At first glance, there seems to be little connection between today’s readings (on Ordinary Time weekdays they are not chosen to fit together). Yet there is a common thread.
The reading from Ezra recalls a key moment in the restoration of the Jewish nation after the Babylonian exile. The rebuilding of the Temple reestablished the central focus of the nation. Seen as the dwelling place of God, the Temple shaped Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people. What is surprising in this account is that the whole process was enabled by two pagan rulers. Cyrus, the king of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to their homeland after he conquered Babylon. His successor Darius funded the building of the Temple. Both are seen as carrying out God’s will, even though they were not believers.
In Jesus’ time and culture, family ties were sacred and central to one’s identity. In the Gospel, Jesus does not reject his family of origin. What is surprising, and perhaps even scandalous to his hearers, is that Jesus stretches the idea of family to include far more than blood relatives—all “those who hear the word of God and act on it.”
The challenge for each of us is to expand our vision and our hearts to embrace the whole family of God. Can we look beyond our blood relatives and beyond our national boundaries to include all of God’s children in our love and concern? Can we find God’s presence even in those who don’t share our beliefs and traditions? Only then can we be true brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus.