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Esther 5: Building the Gallows

Queen Esther

Thursday, February 15, 2018

We must take care to observe what schemes we enter, knowingly or unknowingly. In today’s reflection, a parade of characters brings us an invitation to explore our own motivations and actions.

Queen Esther waits beyond the throne room, knowing that entrance without permission results in death. Does she know that she will need more courage than she believes she possesses?

King Xerxes offers half his kingdom in a magnanimous gesture. Does he know what price he will actually pay for this promise?

Haman wells over with envy and anger. Does he understand what happens to plotters and schemers?

Haman’s wife Zeresh urges her husband to build an execution scaffold. Does she understand who will eventually stand on its trapdoor?

Mordecai insists on worshipping no other god before Yahweh. Does he know that the LORD will protect him?

Haman, Zeresh, and Friends

These characters invite us to explore what gallows we build for ourselves and others. They call us to examine our goals and incentives. They ask us to open ourselves to the possibility of conversion and mercy.

We use the scripture link and the drop down menus to compare varying translations of these verses. We explore more about the lives of the characters in this story today.

For a film representation of Esther’s story, click on her image, or visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYOaP2rf–Q 

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Esther 1: Susa

Jacopo del Sellaio: The Banquet of Ahasuerus

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Over the next few days, we will explore the story of Esther, a recounting of how a brave young woman saves a nation of people by mustering the courage to respond to God’s call. Polar forces place her in grave danger; yet Esther survives to rejoice in God’s guidance and protection. As we accompany her on this journey from fear to joy, we move from ordinary time through Ash Wednesday to Lent to discover the potential for transformation. Esther invites us to move away from typical days of activity into a more quiet life of introspection. Like Esther, we examine our relationship with God to see how fear manipulates us. And like Esther, we arrive at a new level of understanding of God’s love.

This is the story of something that happened in the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled from India to Ethiopia – 127 provinces in all. King Xerxes ruled from his royal throne in the palace complex of Susa. 

UNESCO has declared Susa a World Heritage Site as one of the oldest cities in the world. Rebuilt by the Persian King Darius, inhabited by the monarch Xerxes in the Book of Esther, and later conquered by Alexander the Great, Susa represented a city where many cultures and peoples came together.

In this opening chapter of Esther’s story, we learn about Xerxes’ court. As a soldier and builder, he made his mark in the ancient world, and his famous Tukta banquets were reknown. It is at one of these feasts that our story begins.

The king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.

Queen Vashti refuses to do as King Xerxes asks and so is banished from court. Into this scenario steps the innocent, beautiful young Jewish woman, Esther. We observe the wealthy and famous in this ancient world and we reflect on our world today. Celebrities and sports figures hold our interest, while the lower classes serve as the invisible support to a lavish life. The powerful command while the powerless live on the margins of society.  What questions come to us as we reflect on this opening chapter of Esther’s story?

Tomorrow, Esther becomes queen.

For another reflection on Esther 1, visit The Race of the Just post on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2011/10/19/the-race-of-the-just/ 

King Xerxes is also known as Ahasuerus or Achashverosh. For more information on the people in this story, visit http://www.iranchamber.com/history/susa/susa.php, http://www.livius.org/articles/place/susa/, https://www.britannica.com/place/Susa, https://www.ancient.eu/Xerxes_I/, https://amazingbibletimeline.com/blog/esther-and-mordecai-under-xerxes-of-persia/,or http://www.womeninthebible.net/women-bible-old-new-testaments/queen-vashti/

 

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Exodus 14: Making Pharaoh Obstinate

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nicolas Poussin: The Crossing of the Red Sea

Each time I revisit the Exodus story I puzzle over the fact that God makes Pharaoh obstinate. This seems, at first glance, to be such a childish way to show strength. God determines to set the stubborn Pharaoh as an opponent – which God can do because God is all-powerful. And so Pharaoh sets out with soldiers, horses and chariots

I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.

There would be much less drama in the story of the Red Sea crossing if Pharaoh and his troops were not galloping after the lumbering tribes of Israel. The story would be much less memorable if great walls of water did not destroy the Egyptian cohort. And we would be much less tempted to apply the story to our own lives.

Scholars present various opinions on the accuracy of the Exodus story, but no matter their claims or evidence, we reflect on the accounting of a persistent nation longing to be free cast against a determined ruler who suddenly changes his mind. What does this accounting hold for us? Where do we see ourselves? And how much do we rely on the Lord when we are confronted by overwhelming obstacles?

Today we remember this ancient and familiar story as we find our own place in the tale. We are either the reckless pursuers or the holy faithful. We are either driven by obsession, or led by wisdom and hope. We are either blind followers of power, or seekers of freedom.

