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Galatians 2:15-21God’s Mercy

Monday, October 22, 2018

Paul’s argument in this letter is that a man does not have to submit himself to circumcision in order to follow Christ; Christ is the fulfillment of the old law and is therefore not subject to it. Christ is, in fact, its full human embodiment.  How silly we are, Paul says, to believe that The Law is more important than Christ – God’s presence among us, as one of us.  In Paul’s view the Galatians have missed the big picture.  We are saved by Christ . . . and not the Law.

We have spent time reflecting on this in a number of our Noontimes, thinking about how we are frequently caught up in following the letter of the law and completely missing its intended purpose.  Neglecting the spirit of the law in order to adhere to the permutations we have created with it is a stumbling block to living a life of justification or salvationIn short, we are missing the forest by focusing on the trees.

We worry about the future and fret over the past.  We are anxious about people and plans in the weeks and months to come; we harbor anger and guilt about offenses we or others have committed long years ago.  We carry all of this weighty negativity with us and stagger through the present – missing the joy that God has posted along the way for us.  We seem intent on suffering, and doing it badly.

In a letter to Titus, Paul writes: When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, who he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.  (Titus 3:4-7)

With the letter of the law, we can become hyper-vigilant, struggling to maintain a safe distance from even the suggestion that we may break an order.

With the spirit of the law, we are free to explore new ways of serving God, free to express our emotions and to dialog with our creator.

With the Law, there is an immutable permanence and state of stasis that can deaden the soul.

With the Spirit, there is limitless compassion that heals, soothes, restores and replenishes the soul.

When we are intent on following the rules there is a paring down that takes place, a closing off of possibility, a temptation to finagle and maneuver.

When we are intent on following God, there is an opening up, a flourishing, a limitless opportunity for new beginnings.

With rules, we count our near occasions of sin and the number of times we have failed.

With God, we look for occasions to serve and opportunities to follow Jesus.

When we find ourselves looking for loopholes and excuses, we know we have strayed too far from Christ.  When we hear ourselves walking fine lines and arguing small points, we know we have wandered too far from the creator.  When we see ourselves safely hidden in our comfort zone fortresses rather than stepping into the unknown to witness and build up the Kingdom, we know that we have somehow forgotten that we are well-loved and ever-protected.

Paul speaks to the Galatians and he speaks to us, encouraging each of us to step into our lives with full confidence and gentle fearlessness.  He urges us to be led by the Spirit rather than be stifled by the law.  And he reminds us that God welcomes the sinner eagerly . . . for God has endless and abundant mercy.


A re-post from September 19, 2011.

Images from: http://www.biblechef.com/Indexes/Artifacts/JewishTorahSheet.html

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James 4Puffs of Smoke

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Throughout his letter, James reminds us that we must be doers of the word and not sayers only.  In Chapter 4 he focuses us on the habits we have nurtured that contribute to our divisions, habits of the heart and mind that create division, habits of the soul that separate us from God.

Where do the wars and conflicts among you come from? . . . Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? 

God wishes happiness for all his creatures; God does not wish that some of us do well while others starve.  James points out that it is our own selfishness and greed that cause us to build the barriers that separate us.  Humility, he says, is the only remedy.  We must submit our will to God’s and resist the demon world that whispers in our ear to tell us that we are more special than others.

Do not speak evil of one another.  Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges a brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law.  If you judge the law you are not a doer of the law but a judge . . . Who are you to judge your neighbor?

When we gossip with one another and slander others we become incapable judges; and the only true and gifted judge is God.  James does not speak here of a judicial system that oversees criminal cases and administers appropriate consequences; rather, James speaks of a world in which humble servants acknowledge God’s power and generosity.  James knows – and once we put away our ego we will also come to know – that God’s plan for justice is far too complicated for humans to fully comprehend.  God’s plan converts sinners, it waits on the last of the sheep, it allows the weeds to grow up with the harvest, it calls the high and powerful to serve the low and powerless, it turns all harm into goodness.  This is a plan that we cannot out-maneuver.  It is a plan that we cannot ignore.  It is a plan that will be in force forever – even until the end of time.

You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. 

I spoke with a friend this morning who is recovering from brain surgery – he and his family are hopeful.  I spoke to another just before Mass whose husband has lung cancer.  “Three weeks ago our lives were normal,” she said.  “Now we spend every day at the hospital.  They know our first names”.  I met a complete stranger as I came out of the store after Mass.  He noticed I was carrying milk.  I noticed that he was driving an historic car.  When I complemented him on its beautiful restoration he said, “Yeah, I spent three years of my life on this and then my wife got sick.  A few months later she was gone.  Just like that.  I don’t know what I’m gonna do”.  We smiled and spoke kind words to one another before parting ways.

