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Monday, March 23, 2020

Jeremiah 4: Jerusalem’s Story as Our Own

Jerusalem

When people gathered in on a western hilltop above the Jordan River sometime between the years 4300 to 3300 B.C.E., the city of Jerusalem came into being; her early artisans were known for their stone and copper work. During the Middle Bronze Era (3300-2100 B.C.E.) the people fortified  the city then known as Jebus and her people in the surrounding hills, known as the Jebusites (1 Chronicles 11) began to form a confederation with other peoples in the area.  It was this tribe that fought against Joshua and the Israelites (Joshua 9).

In the Late Bronze and Iron Ages (1600-332 B.C.E.) Jerusalem’s people increased the city walls and size that changed only slightly and remained until the time of Nehemiah (about 445 B.C.E.)  The city was a 12 acre site just south of today’s Temple mount bordered by the Kidron and Tyropoeon Valleys when captured by David; King Solomon nearly tripled the city to an area of about 32 acres when the temple-palace complex was built over a converted threshing floor. Jerusalem’s city and Temple become a center of worship, trade, culture and power until she was taken by the Babylonians and many of her people sent into exile.  Re-built by Nehemiah she struggled to return to her former fame but was taken by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C.E. and later by the Romans.  She was again destroyed in the year 70 C.E.

Jerusalem: The Damascus Gate

Western history records the centuries of struggle between Christians and Muslims for control of Jerusalem until 1948 when the state of Israel is formed and the Jewish people are called “home,” but Jerusalem today still remains a city in conflict, divided and troubled yet also united and renowned.

As we move through the Lenten season, we are invited to visit with Jerusalem for a short time each noon to explore her days of glory, her times of trial, her humiliations and her celebrations.  In so many ways her history might be ours.  Born out of a desire to flourish, nurtured by a hope for the eternal, and struggling through faith and doubt, Jerusalem offers us a tour of her life; she brings us her story full and open.  Last week we prayed as we went up to Jerusalem.  Now that we are within God’s holy precinct, let us offer our own lives back to the Creator.  Let us spend time with God as we examine the life of Jerusalem as our own life in macrocosm.   And let us return to God honestly, fully and openly . . . to examine the story of our own lives.


Each day this week, visit Jesus’s last journey at: https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney1/6-jesuss-last-journey-to-jerusalem/

Damascus Gate image from a Times of Israel blog at: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/jerusalem-then-and-now-a-journey-in-photos/ to visit Jerusalem then and now.

“The Jebusites.” and “Jerusalem.” ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

For atlas references visit: http://bibleatlas.org/jerusalem.htm

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

John 19:25-27: Vulnerable Women

station_ix[1]From THE FOUR LOVES by C. S. Lewis: To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully around the hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell”. 

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/3058-to-love-at-all-is-to-be-vulnerable-love-anything

These words give us something to ponder as we watch the women wait for the hour of death at the foot of the cross.  With them we can examine ourselves to see how and if and why we do or do not allow ourselves to be open or closed to love, open or closed to heaven, open or closed to a place of dark tragedy.

Matthew, Mark and Luke record that the women accompanying Christ and his friends stood at a distance as the hour of Jesus’ death drew near.  It is John who brings this group closer to the cross, closer to the agony, closer to the pain.  It is John who records how Jesus was certain to see to his mother’s welfare.  A woman alone in this society lived a dangerous life without provision and without protection.  Jesus does not allow this mother, who has offered her love unconditionally to him and to his followers, to be left to the mercy of the crowd.  This is one of his final acts as he exits this world to enter into the next.

From early on in all four Gospels we see women as important to Jesus. In Luke 8:1-3 we find women, many of them nameless, following Christ, cooking and washing for him and his disciples.  These women make themselves open to The Word.  They offer themselves as vulnerable vessels for The Word.  They became sowers and reapers, caretakers and nurturers.  They become builders of the Kingdom of God.  They allow themselves to be committed to something that many disbelieve.  They love.

Thinking about these women and considering where we might be standing in this crucifixion story, we pause to pray . . .

