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Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2020

Jeremiah 14:20-27: Jerusalem’s Disgrace

The remains of the southern wall of Jerusalem's Temple

The remains of the southern wall of Jerusalem’s Temple

Jerusalem, a city of promise, the holy city of God.  She has so much potential.  And she has so far to fall.  Today Jeremiah reminds us that deceit and envy will always snuggle into comfort and ease.  When we find ourselves with no problems to solve, my parents often said, we know that we do not have long to wait . . . trouble has a way of finding good fortune.

Some of the imagery in today’s reading is difficult to read and even more difficult to envision.  The image of Israel’s skirts being torn away when she is violated is such a strong one.  The idea that a flock has been entrusted to a shepherd who then abuses that trust is so insidious yet these actions play out more often than we like to think.  The realization that nothing we do is done in private is stark in these verses.  We cannot run.  We cannot hide.  As Mother and Dad always said: The truth always comes out in the end.

Yet we continue to delude ourselves and just when we are offered so much promise.  Easter with all its possibilities, draws near.  We have spent nearly forty days examining and prodding ourselves into admitting what we must change and yet we ramble forward, hoping that no one will notice that we haven’t.  How do we moderate our poor behavior?

By gently but firmly rebuking that which is secretive, that which dissembles, hides, colludes, becomes submissive because we fear someone’s anger, rejection, ridicule or abandonment.  In my extended family we have tried to live by doing not what others expect of us but rather by doing what God expects.  It is not always easy.  We need not fight, nor do we need go along with the crowd but what we must do, to the best of our abilities, is “the right thing”.

We pause over the last lines:

Your adulteries, your neighing, your shameless prostitutions: 

On the hills in the highlands I see these horrible crimes of yours.

Woe to you, Jerusalem, how long will it yet be before you come clean!

Jerusalem has so much potential and in Jeremiah today we hear a prediction of woe to come.  We only need read ancient history to know that the destruction predicted will indeed arrive.   If only Jerusalem might repair and reform.  If only Jerusalem might stand and declare what she knows to be right and good and true.

When things got a bit turbulent my Dad would always say: “Sometimes it is stand up time!”  He would elaborate: “The right thing sometimes is the lonely thing.  You might find that you are the only person in an ocean of people who has the courage to stand and be counted.  If you talk with your Creator and have heard his advice . . . and if the advice is to ‘stand up and be counted’, then you best not be found sitting down”.

Sometimes it is stand-up time.  Oh Jerusalem!  If only you might stand!


Image from: http://www.jabberwocky.com/photo/israel/jerusalem.html

First written on December 10, 2007.  Edited and posted today as a Favorite.

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

Acts 21A Prayer as We Go Up to Jerusalem

Walls of Jerusalem

Walls of Jerusalem

For the last few days we have explored the journey we make individually and collectively as we ascend to God’s holy place.  We have examined ourselves to see how and if and why we might want to go up to Jerusalem.  We have determined that the journey is arduous and requires much of us.  And we have decided to join others in this pilgrim march.

And so we pray . . .

Good and gracious God,

We know that we must all go up to Jerusalem to meet you despite and even through the conflict – because there is something in Jerusalem which is far better than anything we can imagine.  Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what you have ready for those who love you, St Paul tells the Corinthians and he tells us this today; he gathers himself and the other disciples to go to meet you despite the strife which lies ahead.

We know that we must all go up to Jerusalem because we can do nothing else, we can take no other action, we can join no other cause that will bring us as much as you want to bring to us.  We must stay and stand . . . and shirk away from no cross.

We know that we must all go up to Jerusalem for that is where we meet you, God.  There are many directions from which to travel, many roads on which to journey, many people with whom to travel, but travel we must because it is the only destination worth seeking and the only road worth traveling.

We know that we must all up to Jerusalem in joy and anticipation for there is no greater delight, no greater happiness than the gladness that you have in mind for us.

