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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

EphraimHighlited[1]John 11

The Raising of Lazarus and the Retreat to Ephraim

We hear and read this story so many times.  It holds the brief verse, “Jesus wept”.  It tells a story which holds so much hope.  It is followed by the simple fact that “Many . . . believed in him.  But some of them went away to tell the Pharisees, and told them the things that Jesus had done . . . So from that day forth their plan was to put him to death”.

We realize that because of this, “Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but withdrew to the district near the desert, to a town called Ephraim; and there he stayed with his disciples. . .”

We see that the chapter closes with these words, “the Pharisees had given orders that, if anyone knew where he was, he should report it, so that they might seize him”.

I am not thinking about the story in this chapter that we know so well, how Jesus calls Lazarus to stand erect and to come forth, which he does.  No, I am thinking about the aftermath of the story, about how the structure plotted against this man who came to release people from bondage and to heal.  When we peek into the next chapter we will see that the Sanhedrin also plans to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus.  They must project their own need to plot and conspire upon these two friends.  I want to focus on the hope-filled story of Lazarus; but I am thinking about how from time to time in my own life, I retreat with Jesus to Ephraim.

I finally came upon a reference to this small town in the HARPER COLLINS NRSV STUDY BIBLE.  In the footnote we are told that its location is uncertain, and we are referred to 2 Samuel 13:23 and 1 Maccabees 11:34.  It may be located near Bethel; it may be the town also known as Aphairema.  Perhaps it is appropriate that we have no clear name and no clear latitude and longitude for this place; because within each of us there is an Ephraim.  Each of us has a quiet place to which we retreat when we have tried to do something good or for which we know we will suffer. (Meeks)

Perhaps it is the instinct for survival in human beings that causes so much anger and jealousy.  Perhaps it is an inborn desire to lay out territory or to strive for fame and wealth.  The temple leaders did not like the fact that Jesus was drawing off revenue when believing Jews turned to him for what the priests could not provide.  We will never truly know what was in the hearts of the men who connived against Jesus rather than offer themselves to him as open, honest and sincere men of God.  We will never know if it was pride, fear, envy, or sloth, but what we do know is that Jesus went with his disciples to Ephraim to recover, to re-group, to regain before he began his pilgrimage into Jerusalem for the last Passover.

So let us come together when we mourn, let us gather to pray when we celebrate, let us set off to Ephraim to find respite with Jesus and the other disciples.  Let us retreat for a while to gather resources before stepping again on the path of the pilgrims who journey to Jerusalem to atone, to repair and to give thanks and celebrate.  Let us find refuge in Ephraim where we know there is safety in the Lord.


Meeks, Wayne A., Gen. Ed. HARPERCOLLINS STUDY BIBLE (NRSV). New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. Print.

Adapted from a reflection written on October 13, 2007.

To read about The Tribe of Ephraim, click on the image above or go to: http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/tribe-of-ephraim.html

To read about Ephraim in scripture, go to: http://topicalbible.org/e/ephraim’s.htm

 

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Saturday, June 20, 2020

headline14[1]Matthew 5:38-48

Vengeance

We hear this message often; yet it cannot be overstated.  True love is one which exacts no payment or punishment.  True love – this Law of Love which Jesus brings to us – does not sink to the depths of the abuser.  My mother was fond of telling us: Do not sink to your opponent’s level.  Be a lady/gentleman.  Do not fight fire with fire.  Kill you enemy with kindness.  My mother was a good shepherd.

Today’s MAGNIFICAT Meditation is entitled “Do you Love Me?” and it is written by Fr. Julián Carrón, a professor of theology at the University of Milan.  He writes: Our astonishment at Christ’s love for each of us dominates our life.  Carrón proposes that there is a nothingness that constantly looms over every man, and that often makes him doubt that there is an answer that corresponds to the need for truth, for beauty, for justice, and for happiness in his heart, because nothing is able to totally fascinate him for long.  Carrón writes that once God becomes overwhelming attractive to us, we begin to understand and even feel the depth of this kind of love born of suffering, resurrection and restoration.  This is a love which cannot be turned away, nor can it be extinguished.  God’s holiness reveals itself as a passionate love for his people [and] . . . all man’s frailty, his betrayal, all the dreadful possibilities of history are traversed by that question put to Peter on the lake that morning [after his resurrection], “Do you love me?”

How much do we love God?  Enough to give up our petty fascination with payback and vengeance?  Enough to feed his sheep?  Enough to petition for our abusers?

Peter replies to Christ’s question:  Yes, Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.  Carrón writes: In this free “yes” of the creature, in every circumstance of life, the glory of God echoes and is at work.

Imagine if we all might put aside our personal hurts – knowing that God knows all – and allow Christ to mediate our disagreements and our battles.  Imagine what a world it might be.  Imagine what happiness we might find.

When we say yes to putting aside our desire to retaliate, we give God our own YesThe nothingness that constantly looms over every one of us is dispelled.  And we begin to know the depths of a true love which does not tolerate or even recognize the desire to take revenge.

As we ponder what to do about those who scheme against us at work or even at home, as we contemplate how God stands plots on their heads to bring goodness out of harm, as we consider that every lesson the Spirit teaches is about inversion, we might want to take Jesus’ advice to us and pray for those who seek our end rather than ask for revenge.  And as my mother so often reminded us when we struggled with praying for those negative or dangerous people who came into our own lives, we might want to begin by killing them with our kindness.


Image from: http://www.whatdidjesussay.com/14-anyone-can-love-their-friends-love-your-enemies-and-pray-for-them-jesus/

Adapted from a reflection written on May 29, 2009.

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 29.5 (2012). Print.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Biliverti: The Archangel Raphael Refusing Tobias' Gift

Giovanni Biliverti: The Archangel Raphael Refusing Tobias’ Gift

Tobit 12

Raphael Makes Himself Known

This beautiful story comes to us today to remind us that we need to make known the many small miracles we receive from God.  Each time God inverts a plot, we must share the story.  Each time God saves us from our own fears we must tell the good news.  Each time God heals a wounded heart we must make God’s goodness known.

We have read this story before but today we find something new.

Verse 6: Raphael called the two men aside privately and said to them: “Thank God! Give him the praise and glory.  Before all the living, acknowledge the many good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song.  Honor and praise God’s deeds and do not be slack in praising him”.

The healing hand of God manifests itself frequently in our lives through strangers.  When Tobit and Tobias wish to give a monetary reward to Tobias’ traveling companion for all the healing he has done in their lives, the Archangel Raphael reveals himself . . . and rather than take payment, asks them to praise God who has answered their cry for help and has rescued them.

Verse 10: But those habitually guilty of sin are their own worst enemies.

We are reminded that when we sin, we are separating ourselves from God and hurting ourselves.  The first step toward healing is recognizing that we are human and imperfect . . . and acknowledging that God is all and that God alone is enough.

Verse 14: . . . and now the Lord has sent me to heal you.

We can heal one another and in so doing also heal ourselves . . . and act as co-redeemers of the human race with Christ.  For we are adopted daughters and sons of God.

Verses 17 and 18: And Raphael said to them: “No need to fear.  You are safe.  Thank God now and forever.  As for me, when I came to you it was not out of any favor on my part, but because it was God’s will.  So continue to thank him every day; praise him with song”. 

Fear not . . . these are the same healing words which Jesus speaks.

Verse 22: They kept thanking God and singing his praises; and they continued to acknowledge these marvelous deeds which he had done when the angel of God appeared to them.

Let us proclaim all God’s wonderful works for God has sent angels to minister to us even though we might not see them.  Let us tell everyone we know the stories of our own healing for these are miracles performed for us by a loving God.  And let us remember to thank God for all that God does to heal us of all that limits us.


For more about Raphael, Tobit or Tobias, enter their names in the blog search bar and reflect on the gift of this story.

Adapted from a reflection written on January 2, 2008.

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

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees

James Tissot: Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees

Luke 5:33-6:11

Questions

I am always fascinated by the questions posed to Jesus . . . and the manner in which he answers these questions.  The Pharisees and scribes whom he condemns as vipers are anxious to depose this man.  They are jealous of his authenticity and his authority.  They want him gone.

