The power of knee mail – Wednesday, 26th Week in ordinary time- Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi- Nehemiah 2: 1-8

This book is an excellent example of lay empowerment in the Church; the mission of one man to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem who uses every resource at his disposal for God’s work. Nehemiah was a layman, not a priest like Ezra, nor a prophet like Malachi. He served the Persian king in a secular position before leading a group of Jews to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the city walls.

Jerusalem had been conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC and Nehemiah learns that it is in ruins. It is the month of Chislev when Nehemiah first learns of the situation and takes it up in prayer. Chisley is mid-November to mid-December in our calendar. Four months later in the month Nisan which is mid-March to mid-April, he is on his knees again. Nehemiah understood the power of ‘knee-mail’.

Nehemiah was a cup bearer to the king; that may not sound so important but he was a high official in the Persian court of King Artaxerxes 1 at the capital city of Susa. Susa lay 150 miles east of the Tigris River, in what is now modern day Iran. Nehemiah was privy to the king’s ear and had the mind of the king close to his heart.

Nehemiah learns that the wall of Jerusalem is destroyed, leaving him sad enough for the king to notice and enquire the reason for the sad countenance of his cupbearer. Nehemiah reveals the news of Jerusalem’s ruined fate. The king must have been very fond of Nehemiah to want to help out. ‘How could the king help’, is Artaxerxes’ question. Nehemiah prays to be guided to answer well.

Nehemiah asks Artaxerxes for leave to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls; the king is receptive and extends his aid to this mission. Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem in 445 B.C. as the provincial governor of Judah/Yehud carrying letters of authorisation from the king. He surveys the damage to the entire city on his well-known night journey around the walls. Nehemiah and the Jews (including the ‘High Priest’ Eliashib), begin rebuilding Jerusalem.

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