May we be faithful followers of Christ as were these Galilean women whom the Gospels describe.  May we be willing vessels, vulnerable to the love to which Jesus calls us.  May we dare to make ourselves open to the work God has in mind for us.  May we be willing temples wherein the Holy Spirit dwells. May we rejoice in the wisdom of the Creator, in the miracle of God’s hope, in the healing and restoration of God’s hand.  May we be present to everyone we meet today and all days . . . for we never know what miracles may be wrought, what hopes fulfilled, what love harvested . . . . if only we might be open and vulnerable.

Amen.


For a prayer At the Foot of the Cross, click on the image above or go to: http://lu10-38.blogspot.com/2007/02/station-ix-at-foot-of-cross.html

Written on Valentine’s Day 2008, re-written and posted today.

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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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Thursday, March 12, 2020

Mark 14:53-65: The Sanhedrin

Munkacsy: Christ Before Pilate

Mihály Munkacsy: Christ Before Pilate

In an era awash with stagecraft, deception, and false news, We pause today with Mark’s Gospel to ask ourselves: How much have we humans progressed in the discernment of truth? 

We have been reflecting this week on vignettes from the last of Jesus’ days in Jerusalem and today we pause for a time in the Gospel of Mark:

The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they found none.

So what and who are the Sanhedrin?  How and why did they hold power over Jesus?  When and where do we become members of this body?

Many gave false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree.

We have found ourselves drawn in to petty arguments at work and home.  What is the witness we bear to others?  Does it enlighten or obscure?

Some took the stand and testified falsely against him.

We are asked to stand with those who lie in order to defend a structure or system that is corrupt.  Do we join the rabble?  Do we witness honestly?

The high priest rose before the assembly and questioned Jesus.

We are often asked to follow leaders who have private agendas and secret goals.  Do we preserve the community at all costs?  Do we speak truth with mercy and without rancor?

But Jesus was silent and answered nothing.

We may find ourselves hoping for swift and total retribution from God.  Are we lusting after our own outcomes?  Are we seeing conflict through our own prejudices?

The high priest tore his garments.

We will see leaders manipulate and cajole us.  Do we placate the out-of-control tyrant?  Do we make ourselves small so as to go unnoticed?

They all condemned him as deserving to die.

We hear rumors and whispers about a loved one or a perceived enemy.  Do we align ourselves with those who have our same goals in order to tip the balance of an argument in our favor?

Some began to spit on him.

We see others allowing consumed by hatred and greed.  Do we join them in a headlong rush to condemn?

They blindfolded him and struck him.

We watch as the innocent are brutalized and marginalized.  Do we join in the fray in order to protect ourselves?

The guards greeted him with blows.

We see bullies gather force as they sweep the small-minded and self-preserving into a tsunami of cowardice against the guiltless.  Do we stand up to oppression? Do we speak from truth or hide in fear?

Do we consider where we stand in the chorus of the Sanhedrin?


Image from: http://madamepickwickartblog.com/2012/08/the-temple-affair-politics-and-religion-dont-mix/

A re-post from March 12, 2013.

For information that will enlighten and inform our reflection, go to The Jewish Virtual Library at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Sanhedrin.html and the Sanhedrin page of the Famous Trials website we have cited earlier this week http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/jesus/sanhedrin.html

 

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Matthew 27:11-14: In Secret

Preti: Pilate Washing His Hands

Mattia Preti: Pilate Washing His Hands

Last December we spent time with a portion of John’s Gospel hoping to understand Pontius Pilate as he struggled to unlock the mystery of the man who stood before him . . . accused by his own people.  Jesus’ reputation announced his enemies’ accusation yet today we still wonder why Pilate washed his hands of this internal Jewish affair; multiple versions of what took place give us little – very little – insight.  “Christian accounts of the trial of Jesus suggest either that Pilate played no direct role in the decision to execute Jesus (Peter), or that he ordered the crucifixion of Jesus with some reluctance (Mark) or with great reluctance (Luke, John). Many historians attribute these accounts to efforts by early Christians to make their message more palatable to Roman audiences. It is clear that prefects had a variety of options available for dealing with a potential source of trouble such as Jesus. These options included flogging, sending the matter back to the Sanhedrin, or referring the case to Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee”.  (Linder)  We are left to ponder and conclude on our own.  What was Pilate thinking as he washed his hands?  What did he believe?  What did he fear?  What was he holding in secret?

