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Tobit 2: Mockery

Friday, July 13, 2018

It is so easy to say that the story of Tobit is about healing and reparation and then move on to another story; yet today’s Noontime gives us the opportunity to sit with a portion of this narrative and to reflect on its meaning in our own lives.  We see Tobit’s virtue and courage in the first chapter where he is introduced; and we understand that he is a Jewish man who practices his faith and lives with his family in exile in Nineveh, Assyria.  Tobit is unusual, however, in that he shares his meal and his clothes with the poor, and he buries the dead bodies of those slain by the enemy and left for the birds and animals to consume.  On this particular day, Tobit has brought back the corpse of a man that was left in the market.

Commentary will point out that Tobit enters the house after a simple ablution and does not wait for the ritual seven days as is required in Numbers 19:11-19. He washes himself, eats his meal, and while he waits for sunset so that he might bury the unknown man, he meditates on Amos 5:11 and 8:4-6 from the prophecy which criticizes the wealthy who trample the poor and steal their grain rather than feeding or helping them.  Tobit cries at all of this sadness and finally he buries the dead man once the sun has gone down.  As a consequence of all of this goodness, he is mocked by his neighbors . . . and even his wife.  We do not know if Tobit sleeps outdoors because of the heat or because he has been in contact with a dead body, but in either case, the consequence is the same . . . he becomes blind.  In this way, the writer sets up the story for us: “The pious Israelite suffers because he attends to the needs of others”.  (Mays 722)

When we reflect on Tobit’s circumstances we might find ourselves in his story.  How often do we follow the rules – even at great emotional and fiscal cost – yet we feel blind to the success others enjoy and are even made to feel foolish?  We know that others do not adhere to the basic requirements of life and yet they seem to suffer no negative consequences.  We may find ourselves wondering why we do what God asks if all we receive in return is the disdain of others.  We see that ridicule and derision are the tools most frequently used by those who operate in cliques.  Respect for one another, a sense of fair play, and reward for doing as God asks seem at first to bring fierce suffering rather than reward and The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men. (Psalm 12:8The good man suffers because he attends to the needs of others.  So why try to do as God asks if the reward is . . . mockery?

We cannot in one day hope to understand why bad things happen to good people and why bad people seem to live free of consequence.   We can, however, begin to take small steps toward the understanding that God brings goodness out of evil . . . always . . . that the wicked only appear to escape consequence . . . always . . . that goodness brings a reward from God far greater than any we can devise for ourselves . . . always . . . and that it is in union with God that we experience true and lasting happiness . . . always.

Jesus himself is ignored and mocked by many.  Why should we be excluded from this treatment at the hands of those who fear goodness?  From childhood I was taught that self respect is the only respect we need earn.  I learned from my parents that cliques are formed by those who need them most.  I was taught to see that blindness comes in many forms and that what we call disability can actually be a boon.

As an adult I have come to understand how wise my parents were, and I try to pass this wisdom on to my children and grandchildren.  I have come to know that the only good opinion that matters is God’s; and that I need not unravel all the evil in the world or convert all the wicked.  I recognize that God has asked me to play a role in his kingdom building . . . and this I try to do as well as I am able each day, trying to see creation as God does – as the dawning of something new and beautiful each day.  So this is how I have arrived at responding to anyone who may ridicule me for conforming to God’s will: I live in the belief that those who practice exclusion rather than inclusion live in fear . . . and that those who mock us most are most in need of our understanding, our patience, our prayer and our love.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 722. Print.


Image from: https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/earth-from-space-15-amazing-things-in-15-years

We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 22, 2011.

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Psalm 24Universal God

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Commentary will tell us that this psalm was likely written to accompany a procession with the Ark around the Temple precinct, or even through the city or countryside.  When we look at these verses closely, we see that they contain a list of qualities that describe God’s people: the clean of hand, the pure of heart, those who are not devoted to idols and who do not lie.  God’s power and goodness are affirmed; God is seen as the designer and initiator of creation.  With this song the people celebrate the glory of God and the goodness that resides in his creation . . . the earth.  They also confirm the values God’s faithful will want to espouse: purity and integrity. 

Scripture begins with the creation story we have heard so often that we may move through it too quickly.  When Genesis 1 is read with care, and when it is compared to other creation stories, we will want to join in the singing of this hymn to God who is so much different and so much more wonderful than any other god.