Does God call us to obstinacy to crash forward without thinking, or to cross the marsh while trusting in God’s wisdom? Today let us determine to set down our own story of untiring faith and profound hope.

When we use the scripture links to explore differing translations of this story, we find ourselves a

For more on the view that the Red Sea was actually the Sea of Reeds or Reed Sea, visit: http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/08/New-Evidence-from-Egypt-on-the-Location-of-the-Exodus-Sea-Crossing-Part-I.aspx#Article

For an information and an opinion piece that Moses and the Hebrews crossed the Lake of Tanis (in the Nile delta) rather than the Red Sea, visit:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/science-red-seas-parting-180953553/  

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The Trinity

Creed: We believe . . .

The Twelfth Day of Christmas, January 5, 2018

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gives to me twelve drummers drumming.

These twelve drummers lords represent the twelve beliefs held in the Apostles Creed.

When the circumstances of life challenge us, we take our burdens to the LORD . . .

We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

When life confuses us about how we are to behave and where we are to go, we take our worries to Christ . . .

We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.

When life presents impossible obstacles that seem insurmountable, we remember that with God all things are possible . . .

We believe that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary.

When life’s pain seems to have no purpose, we remember that Christ offers salvific suffering for us each day . . .

We believe that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Women Apostles

When horrible events destroy innocent people, we remind one another that Christ overcomes all evil and brings goodness out of harm . . .

We believe that Jesus descended into hell and on the third day rose again from the dead.

When dictators and oligarchs wipe out cultures and truths, we remind ourselves that God’s kingdom is the only kingdom that lasts forever . . .

We believe that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God.

When corruption thwarts justice and exploits the marginalized, we remember that there is only one judgment that lasts forever . . .

We believe that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.

When we are abandoned, alone, or rejected, we remember that we are all on in the Spirit . . .

We believe in the Holy Spirit.

When the structures we design to protect us become tools of subjugation, we recall that the Spirit lives in our ancestors who go before us, and in our children’s children who follow . . .

We believe in the holy catholic Church and the Communion of Saints.

When we are beleaguered, overwhelmed or undone, we recall that God’s goodness overpowers any errors we commit . . .

We believe in the forgiveness of sins.

When we are unloved, unwanted or numbed by tragedy, we remember that Christ brings us home to new life in The Way . . .

Giovanni Battista Gaulii: The Three Marys at the Sepulchre

We believe in the resurrection of the body.

When we are duped or deceived by life on earth, and when we lose all hope, we remember that God is with us always, loving us into eternal goodness . . .

We believe in life everlasting.

This is what we believe, this is what we share, this is what we know.

Amen.

For information about where the Creed is found in Scripture, visit: http://www.acatholic.org/about-the-catholic-faith/catholic-the-apostles-creed/ 

For information about the split between Western and Eastern creeds, visit: http://orthochristian.com/90157.html 

For more in-depth interpretations of The Apostles’ Creed, visit these sites. 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Apostles-Creed

https://blog.faithlife.com/blog/2015/04/the-apostles-creed-its-history-and-origins/

http://www.dummies.com/religion/christianity/catholicism/the-twelve-articles-of-catholic-faith/

 

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Hubble Space Telescope: The Pillars of Creation

Creation: And it was Good

The Sixth Day of Christmas, December 30, 2017

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six geese a-laying.  

Light and dark, heaven and earth, plants of many kinds, stars and heavenly bodies, creatures that live in the water and on land, humanity. With each of the six days of creation, God sees that it was good.

Arguments continue between those who believe in a literal progression and those who turn to science for a deeper understanding of our origins. No matter our perspective, the stories in the opening of Genesis bring us an opportunity for deeper intimacy with God.

And it was good. When we understand that God has created all that surrounds us, we often leap to the conclusion that this goodness must continue unchallenged and unchanging. We struggle to understand why natural and man-made catastrophes harm and even destroy the innocent. How does God allow such suffering to take place? How do we handle the stress that comes with persecution both perceived and real? The Apostle Paul writes his first letter to the people of Thessalonica as they struggle to maintain the community they established when Paul was with them.

And it was good. Paul’s letter is so brief, and so inspiring that it is easily read with commentary. Today, particularly if we struggle with the de-creation of a community we hold dear, we find a path forward through chaos with Paul’s verses. They give us an antidote for the suffering we feel when we witness the destruction of our work or the severance of ties that once sustained us. When studying Paul’s words, we remember that, despite the circumstances surrounding us, God always turns harm to good, even when it is difficult to perceive this goodness. Destruction of someone or something we have loved brings us to our knees and asks us to pass through the narrow gate of transformation when we rely on God’s promise that all things are possible. The ruination of some idea or some structure that produces goodness brings us into deeper intimacy with our creator when we realize that goodness supersedes harm always.

