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Psalm 89: A Hymn in Time of National Struggle – Part I 

James Tissot: Saul Meets Samuel

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Finding the Servant

The Old Testament readings in last week’s liturgies reminded us of the story of Samuel, Saul and David. There is so much to ponder that we are easily lost in the story. Samuel is born of a woman thought barren and then lives his childhood at the Temple with the priest Eli. In 1 Samuel 3, when The word of the Lord was rare in those days, visions were not widespread, we read the familiar words in the familiar story, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. If we can make time today, we will want to linger with this chapter as we consider Psalm 89 and all it might mean to us. How and when do we hear God’s voice?

Jan Victors: Hannah Giving her Son to the Priest

In the following chapters of 1 Samuel, the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant; panic and conflict ensue. The Ark returns, Samuel begins a ceremony of gratitude, and when the Philistines attack again, the Lord intervenes on Israel’s behalf. The people are grateful and so Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. Again, we consider our role as servants to God’s people. When and with whom do we share our gratitude that God is present in our lives?

In Chapter 8, Samuel prays to the Lord when the people demand a king of this world and God replies, Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them . . . Listen to their voice and set a king over them. In tenderness and compassion, the Lord assures Samuel that he has done nothing wrong. With authority and kindness, the Lord works with Samuel as he moves forward in service to both God and God’s people. And we consider, are we willing to do as God asks of us, even when the plan does not appear to make sense?

When we use the scripture links and the drop-down menus to explore these verses, we discover that national turmoil when the word of the Lord is rare and visions are scarce is an ancient story. 

Tomorrow, God always abides. 


1 Maccabees 1: The Word Seemed Good

Monday, January 22, 2018

Wojciech Stattler: The Maccabees Rebellion

In today’s reading, we watch a people fall away from the principles, traditions and customs that brought them to success. The peace gained imperceptibly slips away as a people convince themselves that their new behaviors are modern. Because the people convince themselves that this new mode of living is fully legitimate, the relationship that protects them slowly vanishes. They believe the perception and not the reality.

And the word seemed good in their eyes. (DRA)

The slide begins with changes that benefit their pocketbooks rather than their hearts.

They built in Jerusalem a stadium like those in the Greek cities. They had surgery performed to hide their circumcision, abandoned the holy covenant, started associating with Gentiles, and did all sorts of other evil things. (GNT)

Too late, the consequences of their actions come into focus. The heady delight in profits and revelry becomes heartache and mourning.

And there was great mourning throughout all Israel. (CJB)

The place that before had brought them solace has disappeared. The old, familiar rituals that brought them comfort are replaced by empty promise.

[Jerusalem’s] sanctuary was desolate like a wilderness, her festival days were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into reproach, her honours were brought to nothing. (DRA)

Yet despite the bleak circumstances, there are those who remain faithful. Regardless of the restrictions on their lives, those who maintain their relationship with God, keep the covenant in their hearts . . . and they choose to die rather than succumb to the illusion that the new authority brings life rather than death.

But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Very great wrath came upon Israel. (NRSV)

This opening chapter of the story of the Maccabean revolt is a lesson we will want to take in. When we are called to accommodate to a way of thinking that demeans, excludes, and eliminates, we will want to consider the consequences of following the false god. And we will want to see if the word seems good in our eyes, or if we want to remain in the Word that brings life.

And the word seemed good in their eyes. (DRA)

For more on the Maccabean revolt, visit: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/maccabean-revolt/

When we read varying translations of this story, we reflect on the reality and illusion of what is good. 

Luke 6:1-11: Debates 


Luke 6:1-11Debates 

A Wedding Feast

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Today’s reading may be familiar to us – the announcement that the Bridegroom is among us. We hear this and yet so many of us forget or deny that he is here because the work to witness, watch and wait is difficult.  The witnessing takes its toll, the watching drains us, the wait seems interminable. And so we retreat to take refuge in the Lord.

Throughout the Gospel stories Jesus is questioned, and often with the aim of entrapping him in an inaccurate statement. We learn much from the consistent way Jesus responds: he 1) asks questions, and he 2) refers to Scripture – and his questioners are all familiar with Scripture.  Jesus is engaged in a constant vaivén (Spanish for a “coming and going”) as he wades into conflict and then retreats to recoup and to return to his source – the Father. Jesus is also aware of the fact that many of his questioners are not interested in redemption; but want to persecute and eliminate him.  How did he maintain his equanimity?  By a constant cycle of witnessing and retreating.

