By Father John P. Cush, STD
IN TODAY’S FIRST reading, we encounter a very curious piece of Biblical history and a very unique figure indeed.
In the Second Book of Chronicles, Cyrus, the King of Persia, is described as “inspired by the Lord,” and begins to describe the duty with which the Lord has entrusted him: “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!’”
Who is Cyrus? Perhaps our initial guesses would be that he was a prophet or king of Israel, but we would be wrong or half-correct: Cyrus was a king in Persia in 539-570 BC, while the Jews were in exile.
Oppressor or Ally?
Even the prophet Isaiah describes the Lord as speaking to this pagan king. Isn’t he then the enemy, the oppressor? Why would the Lord refer to Cyrus with the term “anointed,” which in Greek is analogous to the term, “Christ,” which means “anointed one?”
This must be a mistake. Cyrus is a foreigner, a non-Jew and an unbeliever. Yet, the Lord says: “I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not.” Cyrus is still in the service of the Lord, because he is in the service of the people of Israel.
Isaiah’s prophecy predicts that Cyrus will be the one to free the Jews. Note that most Scripture scholars put Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Cyrus about 150 years before Cyrus was born! King Cyrus is the one who permits the Jews to return home to Jerusalem and assists them in the rebuilding of the temple under Ezra and Zerubbabel.
Cyrus becomes the agent of the Lord. What can we glean for our spiritual life? Perhaps this: The Lord is always helping us, always looking out for us, always caring for us. He does this in so many ways! He sends people into our lives, “angels in disguise,” even people whom we would never suspect, like non-believers.
Therefore, let us ask ourselves: Are we open and attentive to the Lord and His love for us as He reveals it through the people in our lives?
As we continue in this holy season of Lent, do we pray for those who are in public office, so they might be able to guide the nation, state and city in ways of truth and mercy?
Do we look for the “angels in disguise,” even among those who do not share our belief in Christ – Muslims and Jews – or those who do not share our Catholic faith – Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican Christians?
‘Cyrus’ In Our Midst
Do we recognize those who share no faith in Christ or His Church, but who wish to work for a common good, as “Cyrus” in our midst? This doesn’t mean that we, as Catholic Christians, need to agree with everything they say, but if they work toward the common good and act in accord with natural law, can we see the work of the Lord being accomplished through them?
Even Cyrus, a pagan king, could be the “anointed” of God. Be open to all of good will and pray for them. It’s our Christian duty!
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
2 Chronicles 36: 14-16, 19-23
Psalm 137: 1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Ephesians 2: 4-10
John 3: 14-21
Father Cush, a priest of the Brooklyn Diocese, is an academic dean and formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State, and an associate professor of theology and U.S. Catholic Church history.