Ezekiel 4: The Inevitability of God’s Love

Fifth Sunday of Lent: March 26, 2023

James Tissot: Simon the Cyrenian Compelled to Carry the Cross with Jesus

There is an inexorable force which drives our existence. Some of us identify its scientific origin, others of us focus on its spiritual origin. Some of believe that God drives this science; others of us believe that synchronicity and evolution direct our existence. But no matter the origin of our thinking, and no matter our circumstances, we all see the predictable: those of us born into human flesh will come to a very human end. This is an inevitability we cannot avoid. This is the greatest gift ever offered. This is a promise none will want to doubt. Ezekiel’s audience turned away from his prophecy because they could not bear to hear the truth which they saw as terrible but which was, indeed, wonderful. Today when we hear the good news that we are loved beyond measure and that all our worries and woes can be put into God’s hands we will want to choose to trust God and the inevitability of God’s love?

Yesterday we reflected on the certainty of Ezekiel’s prophecy and how history tells us that his predictions held true.  We also made a connection between the unavoidability of this prophecy and the persistent nature of God’s promises to us, the unrelenting presence of God’s love for us as shown by the birth of the Christ. The ancient oracle foreshadows the promise kept.

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.  As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his son into our hearts, crying out, Abba, Father!”  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.  (Galatians 4:4-7)

Whether we want to admit this fact or not, we are in intimate relationship with God.  This is something we cannot change.

Whether we feel God’s presence or we do not, we are in constant union with God. This is a concept we cannot reject.

Whether we feel God’s love for us or we do not, we are the center of God’s focus at all times. This is the reality we cannot rebuff.

God is so good, so generous and so overpowering that we cannot avoid closeness with him. God is so patient, so forgiving and so compassionate that he waits with us as we struggle against the fears and anxieties of the world. God is so caring, so tender, and so loving that he allows us to behave as we like as he continues to offer this gift of self to us. God has known us from our origin and God knows our path. And God waits. God persists. God loves. Inevitably.

Jerusalem fell and God’s people were taken into exile. This was predicted. This came to pass. This was inevitable. This we now know.

Jesus is among us to deliver us from all that pains us. This was predicted. This has come to pass. This too, is inevitable. This too, we can know.

As we enter the last week before Palm Sunday and Holy Week, let us consider God’s inevitable gift and promise. 

As we anticipate the miracle of Easter resurrection, let us rejoice and be glad. 

And as we draw nearer to the Good News of the Easter Story, let us act as if we believe in these good tidings. Let us give thanks for this wondrous and profound gift of God’s inevitable love.

An adapted re-posting of a reflection written on December 25, 2011.

Image from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/james-tissot/simon-the-cyrenian-compelled-to-carry-the-cross-with-jesus-simon-de-cyre-ne-contraint-de-porter

Ezekiel 4: Inevitable 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Michelangelo: Ezekiel

When we sink into feeling that evil overpowering good is inevitable, we must pause to realign ourselves with the goodness of the Easter sacrifice of Christ. When we give in to bullies and stand away from those with whom we might form solidarity against the crushing power of corruption, we must rely on the Spirit. When we find ourselves exhausted from the constant struggle of our journey, we must fall into God’s presence and rely on God’s way of light and good. When we believe that our downfall is inevitable, we must turn to the power of God’s love, for it is the power of this love that is inevitable.

There is a certain inevitability about Ezekiel’s prophecy. He is certain that his predictions will come to pass. From our place in history centuries later, we can easily see that what seemed impossible for Judah and Jerusalem does indeed take place. Their fortified city is besieged and destroyed; their powerful and comfortable leaders are killed or deported. Why did anyone doubt Ezekiel and the other prophets? They reported what they saw in the present and what they saw to come. They were accurate, so why did anyone have reservation about their words?  Most likely it was because the naysayers had too much invested in the corrupt system. We might learn a lesson from all of this.

There is a certain inevitability about Jesus’ story. He comes to tell us that he is Emmanuel – God Among Us. From our place in human history we can read about the miracles he performed.  We can also number the times that impossibilities take place in our own lives.  Jesus tells us that he will be destroyed and yet rise again in new life.  He tells us that he has come to take us with him on this amazing journey as his well-loved sisters and brothers.  Jesus tells us what the Creator has asked him to report to us: that we are free, liberated from anything that holds us to the material world in which we live.  This freedom includes freedom from anxiety and stress.  Why do we cling to our old and familiar discomfort when there is a newness offered to us without cost?  Why do we behave as those who heard but ignored Ezekiel’s words?  Do we doubt what Jesus has told us?  What are the reservations we have about his words or his actions?  On this eve when we celebrate his coming into the world as a vulnerable baby, why do we continue to ask for additional proofs and for further assurance that he will complete his promise to bring us to the new life he experiences?  Why do we hang on to our fears and reject the possibility of joy? 

