Neh 2:1-8; Ps 137:1-6; Mt 18:1-5,10
How could anyone forget the Lord? How could we think and act as if we did not know him? Yet, our hearts so easily forget all that the Lord has done for us. Our Responsorial Psalm recalls the pain of remembering and forgetting. Like our ancestors in exile from Zion, we are in exile from our heavenly home. We, who have tasted and seen that the Lord is Good, still long for the joy of his presence in our exile. When the exiles in Babylon remembered Zion, they set and wept by the streams. They refused to play their harps and sing for joy. Their curious captors asked for the lyrics of their songs of longing, and their despoilers urged them to be joyous crying out: “Sing for us the songs of Zion!” The only protest they could make was silence. The only comfort they could find was to hang up their harps on the aspens of that land. During this exile in Babylon the children of Israel learned what they could not have learned before. They came to know in the depths of their hearts that with them dwells the Lord. Wherever they are captive, their hearts are not captive. Even though they hesitated to sing to entertain their captors, eventually they had to sing and to remember. In their singing and in their remembering they grew in faith. They placed Jerusalem ahead of any joy even the joy of protesting their exile. Nehemiah prayed and grew in confidence to ask the king the desire of his heart: “send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.” The Lord Jesus instructed a willing follower to desire homelessness because it is the only way to be at home in the Kingdom of God. Only because we have found our home in Christ will we be able to embrace a life of exile and sing the songs of our true home. These are the songs we sing here and at every Liturgy. If ever we forget who we are in Christ, let our tongues be silenced!
Nehemiah remembered all the details of that day in the month of Nisan when he was serving wine to the king. He was no ordinary exile. He was highly favored by the king and trusted to serve only the finest wine to his captor. Artaxerxes was not afraid of being poisoned by his servant, the exile from Israel. Nehemiah used the trust and affection that the king and queen had for him, to his advantage. When the king saw that he was sad but still serving, he knew that he was not sick. Nehemiah could not hide his sadness of heart. Upon discovery he was seized with great fear, lest the king think that he was ungrateful and punish him. With all the respect he could muster, Nehemiah decided to be honest and straightforward with the king. The king respected such candor, and he was moved to go beyond his own desire to have Nehemiah remain in his service. The king and queen asked when he could leave and return to exile. Nehemiah struck a deal that set him free. He then thought through all the necessary letters and permissions, and he confidently asked his captor for safe-conduct, wood, and a place to live. “The king granted my requests, for the favoring hand of my God was upon me.” Though grateful for the king’s kindness, Nehemiah knew that God is the true King. In faith Nehemiah was grateful to God, who moves even the hearts of those who capture and hold in exile entire nations. The heart of this exile was no longer sad, and this brought true joy to the heart of the captor-king, Artaxerxes.
As the Lord Jesus and his disciples continued their journey to Jerusalem an enthusiastic member of the crowd came forth and volunteered to follow the Lord wherever he went. The Lord Jesus cautioned the enthusiast to pause and consider, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” If you follow me the Lord explained, you will be homeless. This response seems to have been enough to dismiss the enthusiast. To another the Lord Jesus makes his invitation, “Follow me.” Even this one, however, had an agenda. He wanted to take care of all the details of his familial responsibility. The Lord Jesus does not hold back; he instructs this would-be-disciple about the urgency of responding to the call. Yet another asks the Lord for leave to say farewell to his family and friends. To this final request the Lord Jesus responds, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Only those who have been called by the Lord Jesus will have the grace needed to respond with complete surrender. Only those who have heard the summons to discipleship will be able to let the Lord have his way in their lives. Only when we have no identity outside of this Eucharist will we be able to live and move and have our being in Christ. Such is the freedom and gladness of the true follower of Christ! Such is the joy of those who know that the Lord Jesus is our home, our song, our everything!