Last week we examined how to react and pray for the plotters and schemers who want to undermine us and even eradicate us.  Today we watch Jesus as he combats his foes with the simplest of techniques . . . with questions.

Jesus so often answers his inquisitors’ demands with questions of his own.  He also uses the parables with which we are familiar, stories with simple images like putting new wine into old skins.  His words are plain and simple enough for the people of his day to understand . . . and they are also eternal so that we might understand his meaning two thousand years later.  Jesus’ words are also universal.  They create pictures that humans will comprehend.  He invites.  He calls.  He brings the Old Testament scriptures to life as he describes the desperation of David’s plight when he and his men eat the bread of offering in 1 Samuel 21.  Jesus makes a connection between himself and David by using a simple rabbinic method of mentioning a well-known scripture story to pertain to a present situation.  Jesus was, in fact, a wonderful teacher.

The questioners described by Luke in today’s reading do not understand that God has come to live among us in human form.  They do not see that Jesus fulfills their hopes and prophecies.  Jesus is the Sabbath . . . and they do not revere him . . . they trump up charges against him . . . they became enraged and together discussed what they might do to Jesus.

Yesterday’s MAGNIFICAT reflection was from St. John of the Cross and it concerned why we undergo trial.  He writes: The reason trials are necessary . . . is that highest union cannot be wrought in a soul that is not fortified by tribulations, darknesses, and distress, just as a superior quality liqueur is poured only into a sturdy flask which is prepared and purified . . .  A man should hold in esteem the interior and exterior trials God sends him, realizing that there are few who merit to be brought to perfection through suffering and to undergo trials for the sake of so high a state.  For God repays the interior and exterior trials very well with divine goods for the soul and body, so that there is not a trial which does not have a corresponding and considerable reward.

In today’s story we can feel the resentment building among Jesus’ enemies and, of course, we know the end of the story.  We know that they win . . . but they lose.  We know that they are in power . . . but have no power.  We know that they are full of themselves . . . and empty of God.  We see their opposite in Jesus who stands quietly to answer their questions . . . who calls them to unity, to hope and to love . . . who waits patiently, who replies calmly, who endures endlessly.

In today’s story, who are we?  The Pharisees . . . or the expression of God among us?  And how have we decided to question our own inquisitors?


Image from: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/4550

Adapted from a reflection written on February 11, 2008.

Cameron, Peter John, ed. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 1.21 (2008). Print.  

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Monday, June 15, 2020

cloths-jesus[1]Micah 2

Plotting Against God’s Will

Those who have plots schemed against them will always find themselves in good company.  The Pharisees and the Jewish religious structure created and fomented plots first against Jesus and then against Jesus’ disciples because these speakers of truth threatened their power, their livelihood, and the supreme control they held over the lives of so many.  And this is what Micah offers us today: when the plotters spend time on their couches planning division and revenge, they do not see that they weave the schemata for their own downfall.

Frequently when we read the Gospels a story about Jesus ends with the line . . . and they went away plotting to silence him . . . to imprison him . . . to stone him . . . to do away with him.  When we read Acts, we find the same wording appearing in the stories of Peter, Paul and anyone who continues to bring love and healing to the poor in spirit, to the lame, and to the blind.  These loyal followers of Jesus – and we can count ourselves as companions of Christ – also have those who plot to bring about our fall.

We have observed recently that in the story of Esther we see Haman construct a gallows in front of his house so that he can watch the execution of the Jewish people.  Haman and his entire family die on that gallows.  In the Book of Judith Holofernes suffers the end he plans for the people of Bethulia.  God’s presence in these plots and the willingness of these two women to act in accordance with God makes holy acts of these schemes for evil.

This idea that intrigue will always be planned against the faithful sends us to a concordance where we find in the book of Proverbs a warning against plotting against the neighbor who lives trustfully near you (3:29), for this indicates deceit in the heart (12:20), leads us further astray (14:22), and puts us in the company of evil people (24:2).

