The blessing of neighbors
A Reflection for Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
“‘Let everyone who has survived, in whatever place he may have dwelt,
be assisted by the people of that place’…
All their neighbors gave them help in every way,
with silver, gold, goods, and cattle.”
Today’s readings situate us at the end of the Babylonian exile. The Jews have been living as captives for 70 years after losing a war against the Babylonians, and their captors have destroyed Solomon’s Temple, their holiest site. But at the beginning of today’s first reading, taken from the book of Ezra, King Cyrus of Persia issues a proclamation that the Jews can return to Judah and that God has told him to build a new temple there. “Let everyone who has survived, in whatever place he may have dwelt, be assisted by the people of that place with silver, gold, goods and cattle, together with free-will offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.” The Jews return to their homeland, and “all their neighbors” help them “in every way,” making sure they are provided for during their travel and rebuilding and have donations to help construct the new temple.
Reading this passage in southern Louisiana at the peak of hurricane season, I can’t help but think of this as a parallel to what we experience in particularly destructive storms. I wasn’t living here during Katrina, but I know people in many cases who left town and whose homes were destroyed and never came back. It was New Orleans’ own exile, followed by its own diaspora. Although the city has reached its pre-2005 population levels, there are a lot of new folks (like myself) who didn’t live here before, and a lot of New Orleans natives who didn’t come back, usually because they couldn’t afford the rebuilding. So many people were incredibly hospitable to those who fled, but for some, it still wasn’t enough to bring them home and help them rebuild.
I’m struck by how God so often keeps promises through our neighbors: the ones at home and the ones we adopt elsewhere.
The Babylonian Exile, historians tell us, also led to a major diaspora of Jews. Although today’s readings express so much joy at the Jews returning home, many did not. These elements of sorrow and joy constantly coexist in human life and history.
Yet I still find the support the Jews receive from their adopted neighbors immensely hopeful. It reminds me of what I have seen in New Orleans after the major storms I have ridden out here. During each of them, we and the neighbors went outside as soon as it was safe. We pulled downed fences off cars and cut fallen trees off of houses; we offered each other food and drinks and places to cool off or charge our phones or listen to the radio for news. When a tree fell on our house during Hurricane Ida, destroying our air conditioner and damaging our roof, my husband and I evacuated and our neighbors texted us updates and kept an eye on the house, while our families and friends up north gave us home-cooked meals and a place to stay and sent us home weeks later with gifts and supplies.
God, today’s readings insist, keeps his promise not to abandon us, even in exile. Reflecting on these readings today, I’m struck by how God so often keeps that promise through our neighbors: the ones at home and the ones we adopt elsewhere.