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Archive for June, 2017


Judges 17: What we See as Best

Micah’s Idol

Friday, June 30, 2017

Everyone did what he thought best . . .

A few days ago, a friend sent me a link to an article about the “me generation” and she wrote in her message:  This is really important . . . make sure you click the link in it about
‘moralistic therapeutic deism’   http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/17/the-me-generation/?nl=opinion&emc=tyb1

I followed the link as she suggested and was not surprised to read that many of us have formulated a god that suits our needs rather than search for the God who is the Living God.  Today we read about a man and his mother who struggle to survive in those days when there was no king in Israel and everyone did what he thought best . . .

The HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY tells us something about this brief story. “The strange account begins abruptly with a theft, a curse, and the making of an idol.  From the outset Micah is presented negatively.  He steals a large sum of money from his own mother (eleven hundred pieces of silver is the amount each Philistine had promised Delilah, 16:5) and engages in apparent syncretistic religious practices . . . Although the exact function and nature of all of this ritual paraphernalia [the ephod, etc.] are obscure, there can be no little doubt that the piling up of these terms is meant as ironic disapproval.  The idol, after all, is made from stolen silver; and though Micah’s mother consecrates all of it to the Lord, she obviously keeps the larger portion”. (Mays 236)

From the article link sent by my friend: As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” 2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” 3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” 4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” 5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20050418/moralistic-therapeutic-deism-the-new-american-religion/index.html

As we read from Judges today – a Book that narrates for us the endless cycle of our turning away from God to pagan deities, of suffering and remorse, of repentance, atonement and forgiveness – we cannot help but see the connection with the kind of thinking outlined in the article from the CHRISTIAN POST.  We humans quickly devolve into self-serving creatures when left to our own design; and it is a miracle that our loving and generous God continues to forgive us for our lack of fidelity.

Despite the fact that centuries have passed since the writing of this simple, sad story, we are presented with data suggesting that we have not evolved much spiritually.  We live in those days when there is the rule of God’s kingdom still . . . everyone does what he thinks best.

Let us pray that we see our ways, and then mend what needs mending.

For more about Micah in JUDGES, visit: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/judges/judges-17.html 

Adapted from a reflection written on June 24, 2010.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 236. Print.

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Judges 6: Gideon’s Call

James Tissot: The Angel Puts Fire on the Altar of Gideon

Thursday, June 29, 2017

We have spent several days with this Old Testament Book in which we watch the Israelites enter into a cycle: neglect of their covenant with God, the worship of idols, repentance, a petition to God for help, God’s generous response, silence as God waits for the people to respond. God always sends a hero to save the faithful – and this particular hero is Gideon.

We find the following when we read commentary.

  • God asks Joshua, in the book preceding Judges, to lead the people into the Promised Land and he does.
  • God asks the people to wipe out those who worship pagan idols but they do not; and this sows the seed of future problems.
  • Prior to God’s intercession in the life of the faithful, the people are forced to run away from invading armies and literally “head for the hills” when these invaders arrived with chariots.
  • Once the people share a loving relationship with God, they have a rock of refuge, a bulwark of safety.
  • When the people neglect their relationship with God, the cycle of idol worship begins anew.
  • God always has a hero in mind.
  • God’s silence is the space we are given to respond to God’s deep and abiding love.

God calls Gideon while he is in the middle of his work, and Gideon, like many of those called, has many questions. He wants to understand why and how should go about the work God has in mind. God answers, as God always does, “I will be with you, do not worry.” Gideon praises and worships God when he realizes what is happening, that he will be an instrument of redemption in the people’s cycle of sin and repentance.

Like Gideon, we are likewise fearful in our response to God. We know what we are asked to do; yet frequently we are too frightened to step out of our comfort zone. In the end, however, no find that no other course of action is worth taking.

The story of Gideon also demonstrates for us that silence can be entirely appropriate when it is patient, loving, merciful, and just. A silence that waits, that whispers to the beloved, that calls the beloved back to the covenant, is a silence that heals.

So like Gideon, let us sit beneath our terebinth and call on God. For God will surely answer.

Adapted from a Noontime written on January 31, 2007.