Charles (Charlie) Pellerin: NASA’s former director of astrophysics

And it was good. Today we ponder the loving act of creation, our willingness to believe God’s promise of love, and the belief that God will always lead us out of the darkness of de-creation.

And it was good.

Read about recovery from disaster: “What went wrong with the Hubble Space Telescope (and what managers can learn from it) NASA’s former director of astrophysics, Charlie Pellerin, has learned a thing about leadership and project failure” at https://www.cio.com.au/article/420036/what_went_wrong_hubble_space_telescope_what_managers_can_learn_from_it_/

For more information on the M16 Eagle Nebula pictured above, click on the image or visit the NASA site at: https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/hubble-goes-high-definition-to-revisit-iconic-pillars-of-creation

For notes and commentary on 1 Thessalonians, visit: http://biblehub.com/1_thessalonians/

To learn about connections between Paul’s letter and the stress produced by persecution, visit: https://bible.org/seriespage/3-stress-persecution-1-thessalonians-213-20

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Torah: Law and Covenant

Torah being read at a Bar Mitzvah

The Fifth Day of Christmas, December 29, 2017

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five gold rings.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Our origins and beginnings, God’s redemption and deliverance, our holiness and worship, service and work, God’s law and covenant with the people. The first five books of the Old Testament are five gold rings that we might wear on our fingers as we remember how God has acted in our lives, and has called us to a holy way of life.

We might take time today to read stories of creation and the patriarchs whose lives bring us vivid examples of how we might – or might not – respond to God’s call. On the other hand, we might want to explore the exodus story that we re-live during Lent and Eastertide each year. Some of us might be interested in the minutiae of the law or in the early Temple rites. Finally, we may want to explore the Christian perspective of these ancient Jewish scriptures because for Christians, “the Pentateuch portrays the pilgrim people waiting for the full realization of the kingdom of God.”

No matter our perspective, no matter our circumstances, these five golden rings bring us a foundation and a vision for the kingdom we know is already among us.

For more about the Torah, or Pentateuch, visit: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-written-law-torah or http://www.usccb.org/bible/scripture.cfm?src=_intros/pentateuch-intro.htm

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Song of Songs 6:1-3: Discovery

The Three Magi

The Third Day of Christmas, December 27, 2017

In the old carol The Twelve Days of Christmas, our true love brings us three costly French hens on the third day. This extravagant gift might reflect the gifts of the three magi to the Christ child of frankincense, gold and myrrh; or they might remind us of the essential virtues for life: faith, hope and love. Today we consider another powerful Trinity present in our lives: Creator, Redeemer, and Healer, giver, receiver, and gift – a duo of two who hold between them the essence of their love . . . the Holy Trinity. Looking for clues to discover more about this mysterious relationship we experience with God, we explore Solomon’s Song of Songs.

“Determined to share her lover with no one, the girl refuses the aid offered by the daughters in seeking him.  She implies that she had never really lost him, for he has come down to his garden”.  (Senior 796)

We often spent time thinking about our need to trust and obey God when we feel trouble brewing.  Can we imagine ourselves as ardent lovers of God?  Can we see ourselves as determined as this young woman in today’s Noontime?  Can we see ourselves as settling for nothing less than full discovery of God even within our most intimate selves?  Can we believe it possible that God might have a unique, genuine and loving connection with each one of us . . . without forgetting who we are and what we need?

With God all things are possible.  We have only to ask.  God loves us more ardently than any earthly lover might, and we might love God more than anything or anyone on earth.

How much time do we spend in quiet discovery of God’s goodness each day as balanced with the time we spend worrying about all we believe we need from God?  How much effort do we give to tending our own garden to make it ready for the visit of the lover who is anxious to bring us what we need before we ask?  Do we go out in search of this most excellent lover who awaits us with joy even when we are in the midst of our suffering, or do we sit at home and pine?

Do we seek sorrow or joy, separation or union?  How much effort do we really give to seeking God?

Zurbarán: St. John of the Cross

I paraphrase here the third of St. John of the Cross’ Dichos, or Sayings: Although the road is wide and soft for those who have the will to walk it, you will still need strong feet, an eager spirit, and obstinate determination.  The pathway to the lover’s garden is inviting, but not easy.  There are always stones in the path, low-hanging branches and slippery stepping stones that cross the stream.  Do we pursue this Lover God as ardently as we pursue our daily wants and desires?  Are we willing to put aside our agendas to take up the one we are given by the one who loves us best?  Do we secretly undermine our own efforts to find intimacy with God, or is this life of God’s one we choose to discover? Do we give up in our search of the beloved, or is this a lover we seek with passion?