As we move through Lent toward Palm Sunday to begin Holy Week when we celebrate your entrance into Jerusalem, we want to go up to Jerusalem for there is no other place to go, no other place we want to be.

Call us to you. Take us with you. Hold us close despite the trials of the journey . . . for we know that we must all go up to Jerusalem.  Amen.


Paul to the people of Corinth at: 1 Corinthians 2:9 

To learn more about Jerusalem, visit Victor’s Place blog and read the Up to Jerusalem post at: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/up-to-jerusalem-november-10/

For more Jerusalem photos, click on the image above or go to: http://www.jabberwocky.com/photo/israel/jerusalem.html

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Acts 21:27-36: Going Up to Jerusalem – Part III

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

To give James and the Jerusalem Jewish Christians their due, they are able to come to an agreement with Paul; but as we follow this story we see that Paul is meant to run into a huge struggle.  He is finally arrested and taken to Rome for his trial and with this single action, the Roman Empire catapults this young religion onto the world stage.  The little-known Jewish sect of the followers of The Way spreads Christ’s message through the Empire.  Jesus becomes a household word and the Way of Peace and Peace-Making suddenly has a universal audience because of Paul’s strife.  There is irony in this story . . . and inversion.

The controlling Jewish leaders meant to stop this movement at its inception, but if we remember the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5:34-42 we will understand that God always works through irony and inversion.  Gamaliel was the most respected scholar and leader of the times.  Paul himself studied with this rabbi.  The writer of Acts records these words of Gamaliel, and they are words we might try to live by daily: In the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone!  Let them go!  For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.

Many times in scripture we encounter this theme:  The faithful need not fight, they only need to maintain their relationship with God and refuse to do anything which causes them to abandon God . . . and it is always the struggle that brings strength, it is always the conflict that teaches patience, it is always the skirmish that draws others to God’s loving providence.  There will be difficulty when we go up to Jerusalem but still we must go.

We must all go up to Jerusalem.  We must stand for something.  We must witness, watch and wait.  We must allow the Holy Spirit to put the words we need into our mouths when we fear speaking.  We must cease worrying about the anxieties and cares of this world.  We must remain committed to the relationships we make.  We must seek and form unity rather than separation.  We must think of self last and neighbor first.  We must pray and intercede for those who harm us.  We are to commit daily acts of hope when we see the impossibilities of this life swirl around us trying to pull us into a vortex of depression and hopelessness.  We are to act with justice rather than leniency.  We are to rebuke Godlessness.  We are to be merciful to all – especially those who seek our destruction.  We are to forgive endlessly, to love infinitely and to hope outrageously.  For this we are created.  To this we are called.  Our God seeks nothing but intimacy with all of us.

God perseveres.  God endures.  God is patient.  God is love.  And this God of Love calls us all to go up to Jerusalem.

Jesus lived.  Jesus died.   Jesus rose.  Jesus returned.  Jesus lives.  And Jesus calls us all to go up to Jerusalem.

Tomorrow: A Prayer as we go up to Jerusalem.


Image from: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jerusalem-garden-tomb

To learn more about Jerusalem, visit Victor’s Place blog and read the Tomb of Jesus post at: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/at-the-tomb-of-jesus-november-14/

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Acts 21:17-26Going Up to Jerusalem – Part II

Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing (Saints Peter and Paul)

Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing (Saints Peter and Paul)

In the Book of Acts we see the Jerusalem Jewish Christians struggle with the established, powerful Old Guard structure.  The upstart religious sect condemns the established organization for its corruption, its desire to control, and its refusal to hear the word of God as expressed in the person of Jesus.  Ironically, Paul comes to these same early Christians to tell them that he has spoken with the risen Christ and the young church nearly rejects Paul’s message.  They become just like the Pharisees and Sadducees before them and initially they put aside the Jesus message which Paul brings.  Providentially they realize that Paul is genuine and they agree on a solution to their conflict.  A good study Bible with reliable commentary will walk you through the twists and circles of those disagreements but today we look at this point: unity is achieved in the early church because of the conflict through which they struggle; this early conflict in which they find common ground does not weaken them but rather it strengthens their tiny movement.

