In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom,… (Ezra 1:1)
In today’s world, people are often more and more polarized against people who are different from them. Some of this is based on highly visible incidents (like the recent San Bernardino shootings) where someone from a group (in this case radicalized Muslims) does something terrible. That act proves that we were right. People from this other group are not to be trusted. Perhaps none of them are any good.
There are two problems with this logic. First, the fact that someone from a group does a terrible thing doesn’t mean the whole group will. Second, we are often selective in the stories we cling to. The San Bernardino shooters were Muslim. We are encouraged to decide that they are dangerous as a group. The Colorado Springs shooter the week before or the Charleston, SC shooter earlier in the year were Christians. Because they come from a group we are linked to, we reject the notion that Christians are dangerous as a class – they must have been mentally ill or an aberration.
The Bible offers us some good guidance in the midst of difficult and confusing times. The verse above is form this week’s lesson from the Narrative Lectionary. It is the closing Old Testament text for our series before we head into the New Testament part of our cycle. Cyrus is the king of Persia. He is a gentile and the leader of the people who oversee the Jews living in exile. By any “flat” definition of people, he should be the bad guy. But Cyrus is not the bad guy. In fact, he is the one who sets the people free and puts things in motion so they can return and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. The prophet Isaiah even refers to him as the “anointed shepherd.” (Isaiah 44:8) The same word is later used for Jesus as he is declared to be the Messiah (which means “the anointed one”).
This reminds us that we can never be sure who God will use to accomplish something or how God will use them to do it. The very person we may think is least likely to be used by God, may become the one who God uses anyway. Someone from a group we think is the enemy may actually do the thing that brings life into the situation.
So as we live in a time where many are urging us to simply write off huge groups of people as dangerous, useless and unfit to be our neighbors, let’s remember that our faith calls us to look for hope and possibilities in the lives of all people. The Bible reminds us that God doesn’t just use insiders like us to do God’s bidding. We are called as followers of Jesus to not simply “conform to the ways of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12) There is much in the world to be worried about and there is plenty of good reason to stay alert. But we stay alert, not only to watch for danger, but also to watch for God at work in the midst of the world in which we live.