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.
However the enemies of the Jews, Sanballat of Samaria, Tobiah the Ammonite, Geshem the Arab, and the men of Ashdod – plot to attack Jerusalem which necessitates the Jews to work with weapons in their hands. But Nehemiah also has a moral compass that guides him to make societal changes.
Nehemiah sees that the Jewish nobles are oppressing the poor, and forces the cancellation of all debts and mortgages. While previous governors have been corrupt and oppressive, Nehemiah has been righteous and just. His woes know no end, for Sanballat accuses Nehemiah of planning a rebellion against Artaxerxes, and he is opposed even by Jewish nobles and prophets; but the wall gets completed.
Nehemiah is a shining example of how the laity can take the lead in submitting to the will of God. Nehemiah never let his post, position or influence guide his thoughts. He submitted completely to the plan of God which he discerned on his knees. He speaks the truth because of his own high moral standing. But that’s not all, for he was a team player too. He and the priest Ezra made a great TEAM and together they achieved what was thought to be impossible. Consider the power of working as a team in our parishes – Together Each Achieves More.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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