How many times does this happen to us?  How many times do we do precisely what we condemn others for doing?  How many times does a revolution take place only to be followed by a punitive system set up by the rebels who fought in the name of freedom?  How many times do we miss one screaming arrow only to run into another?  And how many times do we classify conflict as a struggle to be won, rather than an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and others?

We have begun our annual ascent to Jerusalem and we have heard grumblings among the various pilgrim groups with which we journey.  We have embarked on a journey of forty days saying that we want to strip away all that distracts us from communing with God.  We have fasted, prayed, given alms, and sought answers to piercing questions . . . and we have avoided conflict whenever it presents itself.

As the story in Acts tells us today, we will encounter obstacles even on pilgrimage when we have put all of our best intentions forward and brought all of our best efforts to bear.  And rather than ignore, fear, or skirt around these barriers we need to examine them closely, seek wider commentary, ask God for wisdom, and then come to an agreement about how we might remove the hurdle from our common path.  We know that Jesus’ family traveled up to Jerusalem with other families so that they might be safe from bandits and marauders along the way.  Surely they did not all agree on where to stop for the night, which river crossing was best, or who ought to choose which turning to take at the crossroad; yet somehow they arrived.  And so must we.

We are travelling up to Jerusalem today.  Let us embrace the conflicts we encounter.  Let us listen to one another.  And let us remember that unity born of conflict can strengthen a tiny bad of sisters and brothers when we seek the common good and rely on God.

Tomorrow: A world-wide church is born out of an arrest.


For more on the conflict between Paul and Peter, click on the image above or go to: http://timgombis.com/2011/07/24/was-paul-a-doctrinal-watchdog/

To learn more about Jerusalem, visit Victor’s Place blog and read the November 13 post on exploring the city at: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/exploring-jerusalem-november-13/

Today’s post is part of the December 16, 2007 Noontime reflection.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Acts 21:17-26Going Up to Jerusalem: Part I

Over the last seven days we have spent time with a number of people who were with Jesus in his final hours.

Today we begin a series of reflections about the place where this amazing story took place, Jerusalem, the sacred city of the Jewish people, the holy place of God.

jerusalem model

As I understand the expression, all Jews go up to Jerusalem because it is the holy mount – and the temple is placed on the bit of elevation which there is in the city.  Therefore, whether arriving from north, south, east or west, all Jews go up to Jerusalem.  We see Paul, Luke and other Jesus followers go up to Jerusalem to stay with Mnason the Cyriot, a disciple of the Christ, and to meet and speak with James – the leader of the church in this capital city and by most accounts, the brother of Jesus.  What follows in today’s reading is a bird’s eye view into one of the early church conflicts.

Paul has met with Jesus – the details of this encounter are outlined in various places in Acts and in his epistles and a good study Bible will lead you through those readings – and he tells everyone that he has been called by the Christ to spread the good news about the universal salvation which is available to all human beings.  The Christian Jews have a problem with this – and there is irony in this story for me – they realize, know, understand and act on the idea that they are the new church, fulfilling the new covenant through Christ, replacing the Old Guard of the temple Pharisees, being co-executors with God of the plan that we see initiated in Genesis 1.  These Jerusalem Jewish Christians see that a new Way must replace the old one – the New Law which has been written on hearts will replace and fulfill the Old Law which was written on stone tablets.  They also believe that the only way to attain the salvation promised by Jesus is first through the Mosaic or Old Law, and then through the New.  The irony here is that they wrangle with the Pharisees and Sadducees (the former believe in keeping themselves separate, apart and pure while the later do not believe in resurrection or life after death) who maintain a strangle-hold control over the temple, its rites and monies.  This Old Guard of aristocratic Jews believe that they are to continue to control the Jewish church structure and they will do this by jettisoning the important message which Jesus brings: the New Law of Love which does not rely on the temple structure, the rites and the cash.

