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Nehemiah 9: Confession – Part II

Saturday, April 1, 2023

As we prepare for Palm Sunday and the coming celebration of Easter, we return to some Christmastide meditations from 2011.

Yesterday we understood the dichotomy of Christ’s birth story. Today we visit a chapter in the life of Israel that invites us to explore its two-sided story, a chapter of flight and return. 

The Israelites gather to pray in unison with their priest Ezra, and as they begin their confession they recognize the great dichotomy that is their life: It is you, O Lord, you are the one; you made the heavens, the highest heavens and all their host, the earth and all that is upon it, the seas and all that is in them.  To all of them you give life, and the heavenly hosts bow down before you . . . These promises of yours you fulfilled for you are just . . . But they, our fathers, proved to be insolent; they held their necks stiff and would not obey your commandments.  They . . . no longer remembered the miracles you had worked for them.  They stiffened their necks and turned their heads . . . but you are a God of pardons, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in mercy; you do not forsake them. 

These people whose fathers and mothers were deported to foreign lands and ruled by pagan rulers comprehend that their cold hearts and stiff necks took them into darkness. They also understand that their God is so loving and compassionate that despite their own shallowness and fickle ways, they may confess and ask for forgiveness. We might wonder how many of us would forgive such a people. As soon as they had relief, they would go back to doing evil in your sight . . . they were insolent and would not obey your commandments . . . they turned stubborn backs, stiffened their necks, and would not obey.  You were patient with them for many years . . . you did not forsake them, for you are a kind and merciful God. 

The Israelites have suffered to the point of exhaustion and in their extremity they recognize that they have no place to turn but to God. They recognize the dichotomy of the goodness and weakness in their lives; and they also recognize God’s immense generosity in welcoming them home. We see this same dichotomy of extremes in the Christmas story. When God comes to us as a babe born in a stable to a family that must move into exile, it is easier for us to confess as the Israelites do. When God comes to us a child welcomed by shepherds and wise men but also hunted by kings, it is easier for us to believe that God understands the dichotomy in our own lives.

It may seem a great irony that we seek protection and sustenance from our God who comes to us as a vulnerable child needing shelter and care; yet how well this reflects the divergence we experience in our own lives. How odd this seems at the outset and yet after reflection, how fitting.

Image from: https://allacin.blogspot.com/2015/07/ezraan-illustrated-summary-of-life.html

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Psalm 62: Trust in God Alone

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

As we prepare for the celebration of Easter, we return to some Christmastide meditations from 2011 and we reflect on how the Passion and Easter stories begin in a stable in Bethlehem. 

My soul rests in God alone, from whom comes my salvation, God alone is my rock and salvation, my secure height; I shall never fall. 

From the footnotes in the New American Bible: “A song of trust displaying serenity from experiencing God’s power [the refrains of 2-3 and 6-7] and anger toward unjust enemies [4-5].  From the experience of being rescued, the psalmist can teach others to trust in God [10-13]”.  (Senior 686)

We lament the lack of trust in our society; we complain that we cannot rely on civic or religious leaders; but before we complain we must examine ourselves. Are we worthy of trust? Do we act with authenticity? Do we live a life of integrity?

We look at the corruption we see in high places and point out abuses of power; but before we criticize others we must live a life devoid of corruption ourselves. Have we eliminated words of bias from our lexicon? Have we removed acts of favoritism from our lives? Do we reject the use of nepotism to get ahead?

We look back through our own trials and when we are honest we can number the times we have been rescued by God; but before we grumble about God’s absence when we need him we must be candid about the powerful presence God is in the universe. Does God exist to please us alone? Do our own wants go before those of others? Do we expect God to appease us at the expense of the common good?

We lose patience with those who are forever negative, downcast or anxious; but before we grumble about our neighbors we must take a look at how often we have helped others to find their way to a positive way of living. Do we gossip about the broken-hearted? Do we remain happy by avoiding those who suffer a series of difficult events? Do we hoard happiness and fear that those who appear to be unlucky may contaminate the Eden we have set up for ourselves?

We fool ourselves if we believe that we alone rescue ourselves from calamity.

We trick ourselves if we say that we do not need God.

We disappoint ourselves if we say that God has abandoned us.

We deceive ourselves if we say that God is not the source of goodness and kindness.

The psalmist today tells us one idea, and he tells it simply: God is good, God saves, God abides, God rescues, we can rely totally and fully on God, we must pray for our enemies and leave them in God’s hands, we must sing God’s praise for keeping us from the fall.

Before we complain about how God does not answer our petitions, we must look for goodness in ourselves and in others . . . for this goodness reflects God’s kindness. Tell others how God has rescued us. 

Before we complain about how God does not answer our call, we must look for trustworthiness in ourselves and in others . . . for this trustworthiness reflects God’s constancy. Tell others how God has answered us. 

Before we complain about how God does not answer our prayers, we must look for charity in ourselves and in others for this charity reflects God’s love. Tell others how much God is devoted to us, and trust God, trust God alone. 

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.686. Print.   

Image from: http://borivaliassembly.net/index.php/ministry-corner/assurance-of-salvation/

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Ezekiel 4: Inevitable 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Michelangelo: Ezekiel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Matthew 12: A Decision to Confront Evil

Friday, March 24, 2023

James Tissot: The Pharisees Question Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Matthew 11: An Evil Generation

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Paolo Veronese: Jesus Healing the Servant of a Centurion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted from a reflection posted on December 22, 2011. 

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

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Jonah 2: A Prayer from the Belly of the Whale

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Jonah 2: A Journey into the Belly of the Whale

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Pieter Lastman: Jonah and the Whale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2023

Caravan in the desert, Mongolia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John 8:51-59:  Over the Edge

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Jesus says: If you practice what I’m telling you, you’ll never have to look death in the face.

Then the people say . . . Now we know you’re crazy.

And Jesus replies . . . Believe me, I am who I am long before Abraham was anything.

Then how do we, the people, respond? That did it—pushed them over the edge. They picked up rocks to throw at Jesus. But he slipped away, getting out of the Temple.

Jesus cannot be more clear. All that troubles and hounds us here in the life we try to create for ourselves will fade into dust in the moment we pass from this world into the next.

Jesus cannot be more bold. The world that awaits us is more amazing and more transforming than any we might imagine.

Jesus cannot be more sane. He brings us miracles as acts of his love. He enters our hearts to melt cold crystals of anger and hate. He lives in our bones and minds, and still so many of us do not believe the beautiful truth he unfolds.

When faced with looming obstacles, we always have a clear path to freedom, a path that leads to eternal freedom and life that Jesus treads to show us The Way. And how do we, the people, respond when life presents its complications and hurdles? Do we follow Jesus, or do we choose to go over the edge?

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

Tomorrow, slipping through their fingers.

Image from: https://www.pexels.com/search/person%20at%20edge%20of%20cliff/

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