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Judges 9: Abimelech

James Tissot: Abimelech Slays his Seventy Brothers

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

“The fable, one of two examples of that genre in the Bible (see also 2 Kings 14:9; 2 Chronicles 25:18), is strongly antimonarchical.  It illustrates both the folly of kingship (only the worst and least qualified aspire to it) and its dangers (it destroys those who place their reliance on it).  The bramble offers scant shade but is a prime cause of fire (v. 15).  A monarchy founded on murder can come to no good and inevitably will destroy those who support it.  Jotham’s call for the mutual destruction of Abimelech and the Shechemite leaders (v. 20) anticipates their fate”.  (Mays 232)

The Old Testament is full of brutal stories and in nearly all of them – if we can be patient and read far enough – we watch the antagonist implode on him or herself.  In God’s plan and in God’s way the faithful will always be vindicated.  Suffering will take place, violence will happen, but a remnant will remain and goodness will always rise from evil.  Our task is to keep our eyes on Christ who will lead us home.  Our work is to live in the Spirit, for in the Spirit we will struggle, but we will never fail.

James Tissot: Jotham is Saved

This week in Phyllis Tickle’s THE DIVINE HOURS: Prayers for Springtime, this is the prayer we read three times a day.  It is apt for today’s Noontime as we ask God to keep us safe from harm in our brutal and confusing world.  She writes in the first person singular, but when we change to the plural, we might pray it together. (Tickle 599)

Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep us, we pray, from all things that may hurt us, that we, being ready both in mind and body, may accomplish with a free heart those things which belong to your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who live and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.  

Tickle, Phyllis.  THE DIVINE HOURS: PRAYERS FOR SPRINGTIME. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 232. Print.

A Noontime from May 17, 2011.

 

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Judges 21: The Breach

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bridges are to be built over the abysses that separate us.  This is the lesson we learn if we read today’s story carefully.  At first glance it seems as though violence is condoned; God appears to be the castigating all-powerful one; but when we take time to read closely and carefully, and if we use footnotes and commentary, we see something different. Much like the message in Lamentations, we see and hear that in the life of the Kingdom we must learn patience, for the lesson will always arrive.  And so frequently the lesson is the reverse of what we initially thought it might be.  What appears to be forbidden is actually blessed.  What seems to be lost is wonderfully found.  And what we believe to be total chaos settles beautifully into God’s plan.

In today’s Morning Prayer, the psalmist exclaims: O Lord, I will trust in you! (Psalm 55:24 Isaiah pronounces:  It was I who stirred up one for the triumph of justice; all his ways I make level.  He shall rebuild my city and let my exiles go free without price or ransom, says the Lord of hosts.  (Isaiah 45:13)  And in Leviticus 26:13 God reminds us that . . . It is I, the Lord, who brought you out of the land of the Egyptians and freed you from their slavery, breaking the yoke they had laid upon you and letting you walk erect. 

Today’s first reading at Mass is one that I love. (Acts 5:17-26)  It is the beginning of the story of how the Apostles respond to God’s word as they have been called to do.  They are jailed – and they are freed by angels and miracles.  It is a story that reminds us we have nothing to fear.  It is a story that tells us that we survive best by depending on God alone.  And it is a story that shows us how easily the breaches in our lives might be mended if we lived in and for God rather than in and for ourselves.

The people had compassion because the Lord had made a breach . . .

When things look darkest, there is space to find the light.

When life seems horrifying, there is always healing.

When we feel twisted and tortured, there is life anew wrought by transformation.

When breaches appear, let us be patient, let us listen, and let us attend.  Good news always arrives.

The people had compassion because the Lord had made a breach . . .

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 4.5 (2011). Print.  

A Favorite from May 4, 2011.

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Judges 3: Leading in Christ

James Tissot: Othniel

Monday, June 26, 2017

Adapted from a March 23, 2010 Favorite.

The judges in this book “were not magistrates, but military leaders sent by God to aid and to relieve his people in time of external danger.  They exercised their activities in the interval of time between the death of Joshua and the institution of the monarchy in Israel . . . The purpose of this book is to show that the fortunes of Israel depended upon the obedience or disobedience of the people to God’s law.  Whenever they rebelled against him, they were oppressed by pagan nations; when they repented, he raised up judges to deliver them”.  (NEW AMERICAN BIBLE, 217) today we look at the first three judges, Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar.

He raised up for them a savior . . . who rescued them.

