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Monday, January 27, 2020

Ezekiel 5: Our Image of God – Part II

shepherd%20leading%20sheep[1]

Yesterday we reflected on an image of God that we may derive from the words of Ezekiel and we saw how easy it was to focus more on what frightens us rather than on what saves and heals us.  We came to understand that when we isolate these images of God we see only the spectacle of God’s supreme power and the inevitability and absoluteness of God’s decisions.  We leave no room for Jesus who said . . .

Judge not lest you yourself be judged.  (Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37)

I tell you to forgive [your brother] not seven but seventy-seven times.  (Matthew 18:22)

If [your brother] sins against you seven times in a day and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him.  (Luke 17:4)

Everything is possible for him who believes.  (Mark 9:23)

A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you so must you love one another.  (John 13:34)

With Jesus’ words – and with Jesus’ actions – we begin to see the possibility that there is a Christ-like way to perceive this prophecy.  When the world is viewed through the values Jesus brings to us – and the lessons Jesus teaches us – we see plainly that in our attempt to avoid pain, suffering and eternal damnation we avoid self-examination.  This evasion of suffering at any price and the search for happiness at all cost will tempt us to engage in vigorous judgment and even condemnation of others for when we respond to interior panic we ignore the call to empathy.   In our headlong rush to please and appease the angry God we see on the surface of Ezekiel’s prophecy, we do not examine the prophet’s words closely.  We take flight and trample our neighbors in our feeble attempt to save ourselves . . . and we fly away past the shepherd who stands before us, waiting to save.

Picture1It is possible that Jesus drew his imagery of the Good Shepherd from Ezekiel.  Once we spend time with these verses we begin to see connections.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  (John 10: 14-16)

I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.  . . . I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land . . .  I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. (Ezekiel 34:13-15)  

This is the image of God that Jesus brings to us from Ezekiel.  This is an image of God we do well to consider today.


A re-post from January 27, 2013. 

Image from: http://sermonreflections.blogspot.com/2012_01_01_archive.html


Sunday, January 26, 2013

Ezekiel 5: Considering Our Image of God – Part I

Cunieform tablet mentioing Jehoiachin in Babylon

Berlin: Cunieform tablet mentioning Jehoiachin in Babylon

It is no mystery why so many scripture readers see God as an angry deity to be placated or even avoided.  We must admit that if the supreme being of Ezekiel 5 were the only God we knew . . . we might not seek an intimate relationship with our creator.  This castigating image is one in which God stands in severe judgment, metes out dreadful and complete consequences, and uses his overwhelming strength against nearly powerless creatures who have broken his laws.  We can see why so many cringe at the thought of knowing God intimately . . . or of God knowing us at all.

I will inflict punishments in your midst . . . These verses might terrify anyone looking for consolation for the only solace here comes through a neurotic obedience to an enormous number of laws that are sometimes contradictory.   We can see why these words might panic an already fragile soul into flight; and yet we remember . . . Jesus read this prophecy.  And Jesus lived his life as a practicing Jew, adhering to the Mosaic Law.  If we allow ourselves to pause, we also remember . . . Jesus tells us that he comes to supersede and to fulfill the old law rather than negate it.  Jesus comes to us to let us know that in the end there is only one law, The Law of Love.  But how do we juxtapose this thinking with the verses we read today?

This week we have spent time reflecting with 2 Kings; we have witnessed the unfolding of events which Ezekiel rails against.  These events lead to the destruction of the kingdom, the exportation of God’s people, and the scattering of the Jewish faithful.  What do we learn from our reading?

When we explore who Ezekiel is and to whom he writes, we find some skepticism about the identity of the author.  This frequently happens with ancient texts but when we search commentary we discover that most scholars believe the writer to be of a priestly family taken into exile with King Jehoiachin in 597 B.C.E.  He was married and is believed to have had a degree of freedom while in exile, even having his own house in a village called Tel Abib on the river Chebar.  He lived well, benefited from the structure yet saw its corruption.  As we read his prophecy we understand that he writes at God’s insistence and this fact enables us “to appreciate better how he could be objective and distant and yet intensely present with his audience”.  (Senior RG 337)  Ezekiel writes these words that come from God, rather than his own initiation, in order to transform and save. We sense his urgency in wanting to make an impression on his readers . . . and this he unquestionably does.