In Psalms 2, 21, 31, 35, 37, 38, 64, 83 and 85 there are warnings against plotting and scheming in vain, creating terror on every side, slandering, gnashing teeth, and forming unholy alliances.

The prophet Nahum tells us that whatever the evil plot, the Lord will bring it to an end; and in the book of Nehemiah is the story of how Yahweh foils a plot against those who rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem.

Over and over in scripture we read stories of how the deceitful are brought down by their own machinations; and in our own lives we see this happen endlessly.  What is it about our narrow field of vision that does not permit humans to respond as we should to the obstacles in our path?  What is it that lures us into dark deceptive paths rather than join Christ in the journey of light for which we are made?  Why does division and power seem so appealing when in truth it is unity and collegiality that most reflect God’s plan?  Why do we covet so often, create illusion so well, and delight in working out evil on our couches?  If it is difficult to understand this darkness and those who delight in controlling us, we are in good company and despite the suffering we endure this is what we ultimately know – for we have been told so often: God assembles the faithful and this remnant will not be panicked; the shepherd will put away all anxiety; we will rejoice in hope and flourish in love.  This is God’s will.  This is God’s plan.

Tomorrow, a prayer to endure the work of plotters and schemers.


Adapted from a reflection first written on February 12, 2008.

Image from: http://www.jesus-story.net/peter_and_john.htm

For more on Esther and Judith, enter their names into the blog search bar and explore . . .  

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Tissot: The False Witness

James Tissot: False Witness before Caiaphas

Luke 22 – The Plot to Kill Jesus

Over and over again we read frightening lines like this one: The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.   The leaders see that they will lose influence and power because to Jesus offers compassion and healing to those who suffer.  The leaders also worry that Jesus’ actions might attract the attention of the overlord Romans, and they do not want to encourage another Jewish rebellion.  They search for a way to do away with this troublesome rabbi who asks piercing questions.  Jesus – who presents a way of finding timeless peace and healing restoration – is eliminated by those who offer far less.  The paradox is that this cornerstone that is rejected becomes a salvific force which redeems not only friends but enemies – if only these adversaries might put down their weapons and return to the goodness to which they are called.

Today we continue with our theme of dark schemes and wicked conspirators, and we look at how events around Jesus’ last hours unwind . . .

While Jesus and his followers prepare for Passover, the shadowy plot of murder unwinds; these two activities coil around one another in a twisting dance of darkness and light.  This serves to remind us that in this world goodness and evil often walk side by side unremarked . . . almost accepted.  We fool ourselves into believing that all around us must be perfect.  Who is the reaper who knows to sort the grain from the chaff?

A foreshadowing of Peter’s denial sends a frisson of consciousness through us . . . we too have denied Christ when we are under pressure.  Jesus reminds us that we need nothing for our journey save his protection and guidance.  We fool ourselves into believing that we make our own way and earn our own bread. Who is the source of our talents?

Jesus prays.  Judas betrays.  The faithful scatter.  The powerful take over.  The odd dance of inversion continues as those with arms believe themselves to be the strongest.  We fool ourselves into believing that we can exert pressure to win arguments by overwhelming knowledge when overwhelming goodness is the true strength.  Who allows himself to be made weak so that he might be strong in the creator?

Arrest, denial, rejection.  Jesus stands innocent before Pilate and Herod.  He is beaten and sentenced to death.  He carries his cross, he is crucified and dies . . . and he awaits the resurrection he has been promised by the Father.  We fool ourselves into believing that this story was lived once by a man two thousand years ago.  Who suffers each day with each of his billions of sisters and brother?

There is no plot Jesus does not comprehend.  There is no darkness he has not experienced.  There is no pain he has not suffered.  There is no mockery, no betrayal, no rebuffing, no murder he has not survived.  Jesus experiences all, and Jesus wants to save and restore all . . . if we only rely on him.

When the situation is bleakest, when the plot is thickest, when the hour is darkest . . . this is where Christ stands.  This is where he waits . . . for he knows that we will need him because we take nothing else with us on this journey – no purse, no bag, no sword.  We take only Christ, for he is all we need against any evil, against any plot . . . against even murder.