When questioned about why his followers pick grain on the holy resting day, Jesus responds by healing a man with a withered hand.  When the Pharisees focus on a narrow point of the Law, Jesus offers a wider, more merciful and loving horizon.  When Jesus heals and restores, his enemies become enraged and plot Jesus’ end. And what is Jesus’ response?  Does he retaliate with greater might?  Does he use harsh words?  Does he lecture?  No, he heals, he asks questions, he retreats to pray and restore.

Dearest God, remind us every day that you have sent us someone who will show us how to heal, to question, to retreat back to you for restoration.  You know our depths.  You know our faults.  You know our gifts.  Remind us that we are yours, that you love us, that you hold us without letting go.  Remind us that the constant irritants that prick our eyes and sting our ears are nothing.  Remind us that at any moment, in any space, we may withdraw and depart to the mountain to pray and to even spend the night in prayer with you as Jesus did. And, dearest God, thank you . . . Amen.

To learn about wedding customs in Jesus’ time, and about putting new wine in new skins, click on the image above or visit: http://www.emmanuelenid.org/archive/component/k2/item/1047-new-wine-in-old-skins-the-impossibility-of-mixing-religious-traditions-and-christ-s-grace 

Adapted from a reflection written on October 15, 2007.


Lamentations 1: Jerusalem Abandoned and Disgraced

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Jerusalem: Old City Walls

Adapted from a Favorite written on January 15, 2008. 

Lamentations is a book written about the sixth century B.C.E., a time of reckoning for the Israelites who were taken into exile by the invading Babylonians.  These laments were composed by an eyewitness to the events involving the fall of Jerusalem, and they “combine a confession of sin, grief over the suffering and humiliation of Zion, submission to merited chastisement, and strong faith in the constancy of Yahweh’s love and power to restore”.  We have a “union of poignant grief and unquenchable hope”.  This shows how “Israel’s faith in Yahweh could survive the shattering experience of national ruin”.  (NAB 1991, page 859)

We might look at Israel as ourselves and begin to translate a time in our own lives when we have suffered grief, submitted to the events around us, relied on God’s constancy, and have at last fallen back on the only thing which sustains us. An unquenchable hope in restoration.  This is how we survive personal ruin.

The words of this opening chapter evoke such deeply sad images.  We so often steer clear of the things that make us uncomfortable that we may be tempted to skim through them quickly, passing by the pictures they create with half-closed eyes.  We may also be tempted to remind ourselves that Zion deserved the treatment she received.  We may sink into the cozy feeling of smugness about our own good fortune.  We are so eager to run from suffering in any way that we may not have learned to suffer well, and by this, I mean that we may have forgotten that there is sanctity in suffering.  There is purification.  There is rescue.  There is restoration.  So rather than flit past the descriptions of loneliness and misery, we will want to pause . . . unite our own suffering with that of these people . . . with that of the people around us today . . . with that of Jesus . . . and become co-redeemers with Christ.

We do not need to sink into maudlin or bitter wailing.  We do not want to become false martyrs.  We do not glorify ourselves by seeking suffering. We need not fear our suffering as it comes to us.

Through our relationship with Christ, we find that that transformation accompanies suffering, and turns all pain toward goodness.  We participate in this conversion by listening for God’s faithful voice, waiting for Jesus’ healing touch, and sharing the spirit of sanctity that the Holy Spirit will settle over us as we progress in our pilgrim’s way.

We need not fear the loneliness, the misery, the shame, the grief, the persecution, the weeping, the groaning, the silence, the sadness that we read about today.  We can take it in, process it with our own grief , and give it over to God who converts all harm to good.  In this way, we will suffer well, we will not suffer alone, we survive, and we live well.

To visit the land of the Bible, click on the image or go to: http://www.land-of-the-bible.com/content/old-city-jerusalem 


Psalm 86: Prayer in Suffering and Distress

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Favorite from January 14, 2008.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.

And you are the only one who understands my depths.

You are my God; have pity on me, O Lord, for to you I cry all the day long.

Yet I know that you always answer.

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and listen to my voice in supplication,

I ask your help because I have nowhere else to turn.

In the time of trouble I call to you, for you will answer me.

I am confident in this.

For you are great and you do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.

