From Exile to Freedom
4th Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Jeremiah R. Grosse
Reproduced with Permission

How much is God supposed to take when it comes to His chosen people? The princes, people, and religious leaders practiced every abomination in the sight of God, so He sent prophets in the hope that they would repent and turn back. Not only did the people not listen to the prophets, but they went as far as mocking them and despising God’s warnings.

God responses by allowing the Babylonian army under King Nebuchadnezzar to invade the southern kingdom of Judah in 586 BC. The Babylonians burned to the ground the Temple which had been built by King Solomon; they tore down the walls of Jerusalem, stole the sacred objects, and anyone who was not killed was taken into captivity and carted off to Babylon.

The people are taken from their homeland and brought to a place where they are forced to surrender their faith and customs and required to live among a group of people who have no regard for them. This is confirmed in Psalm 137 when the author writes that the people hung up their harps and wept by the rivers of Babylon as their remembered their lives in Zion. Whenever the people remembered Zion they wept and the author of the psalm asks God to make his right hand wither if he ever forgets about Jerusalem. He asks God to let his tongue cling to the roof of his mouth if he does not prize Jerusalem above his highest joys.

The Babylonians would taunt the Jewish people by asking them to sing one of the songs of Zion, knowing that doing so would be very painful. In the section of this psalm that was deleted, the Jewish people ask God to repay the Babylonians by having their children dashed against the rock.

For some modern Jews there is a connection between the experience of the exile and what took place in Nazi Germany. The Jewish people were once more sent into exile and every attempt was made to destroy them through humiliation and eventually by being put to death. As their ancestors had wondered where God was in the midst of their struggle, so the Jews in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and other concentration camps cried out to God too and were convinced that He was nowhere to be found. This was certainly the experience of Eli Wiesel in his book, Night. Is it really possible that God would allow his chosen people to be wiped about by the Nazis? Such was the thought of many Jewish people in the camps.

While the wrath of God will flare up from time-to-time, His mercy endures forever. In 539 BC, God sends a pagan king, Cyrus of Persia, to deliver his people from bondage. The Second Book of Chronicles tells us that the Lord inspired Cyrus to issue a proclamation which states that all kingdoms of the earth were given to him by the Lord, the God of Heaven, and that God had charged him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

God did not raise up one of the chosen people like He had while His people were in bondage in Egypt, but sent a pagan king to set His people free. Based upon the proclamation issued, there is no doubt that Cyrus believes that he was a Divine instrument.

God raised Cyrus up to do His bidding to prove to him and the entire world who is the true God! God went before Cyrus, paving the way for his victories and policies so that His will and His plan would move forward. We should be able to look back at history and see how God worked to bring all the necessary elements into place for His purpose to be fulfilled.

After God used Nebuchadnezzar to punish His people, He raised Cyrus to deliver them from their captivity in Babylon and return them to their homeland. For the real Christ to be born in Bethlehem as the prophecy states, Jews had to be living in Judea. He also inspired Cyrus to institute his conciliatory policy toward foreign religions so that a Temple could be built to which His Son could come. And among other points, Jerusalem had to be rebuilt so Jesus could die outside the city for our sins.

No other “god” can do these things! Only the Most High God, the Almighty Sovereign of the universe can work out events over such long periods of time. He can take sinful men who have never even desired a relationship with Him and cause them to do His will and bring about His purpose.

The Most High God can call upon anyone to guarantee that His will is accomplished. While we may not be in the same position as King Cyrus, that does not mean that God will not call upon us as well.

God’s mercy upon His chosen people extends to us by virtue of our relationship to His son, Jesus Christ. There have been times in our lives when God seemed distant from us, but it is at those times when God is closer to us than we could ever imagine. Our relationship with God is not based solely upon feelings of closeness, but upon a loving covenant bond which nothing will ever destroy. The bond we have with God, by virtue of our baptism, transcends time and place and is based upon the strongest bond of all, love.

This Holy Season of Lent gives us an opportunity to rekindle that love relationship we have with God which may been wounded by our sinful actions.

Let us make the following prayer from the Jewish High Holidays our own Avinu Malkenu, honeinu v’aneinu, ki ein banu ma’asi, Aseh imanu tzedakah v’hesed v’hoshiyanu (Our Father, Our King, be gracious to us and answer us for we are unworthy, deal with us in charity and loving kindness and save us now) as we prepare to celebrate the Easter Mysteries with the joy of the Holy Spirit.