We might peer more closely at the details of this encounter.  What does Pilate do when he is put to the test?  It is up to us to forage for details, to pray for clarification, to ask for instruction from the Spirit, and to witness as Paul does to the extraordinary gift of Jesus and how his presence challenges the dark corners of human society.  Today’s second Mass reading is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that become visible is light. (5:11-14)

Paul’s words may inform us about why Caiaphas and Pilate fear the worst from this king who has no apparent army or courtiers but whose radiant truth pierces the smallest dark corners to convert all that is barren and tainted to an overwhelming abundance of light and goodness.  Pilate perhaps fears that he is losing control . . . a control he suspects he never really had.  Pilate is unwilling to step out of the shadow world.  Do we follow his lead . . . or do we stride forward out of all that is secret and hidden . . . into the radiant goodness of the Christ?


If you have time, read through the details of Jesus’ trial today as gathered by Linder at: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/jesus/jesusaccount.html

For last December’s Noontime, use the blog search bar and enter Standing Before Pilate and “What Evil Has he Done?” and explore.

Linder, Douglas. “The Trial of Jesus: Key Figures.” Famous Trials. University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, n.d. Web. 9 Mar 2013. <http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/jesus/jesuskeyfigures.html&gt;.

Image from: http://www.aug.edu/augusta/iconography/pilate.html

A re-post from March 10, 2013. 

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Monday, March 9, 2020

Matthew 26:1-5: Caiaphas

Matthias Stom: Christ Before Caiaphas

Matthias Stom: Christ Before Caiaphas

We find ourselves edging closer to Palm Sunday and Easter, and today we anticipate the Passion readings.  Familiar events and names sound in our ears as we listen at church services; well-read verses lose their newness until we pause to spend time with a few key figures.  Today we study Caiaphas, the high priest.

Today’s Noontime scripture citation unfolds much more to us if we also visit the Famous Trials site by Douglas O. Linder at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.  Specifically we will want to examine the material we find about the Key Figures  at Jesus’ trial but you may also find time to wander through the site’s many pages of information.  They are eye-opening and prayer-expanding.  They give us a better foundation on which to stand, a deeper perspective from which to pray. We might just focus on a few details we know about the man Caiaphas.  Some of this we already know: high priest, liaison between the Roman authorities and the Jewish people, son-in-law of the high priest Annas, presider over Temple ceremonies, Roman prefect for ten years with Pontius Pilate,

There is more that we will want to know: controller of the Temple treasury, manager of the Temple police, dismissed from service in 36. C.E. by the Syrian governor Vitellius . . . quite likely due to his close work with Pontius Pilate.

As we study, reflect and pray, the person Caiaphas begins to come into sharper focus.  This powerful man likely saw himself as the controller of his own universe. We might wonder if he saw any of his actions as placating the power structure or if he believed himself free of petty influence.  This we cannot know but what we can discern as we wander through this information is that Caiaphas played an important role in the life, death and resurrection of the Christ. Without Caiaphas it is likely that another high priest would have stepped into place to see Jesus handed over to Roman authorities – the Galilean asked too many questions of too many people – but it is Caiaphas we have with us today.  So let us learn more about him, let us imagine what our opinion of him might have been if he were our own high priest, and let us ask God for the wisdom to discern the presence of Caiaphas priests among us today.


