Last week we read from the Book of Ezra and heard the story of how King Cyrus released the Babylonian captives and sent them back to Israel to rebuild the city and the Temple. His companion in that effort was Nehemiah who was appointed governor of Judah. Today we hear the conversation that brought this about between the king and a wine steward. From his humble beginnings, Nehemiah rises to become a key player in the period of Israel’s history known as the Restoration.
This excerpt is taken from Nehemiah’s diary which was incorporated into the text of the book that is named for him. The diary reveals that he was a devout man who addressed God directly in his prayers using words that were familiar to him because of the psalms: “LORD, may your ears be attentive to the prayer of your servant and that of all your servants who willingly revere your name. Grant success to your servant this day.”
Nehemiah is portrayed as a flawed but humble servant of God. Because the Memorial of the Guardian Angels is one of the privileged memorials in our liturgical calendar, we use a Gospel passage today which has become the foundation of our belief in the guardian angels. Jesus focuses the attention of the disciples on the humility of a child and asks them to emulate that humility. Of course, he himself will become the model of humility when he offers himself as the obedient Son who dies on a cross for the sake of others.
The theology that undergirds the belief in guardian angels can be traced back to the story of Cain and Abel when Cain exclaims before God, “Am I my brother’s keeper.” Because Cain did not step into the role that was his as a brother, God has provided us with a “keeper,” someone who looks after each of us in God’s name. Though the Gospel seems to indicate that this is God’s way of protecting children, we have come to believe that it is God’s way of protecting us all. Nehemiah and Jesus teach us the humility we need to place ourselves in God’s care.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator