October 22, 2023; Isaiah 45:1,4-6; 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s first reading mentions the Persian King Cyrus. Cyrus conquered the Babylonian Empire 539 years before the birth of Christ. In the city of Babylon at that time, the Jewish people were being held captive. When Cyrus took charge, he allowed the Jews to return to the land of Israel, thus bringing the Babylonian Exile to an end. Cyrus was not a Jew. He did not believe in our God. He believed in the pagan god, Marduk. Yet, in today’s first reading, the Jewish prophet Isaiah says that our God anointed Cyrus. Even though Cyrus did not believe in the God of Israel, the God of Israel used him to shape the history of the world. The prophet Isaiah makes this startling claim because he firmly believes that there is only one God, our God. Marduk is not god. Other pagan deities are not gods. As Isaiah says over and over: God is God, and there is no other. If this is true, then it means that whatever happens in our world, our God is somehow involved.
This conviction of Isaiah should enlarge our thinking. Sometimes we limit God’s activity to places where it is obvious. We know that God is present in the Eucharist, as we gather together to share the meal that Jesus gave us. We believe that God is active in the hearts of those who accept Jesus and treasure his word. We are confident that God is working when people of faith act with kindness and oppose what is unjust. All fine and good. But Isaiah says we must not stop there. Even people who are secular and non-religious can be used by God for God’s purposes. Even those who wield power and influence without any thought of God can become God’s blessing to us.
Most of us can confirm this from our own experience. When we look at our lives, how often have the words or actions of someone without faith given us insight or comfort? We can receive guidance and hope from the advice of a secular person at school or at work, a song we hear on Spotify which is written by a non-believer, an act of kindness by a non-Christian that comes at a crucial time in our lives. God is God, and there is no other.
This larger view of God can also be a comfort. I know that you are all aware that we face an important choice this November, concerning issue 1, which attempts to enshrine the right of abortion in our state constitution. The Ohio bishops have asked us to oppose this amendment because of our conviction that every human life must be protected. If we succeed in defeating issue 1, it will be obvious that God is active in our secular world. But even if issue 1 were to pass, it does not mean that God is absent, that God has forgotten us, or that God does not care about women and their unborn children. God is always active in our world, even when God’s presence is not apparent.
If God could use the pagan ruler Cyrus to set the Jewish people free, we are called to believe that God continues to work in our world, in the hearts of believers and nonbelievers, to bring about God’s will. God is God, and there is no other.