For interesting information on Jesus’ trial, go to the following page on the University of Missouri Law School’s famous trials site by Douglas O. Linder: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/jesus/jesus.html; and for Key Figures at Jesus’ Trial: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/jesus/jesuskeyfigures.html; and for Non-Christian accounts of Jesus’ trial that give us a fresh perspective: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/jesus/nonchristianaccounts.html; and visit the Britannica page that is accessed from this site at: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/303091/Jesus-Christ

For more on the Syrian Governor Vitellius, go to: http://www.livius.org/vi-vr/vitellius/lucius.html

For more on the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, go to http://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/stewart.cfm?id=1314

Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caiaphas

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Second Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2020

Hosea 10: False Heart, True Heart

heart-nature-mark-kazav[1]False oaths, fake alliances, evil intrigues, any means to achieve an end: this is what Hosea sees in his community.  The kingdom of David has been divided in two.  Elijah, Elisha, and Amos have warned the people; Isaiah and Micah will add their prophetic words of warning.  Hosea finds himself seeing clearly the devastation that awaits this false-hearted people.   He is ignored.

Yet . . . Hosea persists, telling us that we are people meant to worship God, meant to take the yoke upon fair neck, to thresh, to be harnessed by the plow of the true God with a true heart.  We are created to be workers in the vineyard, to sow justice and reap piety, we are meant to break new fields so that the rain of God’s justice might bring forth new fruit.

Hosea warns that those who have sown discord and wickedness will reap perversity and eat of the fruit of falsehood.  Turmoil will break out among those who have trusted their warriors and chariots rather than trusting God.  The fortresses carefully built against the needs of the world will be tumbled and ravaged; the false hearts who take advantage of the poor will be lost in the utter destruction.  Hosea predicts all of this and does not succumb to the darkness of the world.  He does not surrender to the pressures around him, he endures.

Like Hosea, we might want God’s justice to be clearly visible in the present; we may want all of Hosea’s predictions about false hearts to materialize in an instant.  Those who seek a settling of scores may wish God’s integrity to rain down on those who sit on comfortable couches to contrive wicked plots.  They will want to see a world of integrity replace the world of falsehood they experience.  Yet this is the message of Christ: God has sent one of true heart and true words, one of promises kept and miracles revealed.  God has sent Jesus to live among us.  Lent tells us that the possibility of living a genuine life is here – now – this day.   We need only turn to God and to open our eyes to see.

If we are dissatisfied with the speed of God’s coming or if we doubt that God is even here among us, we must look first to ourselves to begin kingdom-building.  We must examine our own hearts to see if we remain in truth no matter the social consequence.  We must cease the gossip, cease the controlling, and cease the lusting after outcomes, fame, possessions, power and people.  We must amend our ability – and our willingness – to ignore reality.  We must change our hearts so that we do not succumb to the social pressure to acquire goods, dominance or a sense of superiority.  We must nurture our desire to share, our yearning to heal, and our aspiration for peace.  We must ask God to transform the falsehood in our own hearts so that we might receive goodness from God.  We must be open to the reality of the Lenten message that all are welcome.  Welcome into Christ’s own, open heart.

With endurance, with fidelity, and with honesty the prophecy of Hosea will fully arrive.  And thus the false hearts of the world will become the true heart of Christ.

Let us ask for the coming of this kingdom.


Image from: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/heart-nature-mark-kazav.html

First written on Wednesday, December 22, 2010.  Revised and posted today as a Favorite.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Hosea 9Exile Without Worship

Francesco Hayez: Ephraim

Francesco Hayez: Ephraim

Chapter 9 of Hosea is a picture of the Jewish people and in particular Ephraim, the largest tribe in Israel and one of the first to be taken into exile where they cannot offer sacrifices. Over a period of several hundred years, Ephraim is divided and carted off north to Babylon and south to Egypt. Hosea sees the corruption and nepotism in the structure and so he calls for reform and as a priest himself, he sees the importance of honest and sincere worship and he understands how the absence of worship will impact the people when they are carried into exile.  Yet, Hosea also knows the promise of God’s enduring love and that although the people will stray God will not.  Hosea enacts this belief through his enduring love for Gomer, and he persists in worshiping his God . . . even in exile.

If we continue our Lenten journey with Hosea we will rise from the despair to encounter beautiful words of covenant and union.  And so, like Hosea we remain in faith.

