Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Ezra 1-2 and My Own Article on Friends and Scripture (Part 2)

Ezra 1 – “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah” (1:1). He sends the exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. 539 is the date of Cyrus’ conquest over Babylon, 538 the first year of his reign over the Empire. The 70 years turns out to be about 49 years unless, as a Jerusalem Bible note suggests you count Babylonian rule from the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign in 609. Then the numbers work.

He sends out an edict saying, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah” (1:2). The Persians were generally good about letting subject people worship their own gods, but their own special devotion was to the “the gods of heaven.” Perhaps for this reason they felt the Jewish God was their supreme deity as well. Any Jew is free to go up and assist in the rebuilding of the Temple. “[E]veryone whose spirit God had stirred” (1:5) went or sent gold or goods with the returnees to help them. The treasure that Nebuchadnezzar took from the Temple is returned. Sheshbazzar is the prince of Judah at this time.

Ezra 2 – The people who return with Zerubbabel and ten other leaders (one is Nehemiah) are numbered by town of origin. The Jerusalem Bible has twelve family heads, adding Nahamani. A note indicates that their list was reconstructed a bit from the Memoirs of Nehemiah. It also says the layfolk are listed by clan for the upper classes and by town for the lower.

Then returnees from the priestly families, the Levites, the temple servants, etc are enumerated. It is obviously a carefully kept record of people and families in exile. Genealogical records are alluded to in verse 62. The whole assembly together was 42,360 not counting male and female servants and singers (1:65).

When they get to Jerusalem, the heads of families make freewill offerings. People return to their towns. The priests stay in Jerusalem (1:70).

“Friends and Scripture”
This article is one I wrote some years ago and it was eventually part of the book I wrote called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. My plan here is just to include a few paragraphs of the chapter each day. 
Part 2
I know my own conversion experience, which resulted in large measure because of my contact with these early Friends’ writings, led me to see from the beginning that the scripture words, contexts and reference points had been utterly central to me. 

When I tried to tell people what it had been like, feeling reawakened to God and to Christ, I had used an image from a popular move I knew everyone was familiar with, The Miracle Worker with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke.  For those who aren’t familiar with it today, the movie is about the childhood of Helen Keller, a well-known celebrity whose victory over blindness and deafness made her a heroine in the early years of the twentieth century.  In the story the movie tells, Helen’s teacher, Annie Sullivan, seeks to free Helen’s mind from its dark, silent prison by teaching her a tactile alphabet that can make it possible for Helen to learn words and language. Helen quickly learns the alphabet and the game of fingering words to get what she wants--her D-O-L-L, her M-O-T-H-E-R or the sweet C-A-K-E she loves; but the concept of words, that everything in the world can be named and that words make learning and communication with other human beings possible, this Helen cannot seem to learn.  For months Miss Sullivan labors to get the idea across with no success.  Finally, as she is about to give up, Helen has a moment of grace at the water pump outside her parents’ home.  Forced to refill a pitcher of water that she intentionally dumped on her teacher, Helen holds the pitcher under the spout while Miss Sullivan pumps the water and repeatedly fingers the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm.  Something in that moment at the pump--its intensity--its repetition or its evocation of a primitive memory Helen has of a time when she could still see and hear and knew what water was—something--sparks a light in Helen’s mind and she sees what her teacher has been trying to open to her.

This was exactly what I had experienced in my conversion. I was seeing a landscape I had never seen before, a set of realities I had “knocked around” in and stumbled over and been curious about for years but had never really seen.  But now I was seeing, not directly because those realities are not directly perceivable but I was seeing them through the medium of this language I had been taught [night prayers, Christmas story, Easter – the messages inscribed on everybody’s mental “hand” if they live in a Christian country] earlier in my life but had never seen the point of—not really. Now I was seeing their point and their power--the Light of Christ, sin, the fall, the cross, resurrection--they had to open up this landscape of spiritual truth in me.

No comments:

Post a Comment