If we allow ourselves to spend time with Ezekiel in the context of the New Testament and if we are honest . . . we suddenly see that in viewing life as a race to be won, we hurry to placate a god who is extreme and unreasonable.  We panic, we look away, we scrabble against one another in our rush to show God how good and obedient we are, how much better we are than others.  And we forget to look at the Spirit within each of our neighbors whom we so anxiously judge.  Sadly, we fail to experience God in others.  We frighten ourselves and we cannot see God as the constant, merciful, just, forgiving and adoring lover.   We miss God’s capacity and willingness to absolve.  We mistake God’s passionate embrace for the chains of doom and damnation.  We miss entirely God’s warmth, safety and goodness . . . until we remember Jesus.


Tomorrow . . . some of Jesus’ words to live by when we consider our image of God.

Post image from: http://www.livius.org/ne-nn/nebuchadnezzar/anet308.html

For more on Ezekiel, visit the Ezekiel – Dry Bones Come to Life page on this blog, or go to: https://thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/the-old-testament/the-prophets/ezekiel-dry-bones-come-to-life/

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.RG 337. Print.  

 


Saturday, January 25, 2013

2 Kings 5: The Cure of Naaman

Pieter de Grebber: Elisha Refusing the Gifts of Naaman

Pieter de Grebber: Elisha Refusing the Gifts of Naaman

Naaman is cured of leprosy not by his faith alone but through the faith and encouragement of a small child who believes in Yahweh and the power of his prophets.  It is worth our while to read this story and examine commentary and footnotes because once we do – and this may seem unbelievable – we will find that we have a greater understanding of the modern world we live in today.

Through the child in this story we see that prophets are not the only ones among us who are called to heal, cure and serve as instruments for miracles. We see that we are also called to heal one another either with the direct laying on of hands, or by our intercessory prayers.

Jesus tells us in a very clear way that we must pray for our enemies: You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy”.  But I tell you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you . . . If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  (Matthew 5: 43-47)

Christ constantly presents us with a world of inversion. We die in order to be born; we give in order to receive; we sit at the lowest seat in order to be called higher; we humble ourselves so that we might be exalted.  The examples Jesus gives us are endless.   Today we hear God’s urging to heal others, even those who harm us, so that we in turn are healed.

I believe that we are called to be healers, even when wounded ourselves, because the prayers of a victim rise ever so quickly to God’s altar. God, in all of his compassion and mercy and desire to love, will reward the prayer of one who is wounded who – like God – forgives and then petitions healing for the abuser.

We must be present in spirit to our fellow pilgrims, and when we wade into the river of forgiveness, just as Naaman enters the river Jordan, we will find that the our willingness to intercede for our enemies will wash away the things of this world.  Suddenly we find ourselves present to the Spirit. And just as suddenly we will know that we, like Naaman, will “know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”  This one God, this Yahweh, sent his son to heal us and ransom us from our dark place.   It is this God who calls us to heal one another . . . so that we in turn may be healed.


First written on May 31, 2007.  Re-written and posted today as a Favorite. 

2 Kings 4: Blindness


Friday, January 24, 2020

2 Kings 4: Blindness

Leighton: Elisha Raises the Shunamite

Frederic Leighton: Elisha Raises the Shunamite

“How can I help?”  These words of the prophet Elisha are echoed by Jesus when he asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”  (Matthew 20:30-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43)   We might take some time today to think about what it is we want.  If Elisha visited us today, if we bumped into Jesus on our way home from work and were asked this question, what would we reply?  For what blindness of our own do we seek healing?  And once healed . . . do we wish to continue seeing Christ as the one who has done this healing?

We have many wishes hidden in our subconscious; or perhaps our secret desires are not hidden but rather have taken possession of our lives so that we think of nothing else.  In either case, if we are asked to synthesize all that we desire into one great wish . . . what will it be?  For whom will it be?

In today’s Noontime we read several stories: a widow with nothing whose children will be taken into slavery, a woman of influence whose child is brought back to life, a poisoned stew that becomes a healing meal, loaves of bread that multiply to feed many.  These stories have something in common: The saving power of a loving God wrought by a faithful servant who is not blind to the possibilities before him.