There is no other God before you.

Teach me your ways, O Lord, so that I may walk in your truth;

Because there is no other Way to walk.

Let me worship your name with an undivided heart.

So keep me from seeking revenge or from wishing my enemies harm in any way.

Your kindness toward me is great; you have rescued me from the depths of the netherworld.

I remember all of these times with a grateful heart.

Arrogant men are rising against me, O God;

They come with their friends to take delight in my faltering.

Turn to me and grant me your gracious favor;

Because there is no other place of refuge.

Endow your servant with strength,

So that I might do your will according to your plan.

Grant me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,

For I know they will listen to no one else.

Because you, O Lord, have helped and comforted me.

And my grateful heart rejoices in this.

Amen.


Jeremiah 31:35-37: The Certainty of God’s Covenant

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Shepherd and Flock

A Favorite from January 3, 2008.

We have seen this chapter of Jeremiah before – the beautiful promise of the New Covenant – the gift of God’s eternal and all-saving love for us, God’s bride.  We have only to invoke God’s name to think of this covenant.

Today is the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus and the Meditation in MAGNIFICAT is apropos.  Here is a piece of the citation from Fr. Raneiro Cantalmessa, O.F.M.CAP., the preacher to the papal household.

The invocation of the name Jesus helps, above all, to crush at the onset thoughts of pride, self-gratification, anger or impure thoughts.  All we have to do is observe our own thoughts as if they weren’t ours and follow their development. . .  What really spoils our heart is our self-seeking and the search for our own glory.  Those who contemplate God turn away from themselves: they are obliged to forget themselves and lose sight of themselves.  Those who contemplate God do not contemplate themselves!

Of course, we can swing too far in this direction as well . . . refusing to think about what needs sorting out about ourselves.  We can choose to ignore the things we need to work on and we can use the contemplation of God as an excuse.  Balance.  Spiritual and personal maturity always has balance.

Jesus himself spent days in the desert balanced by days wading among the people as he cured and healed them both physically and spiritually.  We can follow his example.  We can set aside a time during our activity-packed day to – as Jeremiah urges – contemplate the evil and good we see around us . . . and to meditate on the goodness of our God whom we call Lord of Hosts.

Dearest, abiding Lord, 

You who are greater than the natural laws, the foundations of the earth and the people . . .

You who are more immense than skies which contain the sun, the moon and the stars . . .

You who stir the waves of the sea to roar, who protects forever his people . . .

You who promise to hold us forever, who forgives us when we turn to you . . .

You maintain the balance of your immense universe yet you remember each one of us each day.

Fortify us in the certainty of your promise . . .

Bless us with the light of your love . . .

Answer us when we invoke your holy name . . .

Bring us the fire of your spirit. Amen.

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 3.1 (2008). Print.  

Click on the shepherd and flock image to find more about God’s covenant with the people.


Exodus 14: Making Pharaoh Obstinate

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nicolas Poussin: The Crossing of the Red Sea

Each time I revisit the Exodus story I puzzle over the fact that God makes Pharaoh obstinate. This seems, at first glance, to be such a childish way to show strength. God determines to set the stubborn Pharaoh as an opponent – which God can do because God is all-powerful. And so Pharaoh sets out with soldiers, horses and chariots

I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.

There would be much less drama in the story of the Red Sea crossing if Pharaoh and his troops were not galloping after the lumbering tribes of Israel. The story would be much less memorable if great walls of water did not destroy the Egyptian cohort. And we would be much less tempted to apply the story to our own lives.

Scholars present various opinions on the accuracy of the Exodus story, but no matter their claims or evidence, we reflect on the accounting of a persistent nation longing to be free cast against a determined ruler who suddenly changes his mind. What does this accounting hold for us? Where do we see ourselves? And how much do we rely on the Lord when we are confronted by overwhelming obstacles?

Today we remember this ancient and familiar story as we find our own place in the tale. We are either the reckless pursuers or the holy faithful. We are either driven by obsession, or led by wisdom and hope. We are either blind followers of power, or seekers of freedom.

Does God call us to obstinacy to crash forward without thinking, or to cross the marsh while trusting in God’s wisdom? Today let us determine to set down our own story of untiring faith and profound hope.

