Have you heard the story of the prayerful elderly lady, who lived next to a young man, an atheist? The elderly lady would pray every day and pray out loud. Her next-door neighbor, the atheist, was not happy with her prayer routine. Sometimes, he would be thinking to himself, “This lady is crazy; there is no God! I must look for a way to stop her from disturbing our neighborhood.” Sometimes, he would even walk up to her and say, “Keep your mouth shut; you are disturbing us here. There is no God!” One day, the elderly lady was praying. She ran out of groceries. In her prayer, she listed all she needed. She prayed, “Lord God, as you can see, there’s nothing in my refrigerator; there’s no milk, no bread, no eggs, no meat, etc.” She added, “Father Lord, I know you are going to do it for me, so now, I want to thank you for the milk, for the bread, for the egg, for the meat, etc. you are going to provide for me today.” The young man heard her pray and decided to play a trick on her. He quickly wrote down all the lady requested from God. He went to the grocery store and bought everything he listed. He dropped them at the elderly lady’s doorsteps, rang the doorbell and hid in the flowers to see what the lady would do.
When the elderly lady opened the door and saw the groceries, she began to praise God, clapping, singing, and dancing. Then the young man jumped out from where he was hiding and he said, “You are crazy; God did not do it, there is no God. I bought the groceries with my money.” He brought out the receipt. The lady went through the receipt and discovered that everything she had in the shopping basket corresponded with the content of the receipt. The young man looked at her and said, “You see; I told you!” The lady jumped up and began to go from one house to another, inviting everybody to come and see the wonders that God had done for her. The young man was confused. He ran after her and asked, “Did you hear me? I said I bought everything for you and you are still praising God?” The lady looked at him, took a deep breath and said, “I knew it! I knew God was going to provide the groceries, but there was one thing I did not know: I did not know that God was going to make the devil pay for it.”
My dear friends, did you pay attention to the first reading of today’s Mass? Did you hear the name Cyrus? Who was Cyrus? Cyrus II the Great was the founder of the Persian Empire. In today’s first reading, the children of Israel were on exile in Babylon. It had taken some years, and they were already losing hope of returning to their homeland. Amidst the despair came a prophet who could read the signs of the times and he announced to the children of Israel that freedom was on the way. But this was a difficult prophecy to believe because Babylon seemed to be the super power that was unconquerable. The other reason it was difficult to believe this prophecy had to do with the fact that the instrument to be used to bring about their freedom was a pagan King, Cyrus. Today’s first reading is the only place in the Old Testament where a foreigner is called the Lord’s “Anointed.” This was a title originally reserved for Priests, Prophets and Kings of Israel.
Just like the prophet prophesied, the Persian king, Cyrus conquered Babylon, and In 538 BC, Cyrus permitted the Jews residing in Babylon to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its temple. He even assisted them in the rebuilding of the temple. He also freed other nations that were in captivity in Babylon, and allowed them to freely practice their own religions. The prophet presented Cyrus as an instrument in the hands of God to free God’s people.
As Christians, we run into trouble and lose hope because it seems the one we thought would save us is nowhere to be found; that particular job we thought would pay our bills is not forthcoming; that dream place we want to be to be happy is not happening. So, we end up saying, “God is no longer there,” or “God has turned against us.” The story of Cyrus and the children of Israel reveals that the means does not keep God away from doing what he wants to do; the channel is not in any way an obstacle in the way of God; he does whatever he wants to do, and he can use any instrument he wants to use. My dearly beloved in Christ, if at this point you are about giving up hope because that friend you thought was the only source of your happiness is avoiding you for no apparent reason, please, wait for Cyrus. If you’re about to give up hope because that job you relied on is nowhere to be found, please, wait for Cyrus. If you are planning to give up hope because your promotion was given to someone else, please, wait for Cyrus. If your healing is taking longer than expected, please, wait for Cyrus. If all those you trusted have disappointed you, please, do not give up hope, just wait for your Cyrus. Remember, our help ultimately comes from God, and God can use any instrument to help us. In all the difficulties we are facing now, may God send a Cyrus on our way to set us free, and favor us for the glory of God’s name and the shame of the Kingdom of darkness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.