Ancient Mesopotamia was rife with creation stories and many of them elevated a particular god to supremacy over other gods.  This would be done in order to establish superiority of a god’s followers or cult; it would also give prestige to a particular temple, city or town.  These myths frequently gave simple explications for the complexity of nature.  A god generally called a mound of earth out of darkness and water, set up rites and rituals and often deified elements of nature such as the moon, sun or the earth itself.  Some stories describe epic battles between various gods, and humans lack any dignity or purpose other than to serve as a kind of slave.  So we might want to look at what makes the Judeo-Christian creation story different from the rest.  “The Genesis account rejects the central motif of pagan religion: the deification of nature.  Interestingly, it does not seek to elevate Yahweh over other gods.  Indeed, in the seven day creation account (Gen 1:1-2:3) Yahweh is not named . . . Even Genesis 2-3 provides no sense that Yahweh needed to establish his supremacy over other deities.  There is no conquest of other gods or monsters, and no shrine or city is said to be the place from which God began the creation process.  No sacred object is mentioned.  The God of Genesis 1 is indeed the universal God”.  (ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE 5)

The God of Genesis 1 is our compassionate God who calls order out of chaos, goodness out of evil, light out of the dark.  This universal God wants to celebrate with us and about us. This universal God wants to heal us, transform us, save and redeem us.  This God calls us to purity and honesty, integrity and truth.  This God created the earth and all her goodness for us.  This God does not enslave us but suffers and dies for us.  This God is one we call Father, Brother and Spirit of Love . . . for this God loves us beyond all measure.

Let us join in this hymn of praise to God . . .

The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, the world and those who live there . . .

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 5. Print.


We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 7, 2011.

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Colossians 1:15-20Christ is Reality

Friday, July 6, 2018

Paul had not visited the town of Colossae but was invited to write a letter by Epaphras, the man  who established this Christian community.  False teachers abounded in those days even as they do now; and we understand that many false teachers connected Christ more with the universe or cosmos than with God.  They taught about angels and demons, “principalities and powers”; they were often connected with cults.  Paul makes a central point in the anthem we read today and he restates this position throughout his letter to the Colossians: “Such teachings are but ‘shadows’; Christ is ‘reality’.” (Senior 318)

Commentary will tell us that Paul likely used an early Christian hymn that was already known to the Colossians as a basis for these poetic verses.  This is a technique used by many teachers to connect the audience with the message and Paul has used these few lines well to explain the true nature of Christ.  Looking at this citation as a liturgical song, we can understand its power to draw the listener in . . . and we may find ourselves drawn in as well to the person Paul describes . . . the very real and human Jesus Christ . . . made in the image of the invisible God.    

There is so much ambient light in our modern world that it has become difficult to see the night sky.  This may be dangerous for us as we can easily imagine that we are the immenseness and that the sky does not exist.  As we sat on the lawn several evenings ago to watch the 4th of July fireworks, a small creature crawled onto my ankle . . . and for some reason I began to think about the odd juxtaposition of the immense and booming displays above us with the little kingdoms that exist beneath the earth.  Any gardener will tell us that there are worlds teeming beneath the grass and stones.  Many of us may hire out the grass cutting and weeds pulling and so we have lost track of these many, under-foot worlds . . . and this too, may be dangerous.  With all the comfort and convenience we buy, it is no wonder that we have made ourselves the gods and have ignored the micro and macro worlds.  We have convinced ourselves that we can do as we like . . . and that no consequences will follow our actions.  We know this to be dangerous thinking . . . we know this to be false teaching . . . we know this to be a world of shadows.

Christ is our reality.  Yes, we say, we know this well.  Yet . . . what do our interactions with one another say about this belief?  How do we demonstrate our understanding of the universe beneath us that we have paved over and walk on daily?  How do we show our respect for the skies above us and all they contain when we send heavy metals into the atmosphere without worrying?  How do we show God and one another that we understand the importance of water, the essence of life as we know it, when we daily misuse and pollute this precious resource?  How do we demonstrate that we are fully aware and even joyful that Christ lives in each of us just as we live in him?  How do we show God that we understand our proper alignment with all the components of creation, and that we appreciate the gift of life he has freely given to each of us?

I have heard people complain that God no longer holds meaning for them.  They have decided that God does not exist.  I have heard people complain that life is too difficult.  They have decided that because they cannot see the stars at night they do not exist.  I have heard people complain that life has little or no meaning.  They have decided that there are no worlds other than the small and narrow space in which they are living.  They have forgotten that we must set out anew each day to find Christ . . . for there is our reality. When the student is ready, the teacher appears . . .

The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst.  No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, while from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: “This is way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or the left.  (Isaiah 30:20-21)

The world we touch and taste, see, hear and smell is a shadow of what truly is.  Christ is the reality.  He lives in us most lovingly . . . let us live in him as if we mean it.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.318. Print.