Adapted from a Noontime written on November 18, 2009. 

Image from: http://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/tis-trial-caiaphas/

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Thursday, June 13, 2020

Jeremiah 12

Plots of Darkness

The prophecy of Jeremiah is a strong one and in chapter 12 we see the prophet exchanging frank words with the creator.  He enters into a dialog in which he tells God that he is unhappy because while he obeys God and abides in faithfulness the wicked prosper.  Jeremiah – the innocent lamb – works hard at doing as God asks yet he is surrounded and attacked by those who lay plots of darkness to bring about his end.  Jeremiah’s enemies, the people of Anathoth, are his own family and friends (Meeks 1136-1137) and the reason for their persecution of Jeremiah is unclear.  The point is that the prophet suffers at the hands of those who ought to be living in concord with him, and who ought to be joining him in performing good works to live in and with God.  We might find ourselves in similar situations today when those closest to us betray us, seek our end, and seem to prosper all the while.

Thomson: Anathoth

John Thomson: Anathoth

God’s response is typical of the Old Testament in that it has words of violence and revenge yet the seeds of optimism.  The New Testament, as we often remind ourselves during our Noontime reflections, is one of forgiveness and hope.  The idea of resurrection does not occur in Jewish sacred scripture until the second century before Christ in the book of Daniel, but here with Jeremiah’s second lament (the first is in chapter 11) we see the beginnings of Jesus’ message of freedom and restoration.  In verses 14 through 17 God speaks of having pity and of bringing back those who repent.  This is a clear indication that God’s hope and God’s power to restore know no bounds.  And it is a message to us today that we might try to strive for the same level of union with all . . . even those who have sought our end.

As Saint Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5:11: Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them.  And we might add . . . and let God handle them.  As we have reflected often, the hardest work for any of us is this . . . to pray for those who have damaged us.  God expects us to ask for the impossible and we delight God when we seek intervention on behalf of those who do us harm because God knows that the dark depths of evil plots are beyond our skill level.  God wants to help us and so we pray . . .

Dearest God whose love knows no bounds, you are willing to seek, to call, to forgive and to heal.  You want to mend each of us in order that we might unite ourselves with you and with one another.  Bring us the gift of humility, the grace of peace, the steadfastness of faith, the passion of hope and the touch of your love.  Allow us to express our fears and doubts and anger with you.  Let us speak about the plots of darkness that frighten us and then . . . call us back . . . calm our hearts . . . restore our spirit . . . and carry us home with you.  Amen. 


Adapted from a Noontime written on September 1, 2009.

Meeks, Wayne A., Gen. Ed. HARPERCOLLINS STUDY BIBLE (NRSV). New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. Print.

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Friday, June 12, 2020

Francesco del Cairo: Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Francesco del Cairo: Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Judith 12:16Holofernes’ Banquet

As we continue our series of reflections on the nature of schemers and their plots, how to avoid them and how to rebuke those who lie on couches to conspire, we return to the story of Judith.

Holofernes is a man accustomed to using power and he also knows how to bide his time, lay traps, and bring others into his schemes.  What he has never encountered in his powerful life is a woman who is as beautiful, God-centered, and determined as Judith. And Holofernes’ lust is no match for Judith’s constant, prayerful attendance on God.  This story is worth reading from beginning to end but if there is time for only one verse, it is 12:16 for it teaches us how to deal with schemers, seducers and plot-builders.

“The story of Judith is full of unexpected turns.  The first and most obvious . . . was that a woman – and not a man – saved Judah in its time of severe distress.  Judith is more faithful and resourceful than any of the men of BethuliaShe is more eloquent than the king and more courageous than any of the leading citizens of the city, yet Judith is a very unlikely heroine”.  (Senior RG 213)

The story of Judith is full of the detail which we might overlook if we rush through the reading; and it is the kind of detail that a good writer uses to describe the depth of one’s personality, the reason for one’s perversion, the cause of one’s sociopathy.  It is the kind of writing which brings us up sharply when we experience the shuddering reality that human beings often spend more time trying to lure others into a personal agenda than they do honestly working at the task God assigned to them.  The image of this man “burning with desire . . . yet biding his time” is one that haunts me.  I cannot shake it.  And it returns in the written word on a day like most others  . . . packed with activity . . . with so little time for reflection about what is real and not real.