Perhaps we have been searching and have discovered this intimate God already.  Perhaps we know precisely where Christ sits among the lilies.  Perhaps we browse along the paths with the Spirit when we are both troubled and happy.  If not, then let us go.  If so, then let us celebrate.

Where has your lover gone? 

My lover has come down to his garden . . . to gather lilies . . . my lover belongs to me and I to him . . .

Adapted from a favorite written on August 13, 2010.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.796. Print. 

To read the O’Henry (William Sydney Porter) story, The Gift of the Magi, visit: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/GifMag.shtml

To better understand the three gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, visit: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/

To read John of the Cross’ poem, Dark Night of the Soul, along with a brief commentary, visit: https://www.poetseers.org/spiritual-and-devotional-poets/christian/the-works-of-st-john-of-the-cross/dark-night-of-the-soul/index.html

Find John’s Dichos at: http://joshuakezer.blogspot.com/2012/01/sayings-of-light-and-love-dichos-de-luz.html 

For reflections on the mystery of God as three persons in one, enter the word Trinity into the blog search bar and explore.

For more on the Trinity, visit: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Trinity-Christianity

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Tobit 3: Seek Consolation – Death

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet: The Raising of Lazarus

We have sought consolation from paralysis, blindness and deafness. We have looked for peace when we are speechless or plagued by possession. Today we reflect on how we might seek comfort in the face of death or deep loss.

We know the stories of those Jesus raised from the dead while he walked among us as human: his friend Lazarus, the widow of Nain’s son, the synagogue leader Jairus’ daughter. We also know the story of how, through the intercession of the risen Christ, Peter brought Tabitha/Dorcas back from death, and Paul called back Eutychus. When we look at the Old Testament, we remember that Elijah restored life to the widow of Zarephath’s son, and Elisha to the Shunammite woman’s son. And perhaps most importantly, we know that Christ has the power to return each of us to eternal life once we leave this earthly one.

Henry Thomson: The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter

All of this reflection on restoration speaks to our desire to overcome death. It exemplifies our hope that deep loss is not permanent. And it resonates with our expectation that Christ’s love for each of us calls all of us to union with him . . . out of certain death and into certain life. In this holiest of seasons when we celebrate the coming of Jesus to the world, we return to one more story of restoration. The story of Tobit and Sarah.

I have always turned to this Book when I am in the middle of a hopeless situation, when the circumstances in which I find myself offer absolutely no anticipation of salvation for myself or for someone I hold dear.  Each time I spend time with these verses, I come away refreshed by the themes the story offers: healing, restoration, desperate prayers made, and desperate prayers answered.  There are soap-opera elements, cliff-hanging events. There are people focused on money, power and sex; yet, over all of these forces, love holds sway.  And it is the only place in the Bible where Raphael is featured.  He is, indeed, so important that the story cannot take place without him.

James Tissot: The Raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain

So why does this archangel visit these characters disguised as a traveler? How does he bring them hope, rebirth and transformation? What is the attitude of each character before God the Creator? And what might we take away from the lessons laid out here?

If we have to read the whole of Tobit today, let us do so. If not, let us focus on Chapter 3. Tomorrow a Prayer for Death . . . and Birth.

Adapted from a reflection written during Advent 2007.

For a quick re-cap of the Old and New Testament resurrection stories above, visit: https://www.gotquestions.org/raised-from-the-dead.html

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Mark 5:1-17: Seek Consolation – Possession

Friday, December 22, 2017

Sebastian Bourdon: The Gerasene Demoniac

The Gerasene Demoniac

Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. 

In ancient days, epilepsy and psychological ailments were seen as possession by fiends or dark spirits. Spells and incantations murmured by magicians were the only hope of those suffering from mysterious illness. We can understand the suspicion Jesus caused when he cast out these demons and brought joy to common people. The authorities who benefited from the plight of the desperate sought to put an end to Jesus’ constant cures.

No one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him.

Today, science often guides us as we explore disease and look for healing; yet still some of us suffer from unseen – and misunderstood – torment. When we consider the story of the man possessed by an evil he cannot see and does not comprehend, we begin to understand our own hope for consolation when we are beset by troubles large and small. Today as we read this story of the Gerasene, let us run to Christ to fall on our knees as he does. And let us surrender all our troubles to the deep, healing, transforming and abiding consolation of Christ.

He was some distance away when he saw Jesus; so he ran, and fell on his knees before him.

For more on casting out demons, visit: https://bible.org/seriespage/9-gerasene-demoniac-mark-51-20 

 

 

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