The prophet Elisha is faithful to Yahweh in every way.  He relies entirely on God’s providence for all that is necessary in living a mortal life: food, clothing, shelter.   He also relies on God for his vision of possibilities.  Most of us, when confronted by the widow, the wealthy woman, the poisoned stew and the too few barley loaves, want to turn to someone else to ask, “What am I supposed to do with this now in this moment?”  Elisha moves toward God as he allows God’s miraculous work to take place.  Elisha is not blind to the possibilities.

Jesus tells us about our own spiritual blindness (John 9:35-41) saying: If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim that you can see your guilt remains. 

What do we claim that we can see?  Is it the exasperation and desolation of life . . . or the goodness and gift of our existence?

What do we claim that we want?  Do we seek comfort and ease for ourselves . . . or the beauty of understanding how we fit into God’s plan?

Are we blind . . . or do we truly see?  When Jesus hears that the man he has cured of blindness has been thrown out of the temple precincts, he seeks the man out and asks: Do you believe in the Son of Man?  When this man asks who this Son of Man is that he may see him, Jesus replies: You have seen him and the one speaking to you is he . . . I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind. 

Jesus presents this man – and us – with an important question: Once we have seen the miracle before us, do we believe it, or do we choose to categorize it in a way that it can be explained away?   Jesus also asks us to think about this question: What is our own spiritual blindness?  What are the miracles lying just before us that we pass by because we cannot fathom their possibility?  And so we consider . . . if Elisha visited us today, if we bumped into Jesus on our way home from work, what would we reply?  For what blindness of our own do we seek healing?  And once healed . . . do we take these gifts for granted . . . do we explain them away . . . or do we give God the honor due . . . and do we see Christ as the one who has done this healing?


First written on January 21, 2010. Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

To read commentary on 2 Kings 4, click on the image above or go to: http://deaconsmemorial.blogspot.com/2011/04/optional-mass-of-fifth-week-of-lent.html

2 Kings 3: Withdrawal


Thursday, January 23, 2020

2 Kings 3: Withdrawal

imagesCAHQ96XWElijah has ascended to heaven.  Jehoram reigns over Israel.  King Mesha of Moab has decided to rebel now that Ahab is no longer king of Israel.  King Jehoram musters his troops and prepares for battle and he calls on King Jehoshaphat of Judah to join in the struggle against the Moabites.  Will you go with me to battle?

They go into Edom where that king joins them and so the three of them stand ready to fight, except . . . there is no water.  The king of Israel cries out: Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?  And Elisha, Elijah’s servant, is named and consulted.  Water arrives and the battle is engaged.  Things go badly for Mesha who immolates his son on the wall to appease his pagan god.  Commentary suggests that “the text may be implying that the anger of the Moab’s god caused the Israelites to withdraw”.  (Mays 564)  In the face of this human sacrifice, the Israelites pull back.  So might we all.

Our natural instinct may be to avoid evil; it may also be to strike out against it.  We may be inspired to form solidarity with the weak in order to empower them against the aggressor.   Or we may hide in order that we protect what little we have.  Today’s story leaves us with these words: And so they withdrew from him and returned to their own land. 

I heard a sermon recently advising Christians to be cautious when dealing with evil.  The idea that we risk too much danger when we operate in close combat with the devil is one we spent time with several weeks ago when we considered Luke 4 and the devil’s temptation of Jesus.  We noted that day that Satan departed from Jesus until an opportune time.  We concluded that: The devil never gives up . . . nor does God.

When we find ourselves shoulder deep in a situation that does not make sense, we know that somewhere someone is lying.

When we realize that betrayal is taking place on a deep and intimate level, we know that danger is quite near.

In all circumstances there is only one place to seek haven or ask for help: in God.  We may determine that we need to withdraw and return to our own land.  We may as likely determine that we need to gather troops, consult with the prophet and make a stand.  In either case, it is important that we remain in God no matter what.  For in God is our only hope of salvation.  No wickedness is too great for God to handle.  No malicious act is too horrible for God to transform.  No evil can overcome or outlast God’s love for his people.

So if we must withdraw . . . let us open our hearts . . . and withdraw into God.


Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 564. Print.