James Tissot: Eglon Slain by Ehud

In today’s Gospel we read of an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees.  Their savior stands before them, willing to sacrifice all in order that they believe, in order that they turn back to God to enter willingly into the sheepfold.  Jesus describes the relationship he has with the creator: The one who sent me is with me.  He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him”.  (John 8:29The Pharisees are envious and plot against him; yet many others . . . Because he spoke this way . . . came to believe in him.  (John 8:30

In the time of Judges, the faithful believed that when they went astray they would be punished by God.  In the Gospel of John, we see that when we stray we suffer the consequences that we measure out to other people.  When we isolate or judge wrongly, we suffer the consequence we had meant for another.  When we forgive and seek reunion, we experience the unity Christ offers.

The Pharisees think themselves above the Law because they adhere strictly to the code Moses handed to them; they do not comprehend the New Law of Freedom and Love that Jesus presents to them and which he lives out before them.  It is for this reason that Christ says to them: You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above.  You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world.  That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.  For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.  (John 8:23-24

James Tissot: Shamgar Son of Anath

As we assess where we stand and whether our actions portray our belief in a forgiving, loving creator, we take a moment to re-read stories of long ago heroes: three men who answered God’s call to deliver a nation.  We too, are called in every day ways to lead others to freedom – for in so doing, we free ourselves from the bonds of this world.

Like the judges we read about today, we are called in Christ to become leaders.  We are called to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, and to proclaim liberty to captives.   Like those bystanders who witnessed Jesus’ interchange with the Pharisees, let us come to believe in him, and let us act as if we do.

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Judges 14 and 15: Marrying the Philistine

Sunday, June 25, 2017

José Echenagusía: Samson and Delilah

The Philistines were a war-like tribe of people who came out of the Aegean area as part of the movement of Sea Peoples to end the Hittite rule and to settle along the Mediterranean in the area of Gaza today.  In the Book of Joshua and early in the Book of Judges, we read that Yahweh allows this people to survive so that they might test the Israelites.  Through time, the nation of Israel will have to learn how to co-exist; rather than convert or kill off, this strong-willed pagan people. Some say that the modern Middle Eastern conflict dates back to these early skirmishes, and we can never know this for certain; but here is what we can and do know. This conflict and this story about a man dedicated to God from birth has many surprising twists and turns that all lead to one lesson: We must rely on God alone, no matter the circumstance, no matter the condition. 

From the notes in La Biblia de América we learn the following. Believing that they will obtain the power to decipher Samson’s riddle and somehow control his strength, the Philistines plot to bring him down. But when we examine this story closely, we see that sometimes we too, must marry the Philistine because we never know if this has been brought about by the Lord, who is providing an opportunity against the unholy in our lives who have dominion over our sacred places. 

We might learn something about our fear of failure and rejection when we listen to Jia Jiang’s Ted Talk: What I learned from 100 Days of Rejection at: https://www.ted.com/talks/jia_jiang_what_i_learned_from_100_days_of_rejection

We might also explore Jia Jiang’s book: REJECTION PROOF: HOW I BEAT FEAR AND BECAME INVINCIBLE THROUGH 100 DAYS OF REJECTION: Harmony Books, N.Y.  

LA BIBLIA DE LA AMÉRICA. 8th. Madrid: La Casa de la Biblia, 1994. Print.

For more about the Philistine people, visit: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-philistines 

Adapted from a reflection written on May 8, 2009. 

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Judges 14 and 15: Philistines

Saturday, June 24, 2017 

Alexandre Cabanel: Samson and Delilah

A few days ago we reflected on the story of Samson and Delilah; today’s we consider our lack of understanding that God frequently uses surprising people and circumstances to bring God’s plan to fruition.  In Samson’s early life, we read that he wants to marry a young woman who was not a member of one of the seven non-Israelite tribes with whom the people of Israel were permitted by their Law to marry.  Looking at verse 4, we see that Samson’s desire to marry this young woman is upsetting to his parents – as it would be to a believing Jew – yet it will be used as part of God’s plan to save the faithful.  Now his father and mother did not know that this had been brought about by the Lord, who was providing an opportunity against the Philistines; for at that time they had dominion over Israel.  This story, therefore, today tells us something important which is . . . we never know how or when God will use unexpected people and circumstances in our lives to bring about his plan.  Sometimes we must marry a Philistine. 

The long story of Samson tells us about how people will want to control divinity rather than learn how to be a part of it.  We see in the unraveling of these plots to harness Samson that these people misunderstand how God works.  In the end, the wicked will fall by their own hand, and any harm they have leveled against the faithful will be used for good, but – and this is so important – with the consequences they had planned for others falling on them.

