A great faith shines out in these words of King Cyrus, and a great love.
He understood that the people of Israel, above all other nations, was the people of God, and he gave leave to all without exception who wished to return to their native land to do so as free men.
He acknowledged that the Lord God who dwelt in heaven dwelt also in Jerusalem and could go up with each one of those returning from Babylon to Jerusalem.
Is it not clearer than daylight that he believed this God to be non-corporeal, unrestricted by place, a spirit, present everywhere;
whom he acknowledged dwelt in Jerusalem and its Temple yet without doubting that he held sway simultaneously in the kingdom of heaven;
whom he believed reigned in heaven yet was with his faithful on earth, guiding their hands and hearts to accomplish what was good and salutary?
For the rest, all the words of this text are full of spiritual significance.
For who does not easily recognise that it is only those whom God is with who can pass from sinfulness to sanctity – from captivity in Babylon to freedom in Jerusalem?
Without me, Christ says, you can do nothing. Can anyone fail to see here a reference to the spiritual ascent, the ‘going-up’ to Jerusalem?
Those who really desire to please God must necessarily lift up their hands to higher things, long for what is divine and transcend the display of this world and its attractions through their love of eternal reality.
We are reminded that Jerusalem is in Judah, so that we who through disregard of God were once held captive by the Chaldeans and thereafter freed from malign spirits, may return to the vision of peace and light by our recognition of God’s love.
And there let us build a house to the Lord God of Israel – in the unity of Catholic peace, in the acknowledgment of our sinfulness and God’s loving-kindness and grace.
Let us prepare our hearts so that he himself may deign to dwell in them and enlighten them by his presence.
But let us also take care to set the hearts of our neighbours alight, so that they too may praise their Creator and engage in the works of love.
Indeed, either way we build a house to the Lord: whether we commit ourselves to the pursuit of holiness or, by our words and example, inspire those whom we can to walk in the way of holiness.
The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah (PL 91:812-813); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Monday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time, Year 2.