Why do the Jews in today’s psalm begin to mourn when their “captors” ask them to sing one of Zion’s songs? This psalm refers to the time of the Jewish Exile. The kingdom of Judea was conquered by the Babylonian Empire 586 years before Christ. Many Jews were deported from their homeland to the rivers of Babylon in the East. Time passed, and that superpower was conquered by another, and after 50 years of Babylonian Captivity, the Persian Empire allowed the Jews to go home. However, many years passed, and Jerusalem, the city of God, remained in great disrepair.
This weighed heavily on the heart of Nehemiah, who was the cupbearer to the king of Persia. As cupbearer, he was the king’s highly-trusted servant because it was his job to drink of any wine that would be offered to the king, lest that it be poisoned. In the first reading we heard Nehemiah recall in his own words how he obtained permission from the king to rebuild God’s city, the city of his ancestors. Nehemiah is a “type” or foreshadowing of Christ.
As Nehemiah had the consent of his king for his mission, so Jesus had the consent of His father to come to Jerusalem as the restorer of God’s people.
Like Nehemiah before Him, Jesus desired, with all the sentiments of His human heart, to bless His deceased ancestors in their graves, for their blood ran through His own veins.
Like Nehemiah, Jesus wanted to build God’s city, giving it a new glory that would attract all nations to a more perfect worship of God within its walls.
Nehemiah used the timber of the Gentiles to build the earthly Jerusalem. To build the heavenly Jerusalem, Jesus used the wood of the Roman’s cross.
Nehemiah was old cupbearer, who faced death in service of the king. Jesus is the new cupbearer, who drinks from the cup, so that sins may be forgiven.
The cup that Jesus drinks is a cup of suffering mingled with joy. Today, at this Mass, Jesus asks us to follow Him. He says, take this cup, all of you, and to drink from it in remembrance of me.