Do you not hear an echo of our own times in all of this? When we look at the statistics around faith and the practice of religion today, we find that huge numbers of people no longer claim association with any religion at all, especially among the young.
Nehemiah was a man of both faith and action. While serving as cupbearer to the Persian king, Artaxerxes I, he received permission to return to Jerusalem to fortify that city. He was the one who had the walls built around Jerusalem. But he also served as the governor of Judah for two terms. He was a man who possessed both good practical sense and a deep and abiding faith in God. As governor he used his influence to serve God by bringing the people back to the faith of their fathers. This last chapter of the book of Nehemiah is remarkable for its familiarity to our own times and our own selves.
When he returned to Jerusalem with permission from Artaxerxes I, he found the people had become lax in their faith, or worse, had forgotten it entirely. He found that a corrupt priest by the name of Eliashib had essentially turned the house of God into a storeroom along with another individual by the name of Tobiah. They took in grain offerings, incense and temple articles as well as tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil that was supposed to go to support the Levites, temple musicians and gatekeepers, as well as the priests. Those who were supposed to receive their wages from these stores did not and eventually went back to their own fields, no longer practicing their Temple duties. Nehemiah’s return to Judah was one of several missions that were undertaken after the fall of Babylon to restore Jerusalem, the worship of God and to purify the Jewish community again.
Nehemiah found that not only was there corruption in the Temple, but many had forgotten the Commandments. For example, he was angered to find that merchants were not only gathering their produce on the Sabbath, they were also entering Jerusalem to sell their goods on the Sabbath. Commerce, money, the demands of making a living had replaced their faith in God and his Commandments. As governor he put an end to these practices and began the restoration of the faith in God. It was because of his faith and his practical sense that Jerusalem was restored and the Jewish people began to return to their faith. It is for this reason that Nehemiah lifts up this prayer to God, “Remember me for this also, O my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.”
Do you not hear an echo of our own times in all of this? When we look at the statistics around faith and the practice of religion today, we find that huge numbers of people no longer claim association with any religion at all, especially among the young. The culture has moved so far away from its Christian origins that it is no longer readily recognizable as an important force in the culture. Indeed, religion and those who practice their faith are in many cases barely tolerated. Indeed, often there is no longer any attempt on the part of popular culture to disguise its contempt for religion and those who practice it. As we see in the Book of Nehemiah, and elsewhere in the Bible, when the faith is lost, tragedy and great suffering follows. When it is restored good things follow.
As Christians living in a culture that is in danger of losing its soul, it is our duty to evangelize the culture once again. We are to do this with great faith, as Jesus did, with love and compassion, understanding and kindness, mercy and forgiveness. We should not challenge the culture out of anger, but out of a godly tenderness. Are we not called to do this, imitating the love that God had for us in Jesus? We should not give in to fear or despair. This is a good time for, when we are suffering, God is closer to us. His graces will be there to give us courage and to deepen our faith. Because of God’s proven love for us we can face these times with joyful hope. It will not be easy. There will be much suffering to endure, but why should we have it any easier than Jesus, or the Apostles did? Now is the time for us to lovingly and faithfully join our sufferings with those of Jesus. After all, are we not members of the Body of Christ in this world? Then, by our willing suffering for the faith, for the love of all of God’s children, we are called to help Jesus to further the salvation of the world here and now. Do we not want to be able to say, with Nehemiah, “Remember me for this also, O my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love?” In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen!
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