As we near the eight-day flood of Easter celebration, we will want to consider what it is we consider to be inevitable. And how willing we are to step into the powerful flow of God’s inevitable love. 

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezekiel

Today’s reflection is an adaption of the December 24, 2011 post. 

Matthew 12: A Decision to Confront Evil

Friday, March 24, 2023

James Tissot: The Pharisees Question Jesus

We considered Matthew 12 during Advent a number of years ago and today, as e move toward the great celebration of Easter, we understand that as we move toward conversion we must do more than reflect and pray. We must take action. 

The Pharisees are familiar figures in the Easter story and today we see them in Matthew’s story challenging Jesus who heals so many faithful. When we encounter those who want to quash goodness in order to wield power, we must find the strength to confront this evil. 

The Pharisees try to trip Jesus up by challenging him on the details of the cumbersome Mosaic Law.  When they realize that Jesus is too clever – and too grounded in God – to be caught in a trap of their design, they challenge his very authority.  This is the beginning of their undoing.

How does Jesus defend himself and what lesson can we take from his actions?  Jesus does not waste words of explication but instead asks questions.  What did David do?  What do the Pharisees themselves do?  We might follow this tactic and practice asking questions rather falling into the trap of arguing when we confront evil.

How does Jesus reveal the fallacies in false charges?  Rather than point out the hardness in the Pharisees’ hearts, Jesus describes what happens when people work against one another in a greedy struggle for control.  Again he asks questions.  By whom do your own people drive out demons?  How will a kingdom stand when it is divided against itself?  We might follow this strategy and develop our own skills of looking for the truth rather than focusing on proving others wrong. 

When we see evil we know that we must confront it but we must do so wisely – as Jesus does. Let us take a lesson from the master and decide that rather than argue with the devil, we will ask questions instead. Rather than point fallacies and errors to those around us, we will empty ourselves of our well-honed arguments and allow the Spirit to speak instead. And rather than throw ourselves against barricaded corruption and power in high places, we will turn to the God who knows and sees all, and give thanks to the God of all creation. In this way we bear fruit for the kingdom, and we ask God to confront evil.

As Easter draws ever nearer, let us prepare to receive this most wonderful, most impossible, most loving gift.

For more detail about how Jesus confronts he Pharisees who seek to control him, enter the words Confronting Evil into the blog search bar and explore the December 23,2011 reflection. 

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authority_of_Jesus_questioned

Matthew 11: An Evil Generation

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Paolo Veronese: Jesus Healing the Servant of a Centurion

The New American Bible designates this portion of Matthew’s Gospel: Opposition from Israel.  Today and tomorrow we will examine Chapters 11 and 12 to discover more fully Jesus’ role in Israel. We will prepare more deeply for the Easter story and the arrival of the Spirit that brings joy and hope. And we will understand more intensely what it means to totally and unconditionally depend on God for all. 

Poor leaders and insincere co-workers use fear and guilt and manipulation to achieve their own goals.  If we read Matthew 11 and 12 carefully we understand that a kind word and a committed heart call more people to a cause than force and coercion.  Jesus confronts this evil generation and calls us as he called to the unrepentant towns: If the mighty deeds had been done in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.

Corrupt family and friends use subterfuge, dishonesty and tricks to force others into committing to their point of view.  If we to read Matthew 11 and12 mindfully we see that honesty and courtesy invite more people to commitment than passive aggression and duplicity.  Jesus challenges this evil generation and urges them as he urges us: Whoever has ears ought to hear. 

Deceitful loved ones use betrayal, secrecy and projection of their own problems onto others because they cannot or do not want to grow.  If we read Matthew 11 and 12 intentionally we comprehend that openness and love bring more people to union than threats and lines drawn in the sand.  Jesus speaks to this evil generation and assures them as he assures us: My yoke is easy, and my burden light. 

As Jesus moves about Israel healing, preaching and converting, the power structure feels its own influence dwindling and those invested in the status quo begin to panic. They oppose Jesus at every turning and we watch to see how Jesus will meet this opposition.

Jesus the Healer knows that words mean little while actions mean all.  Jesus the Interceder knows that corruption runs deep and is not easily unseated.  Jesus the Cornerstone knows that we are like children playing games who sit in the marketplace calling out to one another.  Jesus the Redeemer knows that we are in need of his help and that God is the only one who can fully confront this evil generation.  Jesus, the Son of Man, knows that his authority and strength are in God alone. 

Tomorrow we take a look at how Jesus confronts those who challenge him. Today let us depend on God as Jesus does, and let us we pray as Jesus prays.

I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.  Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.  Amen. 

Adapted from a reflection posted on December 22, 2011. 

