerusalem and are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city; they have begun rebuilding the walls and are laying the foundations;

and now the king should be informed that once this city is rebuilt and the walls are restored, they will refuse to pay tribute, tax or toll, thus the king will incur a loss;

and now, because we eat the palace salt, it is not proper for us to see this affront offered to the king; we therefore send this information to the king

so that a search may be made in the archives of your ancestors: in which archives you will find and learn that this city is a rebellious city, the bane of kings and provinces, and that sedition has been stirred up there from ancient times; that is why this city was destroyed.

We inform the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are restored, you will soon have no territories left in Transeuphrates.'

The king sent this reply: 'To Rehum the governor, to Shimshai the secretary, and to their other associates resident in Samaria and elsewhere in Transeuphrates: Greetings!

'And now, the document which you sent us has been accurately translated for me,

and by my orders search has been made, and it has been found that this city has rebelled against the kings in the past and that revolt and sedition have been contrived in it;

and that powerful kings have reigned in Jerusalem, governing the whole of Transeuphrates and exacting tribute, tax and toll;

now give orders for these men to cease work; this city is not to be rebuilt until I give the order.

Beware of acting negligently in this matter. Why should the harm grow, to endanger the king?'

As soon as the text of King Artaxerxes' document had been read to Rehum the governor, Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they hurried to the Jews in Jerusalem and stopped their work by force of arms.

Work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem then ceased, and was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius King of Persia.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The fourth chapter of the book of Ezra shows the difficulties that the returned exiles face as they begin reconstructing the temple. The problems originated from a few groups that had not experienced living in exile. They feared that the reconstruction of the temple would pose a serious threat to the gains they had made while the Israelites were in exile. They sought an agreement, but at the cost of losing the clarity of faith. Zerubbabel, Jeshua and other heads of Israel, however, rightly refuted every corruption to their faith. Sometimes God’s house can become subject to contentious forces that have nothing to do with the purpose of that house: to be a place of prayer and encounter with the Lord. Everywhere, even today, one can aim or transform God’s house into a place to find compromises that allows holding onto one’s own small grasp of power. Faith’s purity and charisma’s clarity cannot be put into jeopardy by ostensible compromises. The ambiguity of the request made by the "enemies of the Jews" immediately takes the shape of a scheme to frustrate the plans of rebuilding the temple. They send a letter to the Persian King Artaxerxes in which they cast Jerusalem in a negative light, likening it to a rebellious and wicked city that has always rebelled against occupying foreigners. The king’s response demands the interruption of the temple’s reconstruction: "they hurried to the Jews in Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. At that time the work on the house of God in Jerusalem stopped ...." History is marked by hostility against God’s house. The Romans will destroy this very same temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, after which it has never been rebuilt. So many churches and places of worship have been destroyed by violence! Sure enough, in a world dominated by materialism and a thirst for power, God’s house is itself a question that lays bare both one’s need and condition. The Word of God cautions us not to cede in the face of difficulty and not to be lax in our care for the places of his presence among us.

Memory of the Saints and the Prophets