The Jewish Old Guard sees their control of power, prestige and money falling away because if this new Law of Love is true, each human now has a direct link to God through the resurrected man Jesus.  The Old Guard is no longer needed in their role as intercessor.  Of course they prefer the Old Testament God of separation from the unclean, maintenance of outward signs of purity, and demanding adherence to temple rituals to this New Testament God of personal intimacy, maintenance of both outward and inner purity, and a freedom to worship in the interior temple which we are to prepare and maintain through a lifetime.  They prefer the structure over which they have control to the one over which they have none and in which each person finds his or her own relationship with God through a life of prayer and living in unity with all.  They fear the presence of Jesus resurrected, of Christ’s Mystical Body.

Tomorrow: Unity achieved through conflict . . . when we go up to Jerusalem


Image from: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/where-did-it-happen/

To learn more about Jerusalem and the many places that tell the stories of Jesus’ last days, visit Victor’s Place blog and read journey back through this pilgrim’s journal as we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  

Today’s post is part of the December 16, 2007 Noontime reflection.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

John 7:40-53: The Crowd

Munkácsy Mihály: Ecce Homo

Munkácsy Mihály: Ecce Homo

From yesterday’s MAGNIFICAT mini-reflection: God takes an odd vengeance on Jesus’ human enemies: he offers them eternal life, if only they will hear and see the truth of the one they pursue with such anger. 

With the election of Francis as Roman Catholic Pope, God invites us to explore the Easter message; with Jorge Bergoglio’s elevation to a major public stage we have the opportunity to react to our human dichotomous past and present.  Traitor, saint, collaborator, kingdom-builder . . . we have no way of knowing what Bergoglio’s heart hides or holds.  We have no way of hearing the man’s dialogs with God.  We have no way of living the man’s hopes and fears.  What we do have is the message of Christ brought to us in yesterday’s readings for Mass.  We will want to spend time with them today.

Jeremiah 11:18-20 begins with: I knew their plot because the Lord informed me; at that time you, O Lord, showed me their doings.  We must not allow our fears and anxieties to frighten us away from loving as God loves – with full and open heart – with full and open forgiveness – with full and open return for us, his prodigal daughters and sons.

Psalm 7: O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and rescue me, lest I become like the lion’s prey, to be torn to pieces, with no one to rescue me.  Our greatest dread is loss – of self, of reputation, of appearance, of control, of comfort, of relationships, of God.  Yet the only loss that is serious is loss of our relationship with God . . . which we forfeit when we turn away.  God never leaves us; God is always waiting for our return no matter the circumstances of our leaving.

John 7:40-53 begins: Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said. “This is truly the Prophet”.  Others said, “This is the Christ”.  But others said, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he? . . . So a division occurred in the crowd because of him.  Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. 

This week we have spent time with the different people who were with Jesus in the last hours before his death and we have looked at the story of the Passion from various perspectives and angles.  Today we reflect on these readings to see where we might be standing in the final crowd that follows and hounds Jesus.  Are we for or against him?  Do we reject or adore?  Do we observe or act?

What circumstances chaff at us?  What situations chill us?  What surrounding conditions irritate us?  What people annoy or terrify or inspire us? What motivates us to stand or hide, to collaborate or sacrifice?  What fears and hopes drive us?  What hates or loves move us?

God takes an odd vengeance on Jesus’ human enemies: he offers them eternal life, if only they will hear and see the truth of the one they pursue with such anger. 

A new Holy Father steps forward to lead.  What was his past?  What is his present? What might be his future?  Only God knows.  And this God is such a generous God that any vengeance exacted will be the offer of eternal life.  May Jorge Bergoglio, and may we in the crowd, go to God with all our questions.  May the new Pope, and may we in the crowd, hear and act on The Word as Christ did as we move through each day.  And may the Holy Father, and we in the crowd, all live in The Spirit of mercy, compassion, justice and forgiveness on this, our Lenten journey.  May we love as God loves . . . for it is our only salvation.


