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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

Glory to God in the highest
and peace on earth to the people he loves.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Nehemiah 6,1-19

When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and our other enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that not a single gap was left -- though at that time I had not fixed the doors to the gates-

Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message, 'Come and meet us at Ha-Chephirim in the Vale of Ono.' But they had evil designs on me.

So I sent messengers to them to say, 'I am engaged in a great undertaking, so I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?'

Four times they sent me the same invitation and I made them the same reply.

The fifth time, with the same purpose in mind, Sanballat sent me his servant bearing an open letter.

It ran, 'There is a rumour among the nations -- and Gashmu confirms it -- that you and the Jews are thinking of rebelling, which is why you are rebuilding the wall, and you intend to become their king;

and that you have even briefed prophets to acclaim you in Jerusalem with the cry, "There is a king in Judah!" Now, these rumours are going to reach the king; so you had better come and discuss them with us.'

To this I sent him the following reply, 'As regards what you say, nothing of the sort has occurred; it is a figment of your own imagination.'

For they were all trying to terrorise us, thinking, 'They will become demoralised over the work and it will not get finished.' But my morale rose even higher.

Then, when I went to visit Shemaiah son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, since he was prevented from coming to me, he said: We must gather at the Temple of God, inside the sanctuary itself; we must shut the sanctuary doors, for they are coming to kill you, they are coming to kill you tonight!

But I retorted, 'Should a man like me run away? Would a man like me go into the Temple to save his life? I shall not go in!'

I realised that God had not sent him to say this, but that he had produced this prophecy for me because Tobiah was paying him

to terrorise me into doing as he said and committing a sin, so that they would have grounds for blackening my reputation and blaming me.

Remember Tobiah, my God, for what he did; and Noadiah the prophetess, and the other prophets who tried to terrorise me.

The wall was finished within fifty-two days, on the twenty-fifth of Elul.

When all our enemies heard about it and all the surrounding nations saw it, they thought it a wonderful thing, because they realised that this work had been accomplished by the power of our God.

During this same period, the nobles of Judah kept sending letter after letter to Tobiah, and letters from Tobiah kept arriving for them;

for he had many sworn to his interest in Judah, since he was son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berechiah.

They even cried up his good deeds in my presence, and they reported what I said back to him. And Tobiah kept sending letters to terrorise me.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Let us again take up the reading of the book of Nehemiah. The author presents obstacles that were placed to complicate the work of the rebuilding of the city walls. Sanballat twice tries to deceive Nehemiah in order to make him withdraw from the task begun and which is now reaching its conclusion. He first offers an encounter in an unknown location to cause the work to stop, but Nehemiah intuits the aim and rejects the invitation. He then sends an unsealed letter, the accusations within which could be shared with all, putting Nehemiah in a bad light: he is depicted as having personal political motives (rebellion and the plan to become king!). No doubt the author wants to show the determination and insistence that attempt to make Nehemiah desist from a work so important for the future of the Jerusalem community. The force of evil insinuates itself in the believer’s life, seeking all means to hinder any effort that can bring unity and communion. Often in the New Testament, Christians are put on guard against the spirit of division, which would impede communion. Jesus is aware of this and thus insistently prays, precisely before his passion, that his disciples be one in unity (John 17:20-21). Paul the apostle too is concerned for the unity of his communities, not rarely disturbed by internal differences and divisions that risk making vain the gospel he preaches, as the examples in Corinth show (cf. 1 Cor 1:3, 12). Despite the opposition to Nehemiah, the rebuilding of the walls is finished in a short time, in demonstration of the protection of God who does not abandon those who trust in him: "And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid* and fell greatly in their own esteem; for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God." This, however, does not wholly eliminate the enmity of Tobiah and the notables, who continue to see in Nehemiah’s work a danger perhaps to the power they enjoyed within the city.

Prayer of the Christmas season