We have no idea what our life will be like tomorrow.  We are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. 

James urges us to cease our bickering; he asks that we put an end to petty divisions.  He recommends that we put aside gossip and false speech; he advises that we go to God in humility.

James reminds us that we are mere wisps of vapor and that without God we are less than nothing.  He tells us that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. 

James tells us that all we need do is live our lives as doers of the word and not sayers only.  James asks us to cease judging and gossiping; he asks that we humble ourselves to take the last seat at the table rather than the first.  James reminds us that as tiny wisps of ash rising on the drifting wind we do not have the capacity to judge as God does.

So rather than throw our lives away on pointless living and selfish habits, let us rise like incense from the altar of our lives to be taken into the arms of a God who loves us relentlessly.  For once we humble ourselves to join others who rise in like unison, we will find that we have been gathered together in God’s loving arms . . . to become far more than mere puffs of smoke.


Images from: http://www.ursulinesjesus.org/prayer.htm 

A re-post from September 18, 2011.

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Ezekiel 45:13-17Offerings

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Written on February 19 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

We have spent time with Ezekiel 45 before but today we focus on the offerings portion – what it is we offer back to God.  I am thinking about how much more meaning our lives might have if we were to each day give something back to God that we have produced.  What would it be?  In our ultra modern, techno-savvy, global, sophisticated way of living . . . what do we actually make with our hands, hearts and minds?  We have come so far from the primitive beings who first inhabited Africa and the Tigris-Euphrates areas of the prehistoric world that . . . I am wondering if we have not tricked ourselves into thinking that we do not need to trust God.

When early tribes were hunters and gatherers, it was clear who and what provided for them.  As they followed herds and crops they dealt with drought, deluge, scarcity and plenty.  They had to learn how to conserve and share.  They had to learn both the basics and complexities of survival, and then they passed these lessons on to their offspring.  I am wondering if we have not fooled ourselves into thinking that we have mastered nature . . . and so do not need to rely on God.

Our Western life is worlds away from the poor of the second and third worlds.  We may forget that only a small portion of the those of us living on the globe today have running water, enough food for our children, decent clothing and housing, and basic medical care.  Now that humanity has made so many advances in the fields of medicine, nutrition, and technology, I am wondering if some of us have made these our gods and have kept ourselves safe while not thinking about others . . . and I am wondering if we have not deluded ourselves into thinking that we do not need to love God as God exists in each and all of us.

I am wondering if we could each evening bring forth the products of our day in order to place them on the kitchen table as we sit to eat our evening meal if we would recognize what it is we have made.  And I am wondering what it is we would offer back to God . . . in gratitude for his care for us that day.  I am wondering if these offerings would come from our best.  I am wondering if these gifts would be found gracious in the eyes of God.

I am wondering . . .


A re-post from September 7, 2011.

Image from: http://jameswoodward.wordpress.com/2008/09/29/harvest/ 

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Jeremiah 42: False Solutions

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A number of years ago a friend of mine pointed out the tactic that many of us use to go around an obstacle in our path.  She called it the geographic solution: When the going gets tough . . . our instinct is to get out of town.  We want to avoid the problem at all costs so rather than sort through the tangled threads of the dilemma, we avoid it . . . and hope that the conflict will magically disappear.  This is, of course, false logic.  If no one addresses difficulty, we know it will not be overcome.  Another friend adds: When you run, you take your problems with you.  This is the same warning we hear today from God who speaks to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah: If you remain quietly in this land I will build you up, and not tear you down; I will plant you, not uproot you . .

We enter Jeremiah’s story at the time that the people living in the southern portion of David’s kingdom are frightened.  They have witnessed the deportation of those living in the north and, hoping to have bought themselves a bit of safety, they have made unholy alliances with the pagan nations that surround them.  To their disappointment, not only do they find themselves threatened by these warring neighbors, they also find that their willingness to accept and even participate in pagan rites and ceremonies has cut them off from Yahweh who had so many times saved them.  They have distanced themselves spiritually, mentally and physically from God and rather than take a hard look at an effective reform of their own beliefs and behaviors, they seek the geographic solution.  They have begun to believe the myth that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  We remind ourselves, as my friend frequently intones, that: We can run, but we take our problems with us.  The people in today’s story do not believe or understand this.  Having the benefit of historical perspective, we see that the people of Judah have abandoned their belief that God can and will save them.  They do not see what we see – that running from their problems will not improve their predicament.

