I'm currently reading St Bede the Venerable's excellent commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah (translated by Scott DeGregorio), two rather neglected books of the Bible that describe the return of the exiles to Jerusalem courtesy of the Persian kings, and the rebuilding of the temple and walls of Jerusalem.
St Bede's commentary is, in many ways, an extended exposition of Psalm 50, which of course culminates with the hope of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and the offering of true sacrifices.
The exiles, he explains are all of us, mired in sin, but seeking to return to God with the help of his grace; Jerusalem is the Church; the ruined walls, false doctrine and corruption that enters in the gaping holes in the walls courtesy of the devil.
When leadership fails...
St Bede sees the keys to reform as depending on leadership and right teaching, and views the failure of this to occur as very serious indeed:
It is even more lamentable if those very ones should have been profiting others through their teaching and personal example show to observers an example of destruction in themselves by living corruptly. For this is what is meant by the fact that the gates of Jerusalem were burned down by enemy flames: that those who ought, by living and teaching well, to have been introducing worthy people into the assembly of the elect and keeping unworthy people out, perish instead in the fire of avarice, self-indulgence, pride, strife, envy, and the rest of the vices that the enemy is wont to bring in. (on Nehemiah 1:3)What should we do in these circumstances? The answer, St Bede says, comes in the next lines of Nehemiah:
For a long time after hearing this news I kept my house, all tears and lament; I fasted, and sought audience with the God of heaven in prayer. Mercy, I cried, thou God of heaven, the strong, the great, the terrible! Thou who ever keepest thy gracious promises to the souls that love thee, and are true to thy commandments! Let thy ears be attentive, thy eyes watching still; listen to the prayer I offer thee now, thy servant, interceding day and night for my fellow-servants, the men of Israel. Listen to the confession I make of our sins; they, the men of Israel, have sinned, I and my father’s race have sinned;The first stage in rebuilding the walls is to mourn their destruction and devote ourselves to fasting and prayer.