By Father John P. Cush, STD
Today’s first reading, taken from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah, mentions a rather curious figure in salvation history: King Cyrus of Persia. The Prophet proclaims:
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred: For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not.
I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me.
In the Second Book of Chronicles, we also hear about Cyrus, the King of Persia. He is described as “inspired by the Lord,” and the biblical writer describes 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!’”
Therefore, when we hear these things that are said by the Lord of this man, Cyrus, and the praise heaped upon him, we might wonder just who is this 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. 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, 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, a non-Jew, 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 the people whom we would never suspect — even non-believers!
Therefore, a question: Are we open and attentive to the Lord and His love for us as He reveals it through the people in our lives? Do we look for “angels in disguise,” even among those who do not share our belief in Christ: Muslims, Jews; and among Christians who do not share our belief in the Catholic faith: Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican Christians? Do we even see those who do not share our faith, but who wish to work for a common good, as “Cyrus” in our midst? This doesn’t mean that we
need to agree with everything they say, but, if they work toward the common good according 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 Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5B
Father Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College, Rome.