When we begin a new project, we are all fired up with zeal. We want to do great things and transform life. But when the project is prolonged, the zeal will eventually die down. The fire is gradually extinguished. People become disheartened and give up hope of realizing the project. This is also true for those who assume office. When they are new, they are full of dynamism. They are passionate and excited. They want to do things and try out new things. But after some time, we see them losing their passion, excitement and zeal. They become jaded because of opposition and rejection.
Indeed, this was the case of the Israelites who were in captivity in Babylon. The kingdom of Israel was gradually destroyed by inept and corrupt Kings and religious leaders. The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC and many of the ten tribes of Israel were deported. Then in 587 BC, the kingdom of Judah was finally destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The Temple was destroyed and the city was burnt to the ground. The elite citizens were deported to Babylon. Only a remnant stayed behind. Many of them, during the exile in Babylon, were forlorn and devastated. With the destruction of both kingdoms, Israel as a kingdom ceased to exist. Hence, those from the South, namely from Judah, were called Jews.
But then came the good news of liberation. In fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah that the Jews would remain in captivity for 70 years (cf Jer 25:11; 29:10), King Cyrus, a pagan king who was more liberal in treating his captives, decreed that the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city, particularly to restore the Temple of Jerusalem. “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; he has ordered me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah to build the Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, wherever he lives, be helped by the people of that place with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, as well as voluntary offerings for the Temple of God which is in Jerusalem.” They were even promised assistance by the King and he generously returned all the conquered treasures of the Temple back to the Jews.
With God, nothing is impossible. God is faithful to His promises. As the responsorial psalm says, “When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage, it seemed like a dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, on our lips there were songs. The heathens themselves said: ‘What marvels the Lord worked for them!’ What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad. Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage as streams in dry land. Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap.” God could work through Cyrus to have the exiled Jews return to their homeland. God even prompted Cyrus to be generous in offering gifts, money, protection and returning the temple treasures taken during the captivity.
However, the truth remains that not all were keen to return to Israel or to Jerusalem. We must take note of the time when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians who had the inhabitants deported to Assyria in 722 BC. Then it was the turn of Babylon to overrun the city of Jerusalem, the Southern Kingdom of Judah in 586 BC. We can appreciate that more than 250 years had passed since the Northern Kingdom, which comprised of the ten tribes of Israel, and the people would have got on with their lives, resettled and married among the peoples they lived with. They were so dispersed and scattered that they lost their heritage. This explains why the Jews in Judah despised the Samaritans in the north because they were no longer pure Israelites. Accordingly, they did not support the vision of rebuilding the Temple.
Even among the Jews, 70 years was a long time. Many of them who were born in Babylon would never have seen Jerusalem. Other than what their parents and grandparents told them of their memories, dreams and hopes of their forefathers, many during this period would not have had any real attachment to Jerusalem. Furthermore, those who were already settled down in Babylon had moved on in their lives as migrants. Many of them were employed. Daniel himself was recruited into the service of the king. He enjoyed special privileges and was highly regarded in the kingdom. Other prominent Jews included Mordecai and Queen Esther. There were many others who were doing well in their businesses. Many had accumulated much wealth, land and status over the years.
Why should they start all over again, and give up everything that they had built? Their families were well integrated in Babylon, and so with roots already deeply grounded, not many were willing to leave to rebuild the city from scratch. The journey back to Jerusalem was difficult and would take more than four months. Travelling was extremely dangerous because the people around them were hostile and the terrain was rough. So we should not be surprised that more chose to stay back. They did not mind supporting their kinsmen but they were not ready to move back. “All their neighbours gave them every assistance with silver, gold, goods cattle, quantities of costly gifts and with voluntary offerings of every kind.” But they were not willing to exchange their security and wealth for the tremendous sacrifices they had to make to rebuild Jerusalem.
However, we read that those who went back notably came from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, from the Southern Kingdom. “The heads of families of Judah and of Benjamin, the priests and the Levites, in fact all whose spirit had been roused by God, prepared to go and rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.” They were those whose hearts God moved to repentance and to yearn for their return to their homeland. God planted the desire in them to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem and be reunited as a people. It was by God’s grace alone that their attitudes and faith changed from being indifferent to that of renewal. The seventy years in exile had humbled the Jews and they learnt their lesson. They did not allow their comfort and material security to prevent them from doing what the Lord wanted of them.
What lessons can we draw from this captivity? The gospel delineates the factors for the loss of zeal and passion. In the gospel, Jesus said, “So take care how you hear; for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.” It remains true that how well connected we are with our faith, tradition and our community will influence our loyalty, devotion and dedication. When we are not one with our community in sharing the same faith, customs, joys and sorrows, we will lose our affinity with them. Indeed, many Catholics have lost their faith because they are not connected with the Catholic community. They do not read the Word of God, discover their faith and share the Word of God with their Catholic friends. Many just attend mass on Sundays in an individualistic manner, without having any real relationship with fellow Catholics. They do not participate in the activities of the Church. Naturally, without any spiritual or community bond among Catholics, when the storms of life come, they are not ready. They are swept away by the tides of life. Indeed, the little knowledge they learnt in Catechism classes or RCIA are forgotten.
The second reason for the loss of zeal is because Catholics do not witness to their faith. “No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or to put it under the bed. No, he puts it on a lamp stand so that people may see the light when they come in. For nothing is hidden but it will be made clear, nothing secret but it will be known and bought to light.” The only way to grow our faith is to share it with others. The more we speak about our faith, the more we begin to be conscious of what we believe in and why we believe so that we can make sense for ourselves before we share with others. Witnessing to the gospel through a life of love and service, and sharing about Jesus with our loved ones and friends will be the way in which we bring the light of Christ to others. In the process of evangelizing others, we also evangelize ourselves.
So, therefore, if we want to renew the zeal in our lives for God, for the Church or for our people, we need to be connected with them. We need to be connected firstly with God and then our people. Sharing their joys, their pains and aspirations would reignite our zeal to make this world a better place to live in so that all can be happy together in the Lord. Let us listen to the Lord through the sharing of the gospel and let us celebrate together in life and in service. These are the two sure ways of renewing our faith and strengthening our Catholic roots.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.