This story tells of how God delivers the faithful through a crushing crisis . . . and how God does this through a woman.  The Reader’s Guide of the CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE tells us that Judith destroys the enemy not through might but by “her beguiling charm and disarming beauty.  The Bible sometimes portrays a woman’s beauty negatively as a snare, but here it is the means of deliverance”.  (Senior RG 213)

And so we hear this story which has been retold so many times through history and in so many ways.  It is a story that teaches us how to combat the lavish allure of the banquets staged by those who plot against innocents and of a woman who answers God’s call with the only tools left to her.  It is a story rife with irony and inversion.  It is a story of how God moves in our lives if we but allow God to enter.

May we all take a lesson from Judith.


To see and study more paintings of  Judith and Holofernes, visit: https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/best-judith-head-holofernes-paintings/

To read more Noontimes reflections on Judith, enter her name in the blog search bar, seek . . . and find.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.RG 213. Print.   

Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Judith_with_the_Head_of_Holofernes,_by_Francesco_del_Cairo,_c._1633-1637,_oil_on_canvas_-_John_and_Mable_Ringling_Museum_of_Art_-_Sarasota,_FL_-_DSC00631.jpg

A Favorite from October 3, 2007. 

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Monday, June 8, 2020

the bread of lifeNumbers 11

A Prayer for the Discontented

The Hebrew people have escaped slavery and tyranny.  They have followed Moses out of bondage and moved toward freedom and promise.  When the journey becomes too long and too arduous they grumble and complain.  They who had been hopeful and even joyful at the prospect of change and newness are now disgruntled, unhappy and even resentful.  They complain to Moses who does what all faithful do . . . he takes his problem to God where all solutions lie.

We see a reprise of this story later in the New Testament.  As the kingdom work begins to build, Jesus assembles seventy-two disciples to go out into the world when the harvest is plenty but the workers few.  (Luke 10)  Still later when the fledgling Church begins to form, the disciples add to their ranks in order that they accomplish the work they see before them because it would not be right to neglect the ministry of the word of God. (Acts 6)  The work becomes arduous, even difficult, and so the apostles ask for help.

Jesus tells us that we are to knock at the door we wish might open to us.  He reminds us that we are to seek so that we might find.  (Luke 9 and Matthew 7)  We are never left alone to deal with our stumbling blocks and in fact these obstacles become doorways and windows onto our best potential as creatures of God.  They are reminders that God is always present, always abiding.  These “problems” in our lives are actually openings to a deeper relationship with God.

As we journey through life we often find ourselves needing more than manna; we discover that the taste of the daily quail has somehow soured and rather than sustain us these birds have now become the root of our discontentment.  We are tempted to ask for more than manna and quail and we do not see that this further complicates our problems.  We do not see that we must ask God to show us solutions to our problems that lead us to grow and mature in Christ.  So, rather than carry our burdens on our own, let us tell God that some of our load is too much to carry, and when we do we will find that from the depths of his descent into darkness Jesus returns to free us from all that enslaves us.  Jesus arrives to carry us forward.  Jesus abides with us always, just as has been promised, to bring us to our best selves. 

When find that we have begun to settle into our discontentment as a kind of familiar unhappiness, let us ask ourselves these questions.  What do we seek more than the manna we receive daily?  Are we willing to open ourselves so that our too-heavy load might actually be an answer to a prayer that is shared in God’s light?  Are we willing to give up the habit of our discontentment for the promise of freedom offered by God?

And let us pray . . .

Kind and loving God, you sustain us through all turmoil even though we may not see you.

Just and merciful God, you transform our suffering even though we may fail to call on you.

Patient and wonderful God, you allow us to grumble and complain even when we need to celebrate with you.

Loving and generous God, show us how our discontentment may lead us back to you.  Amen.


Image from: http://www.newbeginningscctampa.org/Bread_of_Life.html

Adapted from a reflection written on April 23, 2011.

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