Jeremiah conveys God’s word: If you disobey the voice of the Lord, your God, and decide not to remain in this land, saying, “No, we will go to Egypt, where we will see no more of war, hear the trumpet alarm no longer, nor hunger for bread; there we will live” . . . the sword you fear shall reach you in the land of Egypt, the hunger you dread shall cling to you no less in Egypt, and there you shall die. 

They have forgotten Yahweh’s promise . . . For I am with you to save you, to rescue you . . .

Perhaps they believe they are beyond redemption.  If so, they have forgotten another one of Yahweh’s promises . . . For I regret the evil I have done you . . . I will grant you mercy . . .

As we hear the dialog between the Creator and his creatures, we may want to take this opportunity to reflect on our own strategies for problem solving.  When a disturbance erupts we do not have to run away or even hide; there are options.  We can turn away in embarrassment.  We can deflect the cause or culpability to someone else.  We can become defensive or passive aggressive. We can remove ourselves forever from the people and situation.  But none of these actions will solve anything.  None of this will bring us true peace for there is only one road to true harmony.

We must rely on God . . . and step forward to both forgive and be forgiven.  We must ask for God’s intervention . . . and begin the process of healing.  We must be willing to begin anew with God at the center of the storm . . . and we must remember this: There is no geographic solution that works . . . and we take our problems with us. 


A re-post from September 4, 2011. 

Image from: http://tomorrowsreflection.com/grass-greener/

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Genesis 43The Second Journey

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Bacchiacca: Joseph receives his brothers

Just when we think we have reached a plateau in our journey where we might walk along the flatland rather than clamber up and skitter down the mountain sides . . . we find that we have to go back to repeat a leg of our passage.  Just when we have begun to relax at the oasis where we have filled our water sacks and rested in the shade from the heat of the day . . . we are told that we must move on.  Just when we are beginning to become comfortable in the little fortress where we are hiding from our foes . . . we hear the voice that calls us to make a second journey.

Today we find ourselves in the Joseph story at the point where the brothers have returned home to Jacob to tell him that they must go back to Egypt . . . and this time they must take the favored son Benjamin with them.  Just when Jacob thought his problem of famine had been resolved . . . he is told that he must relinquish the last person who brings him comfort.  Despite his age and the litany of difficulties he has undergone, Jacob must trust God and allow himself to suffer again.  The brothers who had sold Joseph into slavery know that they must make a return trip to Egypt.  Little do they know that well-hidden secrets are about to be revealed, questions will be asked and answered, truths will be spoken.  They plan to go to Egypt to purchase food for their families.  They do not plan to encounter the brother they have delivered to slavery and death.  They do not know they are about to make a further journey.  We do not hear from Benjamin, the young boy whose full brother wields power second only to Pharaoh, but we can imagine that he feels both anxiety and excitement.  Everyone in this story will suffer.  Everyone in this story will be rewarded beyond their wildest imaginings.

I am reading a book by Richard Rohr which a friend gave to me.  In FALLING UPWARD, Rohr posits that in life each of us is given the gift of a second or further journey. “[I]n my opinion, this first-half of life task is no more than finding the starting gate.  It is merely the warm-up act, not the full journey.  It is the raft but not the shore . . . There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life.  The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.  The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life, which does not mean that we do it well.  The second task, I am told, is more encountered than sought; few arrive at it with much preplanning, purpose, or passion”.   (Rohr viii and xiii)

Rohr cites W. H. Auden:  We would rather be ruined than changed.  We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die.  (Rohr 65)  And on page 73 we find this from Matthew 16:25-26: Anyone who wants to save his life must lose it.  Anyone who loses her life will find it.  What gain is there if you win the whole world and lose your very self?  What can you offer in exchange for your one life?”

Jacob believed that his sons were going to Egypt to purchase food that would save the family.  He did not know that his lost son Joseph would be their savior.  Joseph’s brothers thought they were purchasing food to save their lives . . . they did not know that they would also redeem their souls.

Just when we believe that we have convinced everyone of the reality of our illusions . . . we are given the opportunity to leave our comfort zone and enter the second half of our lives.  We are blessed with the gift of seeing clearly that we are created to love honestly and suffer well.  We are created to take the second journey of our lives . . . the journey that promises far more than suffering . . . the further journey that brings us more reward than we can ever imagine.


Rohr, Richard. FALLING UPWARD: A SPIRITUALITY FOR THE TWO HALVES OF LIFE. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.

The painting above is housed at the UK National Gallery.  To see more detail, click on the image and follow the link.  A spy glass on the museum site will allow you to see detail by zeroing in.   You will also find a link to other scenes from the life of Joseph which may interest you. 

A re-post from August 16, 2011.