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healing_the_centurion%27s_servant

Jonah 2: A Prayer from the Belly of the Whale

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Jonah and the Whale: Folio from a Jami Tavarikh (Compendium_of_Chronicles)

Yesterday we reflected on this short but crucial portion of Jonah’s story; why does he offer a prayer of thanksgiving when he finds himself devoured by a whale?  Enter the words Jonah in the Belly of the Whale and then join Jonah in his prayer . . .

Out of our distress we cry to you . . . the waters swirl about us, threatening our lives . . . the abyss envelops us . . . the soul faints within and we remember the Lord. 

As we near the coming Passion of Christ and Eastertide, we have much to accomplish.  Some of our chores we do gladly; others weigh heavily on us. Good and wise God, help us to sort out the trivial from the real as we struggle to balance work and play.

As we approach the festival of joy we continue to be haunted by old angers and anxieties; we might relish this turmoil or we may want to cast it off. Good and patient God, lead us to the understanding that what looks like death is life, what seems to be the end is a new beginning. 

As we move toward the celebration of hope we have sorrows and fears; we may be managing to stay afloat in this sea of turmoil or we may be sinking into its cold depths.  Good and compassionate God, remind us that living for a time in the belly of the whale means that despite our fears, we have the opportunity to draw ever closer to you. 

Our prayer reaches God as we give God resounding praise. We are delivered by the hands of the Lord. 


This prayer is adapted from the Prayer of Jonah first posted on December 21, 2011.

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonah#The_fish

Jonah 2: A Journey into the Belly of the Whale

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Pieter Lastman: Jonah and the Whale

When the Pharisees and teachers of the law challenge Jesus in Matthew 12 and Luke 11 about his authority and ask him for a sign, Jesus points out the wickedness of this demanding approach to miracles, and he says that the only sign they will receive is the sign of Jonah. Today we look at an interesting point in the story of the man who lived in the belly of a whale for three days to be delivered in order to do God’s work.  Commentary tells us that Jesus refers to his own three days between death and life that he will experience in order to save the world. Further commentary tells us why the psalm we read today is so important to us. 

Jonah is called by God to do something he does not want to do and so he flees.  Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. (Jonah 1:3)  We may also want to reject a task God has laid out for us. 

 Once on board, Jonah admits to the sailors that he has indeed fled the Lord.  They try to save him but the storm is too great for them and Jonah volunteers to go overboard. But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. (Jonah 1:17)

On dry land, Jonah goes to Nineveh to do as the Lord has asked.  When the people have a change of heart and heed the prophecy Jonah delivers, the Lord has compassion on them for turning from their evil ways.  (Jonah 3:10)

The dialog between Jonah and Yahweh continues in chapter 4 where we see a push-pull relationship between the two. The conversion in Nineveh greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry; (Jonah 4:1) still, God abides with his servant and continues to present to him his own pathway for conversion.  God continues to provide a journey away from anger toward compassion. God might be speaking to us when he says to Jonah: Do you have a right to be angry?

Jonah runs from the Lord and finds that he has come up against an obstacle too large to overcome. Leaping into the raging storm he expects death, and yet he is saved. 

Today’s post is adapted from the December 20, 2011 reflection and provides more context of the Jonah story. To visit, enter the words In the Belly of the Whale into the blog search bar and explore. 

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 1474. Print.

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Jonah

Numbers 9:15-23: God’s Presence in Our Desert Moments

Monday, March 20, 2023

Caravan in the desert, Mongolia

We have entered the closing weeks of our desert experience, a time when we anticipate the renewing strength of the Passion experience and the nourishing stories we hear in the Eastertide liturgies. In those times when we struggle to move through the wash of negative news, we must remember that God is with us. 

So much of life seems to be a desert existence, a constant struggle against unseen but powerful forces that appear to control all we do and much of what we think. In dark days we struggle against headwinds that deliver blasts of driven sand; we hunker down in our tents to secure ourselves against the onslaught. When we must move from place to place, we barely survive the trek from one oasis to the next. There are times of happiness in which we experience joy; yet with those times there is often a sense of impending doom; somewhere inside us is a haunting that tells us to enjoy our contentment while it lasts because darkness stalks us on each leg of our journey.  The desert crossing is one we do not want to experience alone.  We know that we will need stamina, provisions, and companions along the way; yet where do we find the surety and comfort that will see us through? There is only one presence that provides all for the body, mind and soul, the presence of God. 

It is the fool who prepares carelessly for the wilderness journey; a wise woman or man goes first in search of God. The fool stores up supplies and necessities; the wise one makes plans and trusts in the Lord. The fool believes that security and comfort can be purchased; the wise one knows that happiness and eternal safety lie in doing what is just. The fool relies on personal strength and durability; the wise one perseveres in seeking God, knowing that everything we need for the journey is found in one place, only in the presence of God.