Image from: http://classjtobias.wikispaces.com/

We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 6, 2011.

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Luke 8:4-15: Living as an Engaged Listener

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Vincent Van Gogh: The Sower

This familiar story has much to teach us not only about our capacity to instruct others but about the way we engage the mysteries of God’s kingdom.  Commentary tells us that this parable “can serve to encourage those who have looked at their failures and who have forgotten that some seed will yield abundantly.  What is important is to realize that this is a parable, and therefore is not a simple illustration of a point being made otherwise.  Rather, a parable is the message, and a message offered in such a way as to elicit listener involvement in its meaning.  With parables listeners bear heavy responsibility for what is heard and understood; quite often the message is not obvious nor available to casual, unengaged listeners . . . In the interpretation (8:11-15) the parable is made into an allegory, i.e., a story in which each item in the narrative is made to represent something else.  Most scholars agree this interpretation represents the situation of the early church in its missionary preaching to a variety of conditions.  As an ‘explanation’ of the parable, however, the interpretation is less than clear”.  (Mays, 939)

We always want answers to our questions in the same manner as we warn a meal in a microwave oven.  We hit a few buttons and we have our desired result.  Listening for and to God’s voice is not so swiftly done.  In order to hear the wisdom of scripture we must settle ourselves, read the words before us, and then grapple with the “less than clear” interpretation given to us.  As the commentary points out, even when we are active, engaged listeners we will not clearly discern the message we know is being placed before us.  And so we look for more clues.

In Matthew 13:18 Jesus seems to be saying that the word goes out to four kinds of hearers: those who will never accept the kingdom’s word, those believe for a little while and then lose heart and fall away, those believe but who are too anxious to act, and finally those who hear the word and produce fruit abundantly.  We see roles defined and demarcations made; the mystery becomes a bit more clear for us and we are less uncomfortable.  Yet we know there is more.  We understand that with this story – as with all stories that Jesus tells – we are given the opportunity to clear away some of the fog that always clutters our view when we are kingdom-seeking.  We are given the chance to examine our failures and successes without being judged.  Knowing that there is more to be found than these simple equivalents of soil and people, we return to Luke’s Gospel . . . we concentrate and read again.  We lean forward a bit as if to physically engage ourselves with these verses in order to wrestle more clarity from them . . . in order to dispel the fog that impedes our vision.  We pray as we read each verse.

Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you . . . and we offer a quick prayer of thanksgiving for this story that shows us that although we work hard at conveying God’s message of love, we will not always succeed.   We marvel at this God who is so patient and willing to give each of us all the time we need to find our way to him.  Thus one of the mysteries of the kingdom is revealed.

But to the rest [the mysteries] are made known through parables so that ‘they may look but not see, and hear but not understand’ . . . and we offer a quick prayer of petition that stony hearts be softened and stiff necks unbent.  And we marvel at this God who is so merciful and loving that he waits endlessly for us to finally listen and hear . . . to finally see and understand.  And here is another mystery of the kingdom revealed.

The image of sowing and reaping was common in Jesus’ day and so the story of the sower was easily understood on a practical level.  What was challenging for Jesus’ listeners then – and what is just as challenging for us today – is to engage with the mysteries Jesus offers to us, to enter into the inscrutable ways of the kingdom, and to willing accept the heavy responsibility of living in this swirling fog of trust, fear, compassion, mystery . . . and love.   This is a message Jesus gives his kingdom-builders.  It is a message we are called to live.

Mays, James L., ed. HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 1203. Print.


We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on June 28, 2011.

Image from: https://gl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficheiro:The_Sower_-_painting_by_Van_Gogh.jpg

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Ezekiel 38The Land of Gog

Friday, June 22, 2018

Scholars tell us that the land of Gog was located in Asia Minor, and Ezekiel predicts that these tribes will attack once Israel returns to her land.  The Israelites are not to worry, however, for God will be with his faithful remnant as he has promised.  God will not abandon those who remain in him.  This enemy will not realize that the Israelites who appear weak will in fact be strong because of Yahweh’s presence; and Gog’s defeat in a cosmic battle will serve God’s purpose: “When the nations see God’s victory, then they will recognize the divine power at work on Israel’s behalf”.  (Mays, 621)  This is a familiar theme for us.  God will save his people and in so doing he will prove himself far more powerful and far more loving than any pagan god.