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Jeremiah 51Adjusting to Reality

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

“Jeremiah sends a ‘book’ of oracles against Babylon to Babylon with Baruch’s brother in about 594.  These are to be read publicly and then tied to a stone and cast into the Euphrates, symbolizing Babylon’s fate . . . It has been suggested that the original intention of Jeremiah’s action was to rebut the prophecies of Ahab and Zedekiah to the effect that the exile would be short (see 29:4-9, 20-23).  On this interpretation, reading and then destroying a set of anti-Babylonian prophecies would have the effect of stressing Jeremiah’s rejection of this optimistic view”.  (Mays 576)

Jeremiah knows that the exile will be long and harsh . . . yet no one believes him because it does not coincide with the false view many find easier to hold.  It seems that nothing much has changed in the intervening millennia since this story; we humans would rather cling to the falsehood that matches our view rather than change our thinking to the truth.  Today’s citation tells us that it is better to adjust ourselves to reality because no amount of manipulation or coercion will hide the obvious.   My dad liked to say: The truth comes out in the end so we might as well get used to it as soon as we can.

In today’s case, Jeremiah accurately predicts that even the conquerors will themselves be conquered and he predicts an unpleasant winnowing.   The imagery is brutal, the devastation complete.  There is no escaping the consequences that result from greed, corruption, and mollification.  The prophet Jeremiah sees collusion between his own leaders and those who of Israel’s pagan neighbors and while the “optimistic view” cited above may be popular, it is not honest. And so Jeremiah outs the lies.  He does as God asks and sends his prophecies to Babylon via the brother of his secretary, Baruch.

It is difficult to speak truth with respect, to express candor gently; and it may, in fact, even place us in danger.  When we see that everyone around us chooses to believe a myth created by the powerful and wealthy, we must speak honestly but with mercy no matter the cost to us.  It is in this way that we adjust ourselves to reality rather than follow the fashionable fairy story.  It is in this way that we honor ourselves and others who speak truth.  It is in this way that we praise and honor our God.

From today’s first reading at Mass, The Feast of Jesus’ Transfiguration, 2 Peter 1:16-19: Beloved: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we have been eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved with whom I am well pleased”.  We ourselves heard this voice . . . Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable.  You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts”. 

Peter knows that he cannot remain silent about the story he has witnessed and, like Jeremiah, he knows that he must speak so that others might adjust to the amazing reality that what seems impossible is real, that we are created and loved by God and that God wants nothing but goodness for us and from us.  We are called to seek truth, to cling to it and to celebrate it with others who are willing to adjust their vision to be in line with God’s.

Once we cease nodding in idiotic agreement with the myths woven by those who are vested in them, we will see and know God’s truth, and we will not be silenced.  We too, will write out the prophecy that God commands . . . and we will adjust ourselves to God’s vision.


Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 576. Print.

A re-post from August 6, 2011.

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Numbers 34The Lovely Paradox

Monday, September 3, 2018

We have tackled this theme before: The importance of knowing our appropriate limits.  We have reflected on the subtle ways in which vanity creeps into our lives, allowing us to believe that we do not need God or worse . . . that God does not exist at all.  We already know that if we are not prudent, humble and watchful, arrogance will make a stealthy entrance into our lives.  We preen a bit too much when we are complemented.  We allow ourselves to forget that it is God who creates us and fills us with the talents we so easily take for granted.  When we know our limits – and when we know God’s beneficence – we keep well away from the subtle snares of pride.

We may puzzle a bit over why the Lord is so particular about dividing the tribes into designated territories, and if so then we will want to recall that the land from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River Euphrates is part of God’s covenant promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:18.  The Lord understands that unless demarcations are made we humans will constantly squabble over control.  The Lord also knows that once we relinquish ourselves to God’s boundaries, we learn to rely on God rather than ourselves.   

We may object to this laying out of lines and the designation of supervisors.  We may believe that God does not really understand what it feels like to be in our shoes.  We may think that our burdens are too heavy, our challenges to great.  We may even think that God does not understand us, and in this we would be incorrect.

For the lovely paradox is this . . .

When we learn to rely on God alone for everything we are and do, we will find it easier to remain within the human limits that define us.

When we learn to thank God for all that we have and all that we are, we will find it easier to empty ourselves so that God might enter.

When we learn to ask God for help in everything we do, we will find it easier to overcome the obstacles in our path.

In doing all of this, we hand ourselves over to God.

In doing all of this, we find our own divinity . . . and this is the lovely paradox.

A re-post from Wednesday, August 3, 2011.