The fiery cloud we reflect on in today’s reading is a pre-figuration of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sends after his Ascension to the Father as tongues of fire that produce speech that all can understand. (Acts 2)  Just as Jesus and Scripture are the Word of God, The Holy Spirit is the Breath of God, and for that reason this advocate has inspired the writing of scripture. The symbols of the Holy Spirit are: water, the oil and the seal of anointing, fire, the hand/finger of Jesus who heals, the dove which finds the olive branch after the flood along with the dove which descends at Jesus’ baptism, and the image of cloud and light. This cloud that accompanies the Hebrews, descends when Solomon builds the Temple in Jerusalem and also at Jesus’ Transfiguration. This Spirit surrounds Jesus at his Ascension.   This Spirit lives with us today to accompany us on our desert wanderings.  This Spirit is the presence of God. 

This post is an adaption of our December 19, 2011 reflection of the Presence of God as we navigate the tumult of Christmas preparations. 

Image from: https://unsplash.com/s/photos/gobi-desert

Luke 2:41-51: Found

Luke 2:41-51: Found

William Holman Hunt: The Finding of the Savior in the Temple

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2023

Today’s familiar story foreshadows the conflict that will take place in Jesus’ adult years when his message of God’s mercy brings the wrath of leaders against him, and lays the fate of creation in his hands. As a child, Jesus remains in Jerusalem after Passover to converse with temple elders. Discovered by his parents, he goes home to live obediently with them. The child Jesus dazzles leaders and yet lives in humility. The child Jesus knows that God is in charge.

Coptic Icon of the Transfiguration of Christ

Coptic Icon: Transfiguration of Christ

The man Jesus goes up to the mountain to experience his own transfiguration, but he does not go alone. He takes two friends who later testify to this beautiful experience on the mountain top. The man Jesus confounds his friends and yet delivers the expectation that his kingdom is here and now. The man Jesus knows that God’s outrageous hope is essential to human existence.

The prophet Jesus brings healing and confidence to the marginalized and forgotten. He escapes the crowd by disappearing over the brow of the hill. He slips through the fingers of those who would obliterate him. He challenges our beliefs and our doubts. The prophet Jesus knows that God’s enduring faith is critical in the human journey.

The risen Jesus defies all laws of physics and logic to bring hope to the abandoned and faith to the desperate. He hands himself over to the authorities who despise him. He suffers meekly at the hands of his enemies whom he calls to goodness. He offers the gift of healing and solace to all of creation. Christ Jesus knows that God’s enormous love is crucial in our human lives.

As we approach Palm Sunday and its story of Christ’s Passion, let us remember our Lenten practices while we journey up to Jerusalem. As we near our Easter home, let us pray, meditate and remember that once we were fearful, and now we rest in Christ. Once we doubted and now we believe. Once we were lost and now, like the child Jesus, we are found.

Images from: https://fineartamerica.com/art/pharisees and https://www.stvnashville.org/feast-of-transfiguration

John 12: 36-43: Belief and Unbelief

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Benjamin West: Moses and Aaron before Moses

This is a difficult idea for many of us but we see it as far back as the Pentateuch when we hear that Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart when he changed his mind about letting Moses’ people go (Exodus 8:15). This is a theme with which we struggle to live: We are not in charge.

When suffering happens, we remind ourselves, God will turn it into something good if we allow the Spirit to reside in our hearts.

We are not in charge.

God heals all wounds, we say, and we pass the stories of these healings on to younger generations.

We are not in charge.

In today’s reading, we see Jesus hiding for a bit as he prepares himself for the tasks ahead. We hear again the words of the prophet Isaiah describing a God who “blinded their eyes and hardened their heart . . . so that they might be converted.”

We are not in charge.

The Israelites crossed the Red Sea through parted waters – after Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart – and so we see Yahweh’s power and might and mercy. The Pharisees do not acknowledge the power of Jesus – which the people see clearly – and in fact the Sanhedrin do not arrest Jesus on several occasions for fear that the people will stone them. (Acts 5:17-26)

We are not in charge.

Gerrit Van Honthorst: Christ Before the High Priest, Annas

Gerrit Van Honthorst: Christ Before the High Priest, Annas

Many times when we are doing God’s work we will find ourselves in opposition to the culture in which we live. Jesus is counter-cultural and lives on the edges of society. So must we be if we are true disciples, if we go to the light and do not hide in the dark (John 3:16-21).

We are not in charge.

We reflect on our lives and pray that we – unlike the Pharisees who preferred human praise to the glory of God . . . may remember that we are not in charge.

We remember our Lenten practice. Rather than thinking: “I will set all things right in God’s kingdom,” let us think instead, “I will strive each day to follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness, mercy and love”.

 Adapted from a reflection written on April 18, 2007.

Tomorrow, passion.

Images from: http://collection.mam.org/details.php?id=4902 and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moses_and_Aaron_before_Pharaoh.jpg

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