If we linger over the imagery of marriage as the model of God’s relationship with each of us we will discover the courage and joy of hope.  And so, like Hosea we arise in hope.

If we plod along our own Jerusalem Road to follow the words of Hosea we will find secure refuge in our own relationship with God.  And so, like Hosea we abide in love.

Through the allegory of his marriage to Gomer, Hosea lightens our load so that we find the strength to respond to this call to a special, intense, fruitful and honest bond.  Just as Hosea persists in calling out to Gomer he also persists in reminding us of this message no matter how much and how often we ignore him.  And so Hosea speaks to us today.

We have separated ourselves from God and from one another in big and little ways. Hosea says that God waits with open arms. All we need do is repent and turn to God . . . and offer up our open and honest worship.


For more information about the man Ephraim, go to: http://www.aboutbibleprophecy.com/p131.htm

Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephraim

First written on March 26, 2007. Re-written and posted yesterday and today as a Favorite.

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Hosea: Love


Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2013

Hosea: Love

3[1]Lent calls us to examine who we are and what we do.  Lent asks us to step forward in willing vulnerability to God.  Lent uses unusual images to help us see truths so basic that they are easily overlooked.  With the story of Hosea and Gomer we are given the opportunity to reflect on the beauty and integrity of God’s love.

This prophecy was written by a man married to a woman who found it impossible to remain faithful.  When we read these verses with care we also examine the distance that exists between the two people in this relationship and the distance we maintain in our relationship with God.  We have the opportunity to question whether we are determined to keep God at arm’s length . . . or whether we want to invite God into the most interior part of ourselves.  We consider who, and what, and how, and why we love, or if we even love at all.

As we examine the quirks of the relationship between Gomer and Hosea we might also examine our relationships with others – are we the inconstant wife, Gomer, in all we say and do – or are we more like the sorrowful prophet, Hosea, lamenting loss yet insisting on hoping for the fulfillment of promises made?

From La Biblia de América: The unhappy marital experience of Hosea, who remains faithful to Gomer despite everything he knows about her, serves as the context for an extraordinary deepening of the people’s relationship with God through the perspective of love’s stormy psychology.

Each of us has experienced love in some form or another: filial, parental, sibling, conjugal, familial, spiritual, and even collegial and civil.  Love manifests itself in many contexts from sexual and intimate to public and patriotic.  We express love of people, love of things, and love of ideas and concepts.  We also express love of God.

Reading the words of Hosea gives us the opportunity to experience a hope which is laced with sadness.  Listening to Hosea’s lament that weaves sorrow and joy into an intricate pattern of sharp edges and smooth surfaces, we perceive the bittersweet image of deep misery interwoven with soaring expectation.

Allowing the words of this prophecy to sink into our being, we might move closer to perceiving the amazing generosity with which God pardons the people who consistently betray him.  Hosea describes his unrequited love in such a piercing way that we cannot avoid its impact; yet he remains open to the possibility that not only may Gomer return . . . but that she will love him as he loves her.

When I imagine myself in God’s unrequited place, continuing to call as Hosea does, I begin to feel the depth . . . and height . . . and breadth of God’s love.  We are well and truly loved.  Let us spend some time with Hosea today to experience this kind of constancy and steadfastness.  This is not a love which allows itself to be abused; rather, it is a love which loves so much that it risks rebuking the abuse, it risks revealing its vulnerable self, it risks all for sake of the conversion of the beloved.

This is truly an immense and wondrous love.  Let us consider today if we will reject or accept this love.


Tomorrow . . . Hosea and Covenant Love

To better understand Gomer and Hosea and this prophecy, visit the Hosea – Alliances page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/the-old-testament/the-prophets/hosea-alliances/

For more on Gomer and Hosea, click on the image above or go to: http://womeninthescriptures.blogspot.com/2011/08/gomer-and-lo-ruhamah.html or go to http://bible.org/seriespage/hosea

LA BIBLIA DE LA AMÉRICA. 8th. Madrid: La Casa de la Biblia, 1994. Print.

First written on Wednesday, May 27, 2009.  Revised and posted today as a Favorite.

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