Today’s Mass readings also speak to God’s fidelity to the covenant promise he makes with us (Genesis 15:1-18, Psalm 105, and Matthew 7:15-20).  Created in God’s love, we are to beware of false prophets and remain true to who and what we are: creatures brought into existence to bear the fruit of love.  This is our nature whether we believe it or not for, as Jesus reminds us . . . a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. 

So we are reminded today that the Land of Gog, or Magog, and the people of Meschech, Tubal, Gomer, or Beth-togarmah are always just over the horizon.  These alien tribes who do not know the promise of the Living God will think themselves superior and they will invade . . . and they will be surprised by the strength of the God who abides with us and protects us.  They will be overcome by the breadth and depth of our God’s presence and power.  There will be a great shaking upon the land . . . but God’s faithful will be saved.  This happens, God tells us, so that the nations may know of me, when in their sight I prove my holiness through you, O Gog.

No matter the number of the enemy, no matter the strength of the invading horde, no matter the skill or persistence of those who would invade and conquer . . . God’s faithful will remain while others will disappear . . . for this is how much our God loves us . . . that he delivers us out of the hands of the people of Gog.

Mays, James L., ed. HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 1203. Print.


We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on June 22, 2011.

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1 Corinthians 6:19: Temples of the Spirit

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lebanon Cedar Forest

Paul tells the Corinthians and he tells us: Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourselves but to God. The faithful want to believe that Christ acts within where the Spirit animates the body and encourages the soul.

Jesus tells his followers: Tear down this Temple, and in three days I will build it again. (John 2:13-25) The faithful misunderstand his meaning, but still Jesus abides with them, nurturing the Spirit, sustaining the heart.

In 1 Kings Chapter 6, we find a description of Solomon’s Temple, built to replace the Ark of the Covenant the faithful carried through the desert on their journey to The Promised Land. The description of the building as the permanent Temple is full of detail. With the tall cedar timbers, the Temple would have smelled truly divine; the gold covered surfaces and sacred utensils would have dazzled the eye. It took seven years to build this temple, and it is written in verse 7 that there was no noise of iron striking stone because the masons brought the blocks ready-hewn. What a peace-filled space this must have been, even during the years of construction.

Inside the Jerusalem Temple

These readings have a connection that we reflect on today. With God’s loving providence and care, the desert Ark becomes the city Temple. With Christ’s compassionate mercy and burning justice, the Temple of stone becomes the living Temple within each of us. With the Spirit’s healing transformation and nurturing mercy, the Temple that Christ rebuilds in three days becomes our very essence and nature.

Paul tells the Corinthians and he tells us: Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourselves but to God. The faithful want to believe that Christ acts within where the Spirit animates the body and encourages the soul. Let us determine to listen to this voice that calls us to union and wholeness.

Today we pray Psalm 84 and we repeat verse 2 as an antiphon. I long to be in the Lord‘s Temple.
With my whole being I sing for joy to the living God.

Tomorrow we conclude our reflections on the names God uses when calling us. 


Images from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lebanon_cedar_forest.jpg and http://padreperegrino.org/2017/05/26/ascension-2017/

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Matthew 5:13: Becoming Salt for the World

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Too much salt makes our meals bitter, dries out all that it touches, and adds pain to an open wound.

Too little salt gives us bland food, allows stored meats to deteriorate, and allows infection to invade a damaged area.

Just the right amount of salt gives seasoning to our lives, preserves what we need to sustain us, and heals our hurts.

From the Torah and Narratives, through the Prophets and Wisdom, scripture asks us to consider the qualities of salt. Jesus gives us concepts to sort and decipher.

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus says: You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot.

In Mark 9:50, he tells us: Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

In Luke 14:34-35 we hear: Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? “It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The Dead Sea, between Israel and Jordan

Today, Christ calls us to measure the way we live. The Dead Sea was and is a living example of what happens when water enters a body and has no outlet; yet, despite its astonishingly high level of salt and other minerals, scientists find that it is full of microbial life. It seems that Mother Nature, and indeed all of creation, reminds us that we must look to maintain balance in a world full of polarities. We must discern the order that exists despite apparent chaos. We must work toward unity in a universe that brings us a message of dichotomy. We must be salt for a world that yearns for peace.

Today we pray the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), and as we do, we repeat Matthew 5:13 as an antiphon: You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?

Tomorrow, we are light.


For more Noontime reflections on salt for the world, enter the word salt into the search bar and explore. 

