Today’s first reading for the Wednesday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time is taken from Nehemiah (2:1-8). Nehemiah spearheaded the reconstruction and resettlement of Jerusalem upon the return of the exiled Chosen People from Babylon. In this reading, Nehemiah, a court official of the Persian king (“cupbearer” per v. 1:11), after asking for God’s help (see above), implores the king to allow him to take a leave to rebuild his ancestral home of Jerusalem. He is inspired to do this because of sad reports he receives (in the first chapter) of the survivors remaining in a devastated Jerusalem. The king agrees to this, even granting Nehemiah’s request for papers to ensure safe passage and timber for use in the project.
Reading chapter one, we discover that Nehemiah fasted and prayed in repentance for the sins of the people for four months prior to asking the king for the favor of allowing him to leave the king’s service for a time. Then, as we see above, he invokes the Lord’s help immediately before addressing the king and asking him to allow him to move forward with the major endeavor of rebuilding Jerusalem. Nehemiah was right to be “seized with great fear” (v. 2) in requesting such a major undertaking of a man who had unconditional power over him and who ruled the empire that devastated his people to begin with. Yet Nehemiah trusted in the Lord that his prayers of the last several months were heard and that his immediate request for aid from Him would give him the proper words, and the king the proper disposition, to assent to this plan.
Would that each of us invoke the Holy Spirit before answering any question or engaging in any conversation! What better way to help ensure a proper response or fruitful, productive, and inoffensive (to God and others) dialogue than to ask for God’s help in our dealings with every person. Gossip, deceit, vulgarity, and uncharitableness do not stand a chance with a constant and sincere invocation of divine assistance. Let us keep in mind Nehemiah’s example, not just when we speak to individuals or groups of a certain stature in the eyes of the world, but also in our interactions with every person since we all are made in the image and likeness of God and we are all called to be kings (see CCC 786).
(Acknowledgement: The Navarre Bible commentary was helpful in providing background to the book of Nehemiah.)