A re-post from March 17, 2013.

Image from: http://www.mihalymunkacsy.org/search

Cameron, Peter John, Rev., ed. “Mini-Reflection.” MAGNIFICAT. 16 March 2013: 239. Print.

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Monday, March 16, 2020

Matthew 26:69-75: Peter

Caravaggio: Peter's Denial

Caravaggio: Peter’s Denial

You too were with the Galilean. 

The gift of courage is needed to speak as the Gospel calls us.  The gift of endurance carries us through dark nights when we doubt that we can live up to the hope God has placed in us.  The gift of discernment aides us in distinguishing rumor from truth.  The gift of patience empowers us to wait upon Wisdom.  The gift of faith protects us from our fears.  The gift of compassion shields us from hatred and vengeance.  The gift of serenity forestalls anger.  The gift of love teaches us that the Spirit abides.

He went out and he began to weep bitterly.

One of the wonderful results of reading this story is that we see Peter, the rock upon which Christ builds God’s church, finds his circumstances overwhelming.  There are times during Lent when we turn inward to take an honest assessment of ourselves when we may be overcome with a strong negative emotion that drives us away from all we believe.  When this happens we ought to remember Peter.

The death of someone dear, the loss of a treasured job, the end of a cherished relationship . . . these ordinary life experiences become huge to us and they cut too close.  Fear closes in, anger erupts, or depression and a sense of hopelessness take over.  We experience a roller coaster of emotion and want nothing more than to collapse into some safe harbor where we can refuge until we recover.

We are called to speak out but we are too frightened.  We are asked to join a Gospel cause in solidarity and we politely decline.  Our colleagues ask us to join them as they take a risk for the common good.  A family member asks us to help with an overdue intervention.  We ignore addictions and bad behavior.  We look away when we ought to look closely.  We preserve ourselves when we ought to be working to preserve the kingdom.

Peter was called to great heights and turned away; but later in this same story when Christ asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Peter responds quickly, passionately and with no shadow of embarrassment or reluctance.

Peter tells us that each of us will fail at one time or another.  Peter tells us that we will weep bitterly.  And Peter tells us that there is always an opportunity to turn and return to God.


To read about Peter’s return, go to John 21:15-19.

A re-post from March 16, 2013. 

Image from: http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/his/CoreArt/art/bar_cvggo_deny.html

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Third Sunday of Lent, March 15, 2020

Luke 23:6-16: Herod

Andrea Schiavone: Christ with Herod

Andrea Schiavone: Christ with Herod

Herod was very glad to see Jesus . . .

He had been waiting to see him for a long time . . .

He had heard about him . . .

He had been hoping to see him perform some sign . . .

We are so eager to know Christ; we bring our small and big worries to his feet.  We have heard so much about him.  We are hoping that he will cure our woes and still our anxiety.  We have some specific tasks for him to complete for us; we hold a short but good list of wrongs for him to right.

Herod questioned Jesus at length . . .

But Jesus gave him no answer . . .

Herod treated Jesus contemptuously and mocked him . . .

Herod and the guards clothed Jesus in resplendent garb and sent him back to Pilate . . .

We have a lot of questions for Jesus and we present our daily list of petitions faithfully; but – strangely – it seems that Jesus is not listening.  There are no answered requests for us to tick off our list.  We feel disappointed and even let down.  We wonder if the naysayers are correct . . . perhaps there is no resurrection.  Perhaps we believe in folly.

Herod decides to have Jesus flogged and released.  Pilate washes his hands of the man. 

We have passed the half-way mark in our Lenten journey and so we take an accounting.  We have given alms.  We have fasted.  We have attended morning and evening prayer.  We have participated in the sacrament of reconciliation.  We have checked off our chores like small children pleasing our parents and still our little lists of favors, pleas and signs appear to be left unanswered.  We wonder if Jesus is listening and we continue to look for a sign.

Herod was very glad to see Jesus . . .

He had been waiting to see him for a long time . . .

He had heard about him . . .

He had been hoping to see him perform some sign . . .

We arise each morning to fresh water, food and clothing for the day, transportation, information, friendships.  We travel through the day experiencing little miracles all along the way, little signs of God’s love.  And we somehow miss them.

Evening falls and we count our accomplishments and disappointments.  We enter them into a mental balance sheet and come up with a balance.  We take credit for all that goes well and we assign blame to ourselves or others for all that seems to fail.  And we again miss the miracle that we have wandered through another day in the company of a God who loves us so much that we are never left alone for an instant.

Herod sits and speaks with Jesus and does not understand the miracle of the gift of God’s love.  We too might speak with Jesus each day and open ourselves to the wonder of God’s care.

Herod looks for a momentous sign so that he might have full confidence in Jesus’ power to save and while he is scanning his surroundings he looks past the obvious sign that sits before him . . . the embodiment of God’s protection and promise in the person of Jesus.  We too might look past the obvious today . . . or we might choose to believe.

Herod wants a sign that he already has.  Let us take each small miracle as it comes to us.  And let us remember that the sign of God’s love is always with us.  Jesus never leaves our side.


Image from: http://www.kunst-fuer-alle.de/english/fine-art/artist/image/andrea-schiavone/8293/4/111915/christ-before-herod/index.htm

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Friday, March 13, 2020

Mark 15:39: The Soldier

Roman_Centurion[1]We continue our journey reflecting on the figures who accompanied Jesus in his last hours as a human and today we focus on the centurion who witnessed the death of the Messiah.  Scholars argue and present opposing theories regarding the soldier’s statement: Truly this man was the son of God.  We might want to research the etymology of words or the development of thinking, or we might want to sit with this verse in a quiet spot today but at some point we must ask ourselves to consider this question . . . How do we react when the structure in which we participate – and from which we earn our daily bread – is questioned or challenged?  And what do we say or do when we suddenly see that there are alternate ways to perceive a series of incidents.  Was this soldier surprised by Christ’s patience, by his fidelity, by his compassion for those who died with him and his mercy for those who condemned and crucified him?  Was this man struck by the loyalty of the women and the one lone apostle who waited through the agonizing hours of Jesus’ death as the sky darkened?  Did he know that devout Jews like Joseph of Arimathea and the Pharisee Nicodemus were already mourning the loss of this miraculous man?  Did he know that Jesus had been identified to authorities by one of the twelve who followed him?  Was this centurion one of those who beat Jesus? Did he help to fashion the crown of thorns?  Did he barter for the robe that was so finely woven the soldiers decided to leave it whole?

Something remarkable must have been said.  Some change in this soldier must have been evident.  Some expression, some gesture, some evocation of emotion must have betrayed his calm control and shaken his beliefs because Mark records a reaction and two thousand years later we still argue about the meaning of the words he spoke in that agonizing, dreadful, ghastly moment.

And once we consider all of this it is time to turn to ourselves and ask . . . How do we react when the structure in which we participate – and from which we earn our daily bread – is questioned or challenged?  Are we open to the reality before us or do we buy into the one our superiors give to us?  Are we able to see the world without blinders or do we insist on our own narrow interpretation?  Do we ask for and witness to truth or are we sucked in by rampant gossip and self-serving safety nets?

Lent is the time of year when we are asked to put ourselves into the Passion story.  Today we contemplate the centurion at the foot of the cross and we consider . . . how we react when the structure in which we participate – and from which we earn our daily bread – is questioned or challenged.

Do we see ourselves as the conqueror or the conquered?  Do we believe we hold power over all or do we concede that true power lies in and with God?  Do we respond authentically to genuine mercy and true justice?  Do we witness with honesty to Christ and respond to Christ’s call?

Today we consider the kingdom and our place in it . . . and we spend time with this Roman soldier.


Image from: http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/927/Love_Unlimited___6th_Sunday_of_Easter.html

A re-post from March 13, 2013.

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