Read about what is going on in the Dead Sea at: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/artful-amoeba/fountains-of-life-found-at-the-bottom-of-the-dead-sea/

To discern what it means to be salt for the earth, visit: https://ccsouthbay.org/blog/salt-of-the-earth

Find 40 verses about salt in scripture at: https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Salt

Images from: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/ask-a-health-expert/table-sea-or-kosher-which-salt-is-healthiest/article10812924/ and https://www.deadsea.com/articles-tips/interesting-facts/why-is-the-dead-sea-called-the-dead-sea/

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Exodus 3: Sacred Ground, Sacred Name

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Over the last few weeks, we have reflected on the seven times Jesus tells us, “I am . . .” We have looked to his words for wisdom; we have looked at his actions for guidance. Jesus’ statements also reflect the “I am who I am” statement and the sacred Tetragrammaton of four Hebrew consonants YHWH. Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us the importance of this name and today we consider just what this great I AM might mean to us.

From Richard Rohr, OFM: I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the Jewish revelation of the name of God. As we Christians spell and pronounce it, the word is Yahweh. In Hebrew, it is the sacred Tetragrammaton YHVH (yod, he, vay, and he). I am told that those are the only consonants in the Hebrew alphabet that are not articulated with lips and tongue. Rather, they are breathed, with the tongue relaxed and lips apart. YHVH was considered a literally unspeakable word for Jews, and any attempt to know what they were talking about was “in vain.” As the commandment said: “Do not utter the name of God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). All attempts to fully think God are in vain. From God’s side, the divine identity was kept mysterious and unavailable to the mind. When Moses asked for the divinity’s name, he received only the phrase that translates “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14) . . . When considered in this way, God is suddenly as available and accessible as the very thing we all do constantly—breathe. Exactly as some teachers of prayer say, “Stay with the breath, attend to your breath”—the same breath that was breathed into Adam’s nostrils by this Yahweh (Genesis 2:7); the very breath “spirit” that Jesus handed over with trust on the cross (John 19:30) and then breathed on us as shalom, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit all at once (John 20:21-23). And isn’t it wonderful that breath, wind, spirit, and air are precisely nothing—and yet everything?

Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, pp. 25-26

(Rohr, Breathing Yahweh)

God the creator comes to us each morning as we rise to remind us that we are created in God’s image out of love, to be used in and for love. Christ the redeemer leads us each day to guide us with his example of hope and compassion. The Holy Spirit abides with us faithfully each evening, resting upon our open hearts to heal us as evening closes in. As we consider what God means with this great promise of I AM Who I AM, we put ourselves in the hands of the one who created us, the one who heals us, the one who loves us beyond all that is comprehensible.

Tomorrow, “you are . . .”


Rohr, Richard. “The Gate of Heaven is Everywhere.” Center for Action and Contemplation, 6 Oct. 2014, cac.org/.

Images from: http://1049theriver.com/he-is-yahweh/ and https://www.quora.com/Is-Jehovah-Yahweh

For more on the seven times Jesus says, “I am,” visit: https://www.voiceofprophecy.com/articles/blog/7-times-jesus-said-i-am

 

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John 6:25-59: “I Am the Bread of Life”

Monday, June 11, 2018

At the Last Supper, Jesus breaks the bread.

Perhaps the most well-known appellation Jesus uses to describe himself is, the Bread of Life. After feeding thousands with several fish and a few loaves of bread, the people find Jesus on the other side of the lake, and say to him, “Teacher, when did you get here?”

Jesus replies: “You are looking for me because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you understood my miracles. Do not work for food that spoils; instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life. This is the food which the Son of Man will give you, because God, the Father, has put his mark of approval on him.”

Like these followers who have lived the miracle of sustenance with Jesus, we also may be surprised to find him by our side when we look for him to save us. We also may ask a simple question that misses the mark Jesus hopes to make with us – that Jesus never abandons us or leaves us behind, that Jesus wants nothing more than to sustain us through difficulty, to heal us in love, and to transform us in hope. For this reason, millennia after the recording of this story we still rely on these verses for wisdom, confidence, and peace.

We find other reflections on Jesus as The Bread of Life on this blog.

The New Exodus: https://thenoontimes.com/2013/06/03/the-bread-of-life-for-the-new-exodus/

Bread and Stone: https://thenoontimes.com/2016/06/30/matthew-41-11-bread-and-stone/

Body of Christ: https://thenoontimes.com/2017/06/18/john-651-58-body-of-christ/

Recognizing Jesus: https://thenoontimes.com/2016/04/26/john-641-42-recognizing-jesus/

The Some Left Over Parts I-X posts beginning at: https://thenoontimes.com/2015/08/02/2-kings-442-44-some-left-over-part-i/


Image from http://www.redeemerway.org/sermons/2018/2/23/i-am-the-bread-of-life 

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