They Wept Because They Understood

So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. – Nehemiah 8:8-9

Could you not let them weep, Ezra?

Could you not let the tears fall for repentance?
I’m sure they had their share.
What person doesn’t?
Did you never weep to know your sins?

Could you not let the tears fall for relief?
Their labor was complete, the city wall
stood tall despite the efforts to disrupt it.
Did you never weep in triumph?

Could you not let the tears fall for awareness?
How few had ever heard the Law in part?
Complete? I’d venture there were none.
Did you never weep in ignorance dispelled?

Could you not let the tears fall for… loss?
Ah, yes, I raise that question, Ezra.
Did you recall another gathering,
with rain to match those families’ distress
to hear their marriages must break,
their spouses torn from homes,
their children cast away?
Where did they go, Ezra?

Where did they go?

I understand theologies of purity.
Exiled for three generations, searching for the cause,
you sought to build a faithfulness to last,
forestall another covenant in ruin.

But Ezra, it didn’t work, you know.
Deep faith has always had to struggle with
the mud, the mess, the muckiness of life.
Women and children cast aside? Mud of a different kind.

No, let them weep, Ezra. They’ve earned their tears.
They’ll strive for your perfection, and they’ll fail,
and so did you, and so do I, and so do all.
Alas, the parents’ sour grapes have set the children’s teeth on edge.

A poem/prayer based on Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Third Sunday after the Epiphany. I am indebted to Cory Driver for his reflection on this text which made the connection to Ezra 10:6-44.

The image is an illustration of Ezra 10 by Jim Padgett (1984), published by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0, I was somewhat startled to find this image, which captures some – not nearly all – of the heartbreak of Ezra 10.

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