A Jew would recognise our first reading today as the very last passage in the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh. English bibles have tended to reorganise the order of the books in the Old Testament, so that we no longer follow the three-part division of the Tanakh into Torah (the Law), Nevi’im (the Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writings), and now conclude the Old Testament with Malachi in the minor prophets. Likewise, we are probably not all that familiar with the two books of Chronicles, since our reading today is the only one during the three-year cycle of readings, and include only eight verses from the 1764 verses of the two books.
It was St Jerome in his Latin Vulgate translation of the scriptures who provided the title of the books, when he called it the ‘Chronicle of the whole of sacred history’ whereas in the Hebrew Bible it was called the ‘events of the days’ or the ‘annals of the years’ and in the Greek Bible (Septuagint) it was called ‘the things omitted’. Chapter 36 of 2 Chronicles begins with the reigns of the final four kings of Judah – Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah – who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord God. The infidelity extended to the priests and the people, even though because of the compassion that he felt for the people, the Lord sent them prophets. These messengers were mocked and ignored, until in the end there was no remedy available. The city of Jerusalem fell to the invaders from Babylon, and the house of God was burned; those who were spared death were taken into captivity and sent into exile. Although the account of these days is dark, there is a final hint of light, because after the Sabbath of years that Jeremiah had prophesised (Jer 25:11; 29:10) Cyrus, a pagan Persian king comes to the throne. Cyrus is seen as almost a Messianic figure, because he acts to restore the people to their land once again, and finances the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the temple. So the final words of the Hebrew Bible are given over to a pagan king – who invites anyone in the people of God to remember that God is with them and to go up to the city and the temple. Interesting, hey!
It is therefore only really in the coming of Jesus that the true Messiah arrives, and his love is shown to be so strong that it can conquer every division – and even death itself. St Paul understands this well and provides us with a powerful summary of the Christian gospel of grace and mercy (Eph 2:4-10) which reminds us that this is as the result of God’s action – bot because of anything that we have done.Finally, all of this is brought into focus by the all-too-familiar line in the Gospel of John that reminds us of the centrality of God’s love for the world (John 3:16).
Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil Mass (09’09”)