If we are patient, we begin to understand how Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman plays out not only in Samson’s life but in the life of the community as well.  What happens to this woman, what happens to her family, and how Samson arrives at being one of a series of Israelite Judges is a story that unfolds in a string of twisting, unpredictable events.  All of this leads to the saving of a people, a nation, and a way of living that God has marked as special.  These ironies and turnings are not a jumble of calamities; rather, they are God’s plan to open us to eventual results that no one dreams possible . . . except for God and those who believe and trust in God.  Today we see that God makes the impossible possible.

Both this story of the young Samson, and the story of his relationship with Delilah are the same metaphor: Samson poses a riddle and is betrayed by someone whom he loves and trusts; the resulting reprisals end in Samson displaying his trust in God alone.  Even though he may possess the strength of a thousand, only God saves him; he cannot save himself.  Eventually with his death in Gaza, Samson kills more Philistines in one final act than he ever did in his lifetime.

Adapted from a reflection written on May 8, 2009.

Tomorrow, the Philistines in our lives.

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Judges 17: Reward in Due Season

Friday, June 23, 2017

We have just experienced the longest liturgical season of the year, Eastertide.  What will we do with the promise we have been given?  How have we examined ourselves during our Lenten desert passage, what do we do now that we have arrived at the empty tomb? How do we enact the promise of the resurrection?  Do we await the risen Christ who sits with us, dines with us, prays with us and heals us?  Do we take what we believe to be ours by force?  Or worse still, once we see that our apportioned lot has not yet arrived, will we take something from someone else as our determined recompense for what we see as an unjustified lack?  Do we allow our sense of entitlement to cause us to end our Easter joy a bit too soon?  Do we miss the risen Christ because we are busy elsewhere, making certain that “we get what is ours?”

Reward arrives in due season, when at its height to be savored best by those who wait on the Lord.  Humility and a right attitude about who we are in relation to God and to his creatures will discipline the willing heart.  The covenant is renewed.  We already have our reward, although we may not yet see it.  And so we pray for the wisdom to wait, the patience to discern, and the love to abide in Christ Jesus who walks and lives among us.  Rather than rush to the table to take our tribal place higher than what might be ours, let us await the beckoning of the king to seat us at our proper place for he is among us, and he loves us well.   We do best to wait on God’s will, rather than determine our own.

Adapted from a reflection written on April 16, 2009.

To explore different dimensions of humility, click on the image above, or visit: https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/2014/11/04/what-are-different-dimensions-humility/

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Judges 17: The Tribes


Judges 17: The Tribes 

Thursday, June 22, 2017 

The link below will take us to a map of the Middle East at the time of the twelve tribes.  A number of sites might provide similar information, or we might find solid information in a good study Bible map; but no matter the resource, we have an opportunity today to explore our own tribal instincts.

http://www.drshirley.org/geog/geog08.html

It is interesting to see where these families of Jacob settled when they returned from Egypt to cross the Jordan into their promised land.  The Levites, being priests, have no territory; they have 48 cities designated to them.  Joseph’s family has two tribes: Manasseh and Ephraim for his two sons.  The territory each clan is promised is based on the fertility of the land itself so large parcels are less fertile than the smaller ones.  Dan, we see, was never able to occupy the land his tribe was promised in the western portion of the region, so his followers scouted out a suitable city and took it by force.  Some say that this laid a foundation for this tribe’s failure in Judeo-Christian history; however, one thing we can notice is this: even when Israel has finished her desert wanderings and has come home to her promise, she struggles within. She yearns for a king who will bring justice and mercy and true peace to her existence. So might we also struggle once we have passed through a time of trial. So might we also come home from the desert to struggle when we settle into our promise.

From the HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY, page 236.  “The concluding chapters of Judges sound a recurrent theme, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel’ (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) . . . ‘All the people did what was right in their own eyes’.  Neither judges nor deliverers appear in the concluding stories and, significantly, the threat to Israel is no longer external but internal.  Even when no foreign oppressor appears on the horizon, conditions do not improve, for Israel, left to its sinful ways, pursues a course that threatens its political and religious survival”.

Today we see that some of Jacob’s clan have yet to find their places in the promise alongside their brothers and sisters.  And we also see what action they take to rectify this situation.  We might ask ourselves what we would do in their place.

Tomorrow, Judges 17, reward in due season.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 236. Print.

Adapted from a reflection written on April 16, 2009.

 

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