For a reflection on Matthew’s description of Christ’s temptation, go to The Temptations page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/the-temptations

Written on March 18, 2010 and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://daleallynphoto.com/index.php/gallery/image_full/20/


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

2 Kings 2: Weathering the Whirlwind

imagesCAD24SSZThe whirlwind is something we fear – when we feel its ominous approach all we can think of is change with instability and unpredictability.  What if we were to shift our perspective slightly so that rather than be governed by fear of the future, we might be governed by trust and obedience?   What if we respond with awe at God’s power rather than fear of the unknown?  This is what we witness in the story we read today in which the mantle of prophecy passes from Elijah to Elisha in the presence of an amazing whirlwind.

Elisha wisely asks for a double portion of spirit rather than wealth or fame, and when we read to the end of the chapter we see the dimensions of the power invested in Elisha.  What he blesses is blessed many fold; what he curses is cursed harshly.  And all of this comes from his perseverance in trusting his creator.

Footnotes give us more information about Gilgal, the Jordan River, and the prophets guild; but the more important message here might be this: That when the earth shifts beneath our feet in a tectonic tremor of change, when a quick drop in barometric pressure harbingers one of life’s devastating storms, and when our hair stands on end with fear of what we suspect is coming and do not fully understand . . . we will do well to respond simply rather than rashly.  We must trust the Creator who has made us and loves us, follow the example of Jesus as the Christ who saves us and protects us, and we must hold in awe the overwhelming power of the Spirit who heals us and transforms us.  Then we too, will speak like the holy prophets to kings.


Written on August 11, 2010 and posted today as a Favorite.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

1 Chronicles 1-9: Genealogies

Planting-a-Family-Tree-for-Parents-Day-–-iPhone-and-iPad-Genealogy-Apps[1]Past and future converging in the present.  Attempting to establish a legacy from the past that extends into the future.  Recording names in books that are passed down through generations.  Looking for links to what was.  Envisioning the future.  Living an intentional present.

We humans concern ourselves so much with time and we hold to our belief that it is a strict, tight line even when mathematics and physics tell us that it is anything but a flat presence consisting of a series of moments.  Time . . . God’s time . . . is eternal; yet we humans strive to pull it and push it until it snaps into an obedient straight plane, extending endlessly behind and in front of us.  I do not believe that God sees us or time in such a superficial way.

There is value in tracing our roots and recording our deeds.  These actions tell us who we are; they remind us of what we have done.  With hope we avoid the errors of this past.

There is value in laying plans, being stewards, husbanding resources, striding forward into an unknown future with confidence and a sense of mission.  Our faith accompanies us as we step into the mystery.

There is value in living an authentic present, seeking to move through our days with integrity, looking at our faults without condemning ourselves or others, being honest about our successes with humility.  In love we live each moment as it comes to us, pleading with God on behalf of our enemies, petitioning favors of God for all those we love, remembering all of God’s creation in our daily prayers.

Hubble Telescope: Two Galaxies Merging

Hubble Telescope: Two Galaxies Merging

I realize that when I pray I cannot help but think of time as linear when I remember with nostalgia my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who wait for me on the other side of the veil that separates the body from that place we refer to as the world of the deceased.  I also imagine the great-great-grandchildren I will never see in this life but whom I will know immediately when they rise to God.  Resisting the idea that time is a strict line of seconds that march into minutes, hours and years, I see myself in the immense, slowly whirling, spiraling strands of human beings God has created in God’s image.  I see us rising like incense in the night from the altar of our lives to bring a welcome aroma to the God who created us.  I see the embrace with which we cling to one another as we dance beneath the arms of the Spirit while she is winging us home.  I see us curling and binding with one another in an intimate union as we form the Mystical Body of this God-man walking among us.

Revelation tells us that there are many names written in the Book of Life.  The names of the faithful.  The names of the righteous.  The names of the just.  The names of the holy.  The names of those who endured.  The names of those who persevered.  The names of those who have come to understand and return God’s love.

So as we consider God’s plan and God’s time, we pray . . . Let us call one another’s names in hope as we rise together in prayer.  Let us call one another’s names in joy as we rise to meet our maker.  Let us call one another’s names in love . . . and leave no one behind.  Amen. 


This week we will examine the Second Book of Kings to see what this chronicler has to say to us . . . millennia after he first placed his words on papyrus. 

For more information about merging galaxies as captured by the Hubble telescope, click on the image above or go to: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap121019.html 

Family tree image from: http://www.octa.com/family-tree-parents-day/

First written on December 5, 2008.  Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.


