Depiction of Cyrus the Great by Jean Fouquet, 1470.
It is always fascinating when we read about or encounter someone who unexpectedly does something seemingly out of character, or obliterates our preconceived notions and judgements. The Gospels are resplendent with such examples with such unlikely characters as Levi the tax-collector who becomes Matthew, the beloved apostle; Mary Magdalene, the worldly prostitute, turned contemplative who chooses the better part; and the murderous Saul, who becomes the spirit-filled Paul. Perhaps no one causes me more pause than King Cyrus of Persia who we read about today in our First Reading from Ezra which recounts how this seeming enemy of the Jewish people during their exile in Babylon, is the very instrument through which God restores the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia,
in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah,
the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia
to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom,
both by word of mouth and in writing:
"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.
Therefore, whoever among you belongs to any part of his people,
let him go up, and may his God be with him!
Let everyone who has survived, in whatever place he may have dwelt,
be assisted by the people of that place
with silver, gold, goods, and cattle,
together with free-will offerings
for the house of God in Jerusalem."