In our first reading for today’s Mass, we encounter Ezra. You might ask, “…and who is Ezra?” The genealogy of Ezra (Ezra 7:1–5) traces his priesthood back to Aaron, brother of Moses. He is also called a scribe, well-versed in the law of Moses (7:6), indicating Ezra’s dedication to the study of the Torah, which he sought to make the basic rule of life in the restored, post-Babylonian-Exile community. It was in religious and cultic reform rather than in political affairs that Ezra made his mark as a postexilic leader. Jewish tradition holds him in great esteem. The Talmud regards him as a second Moses, claiming that the Torah would have been given to Israel through Ezra had not Moses preceded him.
Ezra was the one who led a group of Judean exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem after Cyrus of Persia gave them leave to return. Ezra, knowing that the people’s “wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads and our guilt reaches up to heaven. From the time of our fathers even to this day great has been our guilt, and for our wicked deeds we have been delivered up, we and our kings and our priests, to the will of the kings of foreign lands, to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to disgrace, as is the case today” (Ezra 9:6-7) emphasized observance of the Torah. He exhorted the Israelite people to be sure to follow the Torah Law so as not to intermarry with people of particular different religions, a set of commandments described in the Pentateuch – as well as other commands.
And yet in the midst of his realization of the many ways the people have sinned and failed to live into the Covenant, Ezra is deeply aware of God’s mercy: “…our God has brightened our eyes and given us relief …. has not abandoned us; rather, he has turned the good will of the kings of Persia toward us. Thus he has given us new life..” (Ezra 9:8-9)
And perhaps that is a lesson for today – to realize that in our encounters with all things, even sin and temptation, God’s mercy and grace and there – always there. Ezra recognized that. Do we?
If you are interested in learning more about this book of the Bible, I would recommend The Bible Project’s 8-minute video. Enjoy.