Monday, January 20, 2013

Psalm 91: Clinging to God – Part II

boy%20clinging%20to%20mother[1]When we hear the thoughts and emotions shared by the participants in NPR’s Losing Our Religion discussions referenced in yesterday’s Noontime, we recognize that while not all humans cling to God, they cling to a search of some kind.  Perhaps we are genetically wired for this universal pilgrimage. If we take an honest look at the responses to the many petitions we have laid before God we will recognize certain truths.

God usually gives us options.  God always opens doors we do not see.  God cannot turn away or turn us down.   God always acts in love.  God wants to fulfill our dreams and plans.  God places hope in us and asks us to live up to that potential.  God instills faith in us according to some measure we cannot understand.  God is always moving toward us, calling us to intimacy, promising protection, assuring us of love.  God is always clinging to us.

Whoever clings to me I will deliver . . . The amazing story of God is that God wants to save even those of us who do not cling to him.

Whoever knows my name I will set on high . . . We call on God for freedom from our fears and God replies in ways we may not fully comprehend.

All who call upon me I will answer . . . God’s answer to us is more complex than the simple response we humans expect; we do not entirely understand the journey we are on. 

I will be with them in distress . . . We may choose to ignore God’s presence but we cannot completely barricade ourselves against God.

I will deliver them and give them honor . . . We may negate God in all our thoughts and actions yet God somehow finds a way to abide with us.

With length of days I will satisfy them and show them my saving power . . .  Although we struggle with our doubts, anger, fears and anxiety, we cannot shut God out of our existence . . . for God is always present to us . . . clinging to us . . . abiding with us . . . loving us.

As we spend some quiet time today . . . let us at least consider an initial, authentic response.


To hear the interviews conducted in the NPR Morning Edition broadcasts or to read the news stories, go to: http://www.npr.org/series/169065270/losing-our-religion

To find out how to help families who are clinging to life, click on the image above or go to: http://sosbabyhelp.org/Burma%20Disaster.html

A re-post from January 20, 2013.


Sunday, January 19, 2020

Psalm 91: Clinging to God – Part I

NPR Morning Edition - Losing Our Religion: The Growth of the "Nones" Jan 14, 2013

NPR Morning Edition – Losing Our Religion: The Growth of the “Nones” Jan 14, 2013

This week we spent time with the opening chapters of Deuteronomy reflecting on what it means to be in relationship with God.  This may have generated questions that still linger.  Do we need scientific evidence in order to believe that God is with us and that God exists?  Do we keep the new word that God loves and protects us to ourselves or do we teach this story to our children and to our children’s children?  What does God’s guidance look like?  How are we to respond to God’s assistance?  Do we owe something in return for God’s protection and mercy?  Do we deserve the unmerited successes we are given at no cost?

Psalm 91, a hymn of thanksgiving and remembrance, describes the meaning of God’s presence.  Psalm 91, an anthem of hope and petition, expresses our basic human want to be protected from evil.  Psalm 91, a song of call and response, is an intimate conversation with God.

You need simply watch; the punishment of the wicked you will see.  Looking at the negatives in life it appears that the wicked always win; remembering the many small times when we somehow did not fall into the path of the wicked, we give thanks for God’s enduring wisdom.

You have the Lord for your refuge; you have made the Most High your stronghold.  Knowing that God chooses to love us no matter our faith, no matter our hope, no matter our love, we give thanks for God’s enduring persistence.

No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent.  Choosing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, God among us, we give thanks for God’s enduring power

For God commands the angels to guard you in all his ways.  Giving ourselves over to the Spirit who abides within each of us, we give thanks for God’s enduring love.

With their hands they shall support you; lest you strike your foot upon a stone.  Accepting the guidance and protection freely given to us, we give thanks for God’s enduring presence.


For a reflection on our Unmerited Success, enter those words into the blog search bar and explore. 

On U.S. National Public Radio (NPR) the Morning Edition journalists have explored religion and spirituality in the series Losing Our Religion.  Today if we take time to listen to even a small portion of these broadcasts we may gauge our own awareness – and gratitude – for God’s presence in our lives.  Click on the image above or go to: http://www.npr.org/series/169065270/losing-our-religion

A re-post from January 19, 2013.

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