When we use the scripture links to explore differing translations of this story, we find ourselves a

For more on the view that the Red Sea was actually the Sea of Reeds or Reed Sea, visit: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/08/New-Evidence-from-Egypt-on-the-Location-of-the-Exodus-Sea-Crossing-Part-I.aspx#Article

For an information and an opinion piece that Moses and the Hebrews crossed the Lake of Tanis (in the Nile delta) rather than the Red Sea, visit:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/science-red-seas-parting-180953553/  


Ezekiel 34: A Prayer to the Shepherd – A Reprise

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A flock traversing a narrow path in the Caucasus Mountains

God is the first and the last of the Good Shepherds, and we are made in this image. Called by the shepherd, we know what we must do.  We who may be tempted to push with side and shoulder, and butt all the weak sheep with . . . horns until they [are] . . . driven out, must instead follow the voice of the Master Shepherd who guides, heals, unites, brings home, restores, and rejoices with the arrival of each straying sheep.  We are called to follow God’s example as we grow in our skills of shepherding. When we help Christ in the guidance of others, we become a guiding light to others. When we rely on the comfort of the Spirit, we find our way along narrow and dangerous pathways, through ponderous obstacles, and into the one true fold.

And so we pray.

Oh Master Shepherd,

Gather us up,

Gather us in. 

We wander in barren and hostile lands. 

We hear your voice,

We see your face,

We know your touch.

Gather us up.

Gather us in.

We wander in search of something we have lost.

We hear your voice,

We see your face,

We know your love.

 Gather us up,

Gather us in.

We wander seeking your broad shoulders, your strong arms.

 We know your voice,

We know your face,

We know your embrace.

 Gather us up,

Gather us in.

Amen.

To read more about the shepherds of the Tusheti Mountains in the Caucasus Range, click the image or visit: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2017/10/the-shepherds-of-the-tusheti-mountains/544514/

 


Ezekiel 34: Jesus, the Authentic Shepherd – A Reprise

Monday, January 15, 2018

George Vicat Cole: Watching the Flock

Adapted from a reflection written on January 20, 2008, and explored last September. Today we remind ourselves that Jesus is the one, true, timeless and reliable shepherd.

In the New Testament, the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and John describe the Good Shepherd.  We have heard these lines so often that we might be able to recite them from memory.

In Matthew 9 and Mark 6 we read that Jesus sees the people as a shepherd-less flock.

In Matthew 25 and Mark 14, Jesus tells us that the Son of Man will divide his flock as a shepherd does, who knows each sheep well.

In Matthew 26 when Jesus predicts Peter’s denial of him, he uses the metaphor of a shepherd being struck down and the flock scattering.

John in Chapter 10 develops the beautiful imagery of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep . . . I know my sheep and my sheep know me The sheep gate, Jesus, admits only the rightful shepherd.  The hired hand runs away in fear to abandon the sheep to the attack of the wolf.  The Good Shepherd also has sheep in other pens which he must bring into the one fold.

God as shepherd brings us back in peace in the letter to the Hebrews (13:20)

Peter tells us that the Good Shepherd leads the flock to safety, and brings us joy. (2:25 and 5:4).

Finally, in Revelation 7:17 we see Jesus the Lamb as the ultimate shepherd.

All of this is not a coincidence.  The continual reminder of God’s presence in our lives as shepherd through Christ and the holy Spirit are meant to be signs to us.  In today’s reading from Ezekiel we are reminded that false shepherds abound.  They are subtle yet abusive.  Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!  They prey on the weak and lord it over the flock.  They eat the very sheep they are called to protect.  There is also the one, true and constant shepherd who will gather the scattered, who will rid the countryside of ravenous beasts, who will send rain in due season so that the trees might bear fruit.

God asks us these questions through Ezekiel in verse 18: Was it not enough for you to graze on the best pasture, that you had to trample the rest of the pastures with your feet?  Was it not enough for you to drink the clearest water, that you had to fowl the remainder with your feet? 

We know the answers to these questions once we explore scripture. God will judge the lean and the fat.  God, the Ultimate Shepherd, knows each sheep by name.  God, the Good Shepherd, carries the ewes and the lambs in God’s arms.  God, the Protecting Shepherd, defends the sheep from the wolf.  God, the Healing Shepherd, will seek out the lost and the weary.  God, the Abiding Shepherd, will gather us home with all of the faithful flock.

When we compare versions of these verses, we find the shepherd we seek. 

Tomorrow, a prayer to the shepherd.

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