Image from: http://midwestpoet.wordpress.com/2008/07/03/stones/ 

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2 Corinthians 1Changing Plans

Sunday, September 2, 2018

If we want to live in relationship with others, we will find it necessary to change our plans; sometimes this is quite easy to do . . . at other times we suffer change at great cost.  Events occur not as we would wish them.  They often take on a life of their own.  In today’s reading we have the opportunity to examine a model for authentic accommodation in relationship with others.  When we make room for God in every connection we make with others, we have the guarantee of God’s simplicity, sincerity, and grace.  We can be confident that no matter the change required of us, we will flourish and thrive.

When we read Paul’s two letters to the church in Corinth, we see the importance of flexibility and constancy in all relationships.  While it is important to remain authentic and faithful, it is also essential to allow for some give and take as circumstances require.  As we read through these epistles, it is clear that there are some disagreements and differences of opinion that have the potential to create permanent rifts.  Important connections have been established and nurtured; breaches must be bridged.  Cleverly, or perhaps by God’s grace, Paul begins with himself.   “Since Paul’s own conduct will be under discussion here, he prefaces this section with a statement about his habitual behavior and attitude toward the community.  He protests his openness, single-mindedness, and conformity to God’s grace; he hopes that his relationship with them will be marked by mutual understanding and pride, which will constantly increase until it reaches its climax at the judgment”.  (Senior 277)  As we read the opening chapter of 2 Corinthians we understand that a change of plans has caused anxiety and upset.  Paul addresses the problem by beginning with himself . . . and by falling back on God.

Simplicity, sincerity, and the grace of God: These qualities are given to us by God the Father; these traits are modeled for us by Jesus; these virtues are renewed in us by the Spirit.

When we must change plans we must keep things simple.  Adding more jumble to an already stressed schedule does us and those we work and live with nothing but harm.

When we must change plans we must be honest.  It is important to take the time to examine motives and look for hidden agendas.  Any plan that is not genuine is not needed. Any plan that comes from deceit brings ruin.

When we must change plans we must do so with good will, considering the common benefit.  When a community must alter plans to please only one or two of its members, morale plummets and cooperation disappears.

Simplicity, sincerity, and the grace of God.  Paul outlines for us the opening step in bridging a rift between colleagues, friends or loved ones.  We begin with ourselves.  And we look for God’s plainness.  We look for God’s straightforwardness.  We look for God’s beauty.  We look for God’s blessing in all we say and do.

A re-post from August 2, 2011.


Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990. 277. Print.

Images from: http://www.masters-table.org/forinfo/Gods_beautyinthesky.htm 

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Job: In Praise of Wisdom and Hope

Thursday, August 29, 2018

Before we leave the story of Job, we give ourselves the gift of time with this innocent sufferer who foreshadows the hope of the Messiah. Today we look at the story of “the hero . . . subjected to a divine test as a means of ascertaining whether or not he serves the deity without thinking about profiting from it.” (Barton and Muddiman 331) Just as Job enters into debate with his friends and the Lord, so do we have the invitation to deliberate with the Almighty the existential questions that plague us as humans.

Stylistically, this book presents us with a combination of poetry and prose. Does this signal our dual human yet divine essence? Does this tell us that we are called to live in the world but be not of it? Does this remind us that although we are mortal, we also live forever in Christ? The style certainly communicates the ideas that the innocent suffer. The beauty of the poetry may indicate our hope in the Spirit against the backdrop prose of our separation.

From the ARCHEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE, “[T]he reader knows from the outset that Job is suffering because of his righteousness (Job 1). Thus, when Job rails against his pain and contends that he has not deserved it (eg., ch. 31), the early reader – who had insider knowledge from the prelude – recognized that he spoke the truth. Unable to fall back on pat answers that were almost universally accepted at the time, readers were forced to wrestle with the question along with Job as they worked their way through the text to God’s final answer. The resultant new understanding of the meaning of suffering and the justice of God, contrary as it was to the conventional wisdom of the day, must have astonished them.” (Zondervan 732)

Wisdom and hope are the gifts Job brings us through his suffering, questioning, persistence and fidelity. Wisdom and hope are gifts of the Spirit of God. Wisdom and hope are embodied in the life of Christ who abides with us still. Today we give thanks for these matchless gifts. Today we share the good news that are recipients of such generous mercy. Today we praise God for the healing wisdom of the Spirit, and the lessons Job brings us of hope.


Images from https://chicago.suntimes.com/health/mind-over-body-new-book-tells-how-to-tap-into-wisdom-and-grow-with-age/

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 732. Print.

Barton, John, and John Muddiman. THE OXFORD BIBLE COMMENTARY. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001. 331. Print.

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