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Sunday, January 26, 2013

Ezekiel 5: Considering Our Image of God – Part I

Cunieform tablet mentioing Jehoiachin in Babylon

Berlin: Cunieform tablet mentioning Jehoiachin in Babylon

It is no mystery why so many scripture readers see God as an angry deity to be placated or even avoided.  We must admit that if the supreme being of Ezekiel 5 were the only God we knew . . . we might not seek an intimate relationship with our creator.  This castigating image is one in which God stands in severe judgment, metes out dreadful and complete consequences, and uses his overwhelming strength against nearly powerless creatures who have broken his laws.  We can see why so many cringe at the thought of knowing God intimately . . . or of God knowing us at all.

I will inflict punishments in your midst . . . These verses might terrify anyone looking for consolation for the only solace here comes through a neurotic obedience to an enormous number of laws that are sometimes contradictory.   We can see why these words might panic an already fragile soul into flight; and yet we remember . . . Jesus read this prophecy.  And Jesus lived his life as a practicing Jew, adhering to the Mosaic Law.  If we allow ourselves to pause, we also remember . . . Jesus tells us that he comes to supersede and to fulfill the old law rather than negate it.  Jesus comes to us to let us know that in the end there is only one law, The Law of Love.  But how do we juxtapose this thinking with the verses we read today?

This week we have spent time reflecting with 2 Kings; we have witnessed the unfolding of events which Ezekiel rails against.  These events lead to the destruction of the kingdom, the exportation of God’s people, and the scattering of the Jewish faithful.  What do we learn from our reading?

When we explore who Ezekiel is and to whom he writes, we find some skepticism about the identity of the author.  This frequently happens with ancient texts but when we search commentary we discover that most scholars believe the writer to be of a priestly family taken into exile with King Jehoiachin in 597 B.C.E.  He was married and is believed to have had a degree of freedom while in exile, even having his own house in a village called Tel Abib on the river Chebar.  He lived well, benefited from the structure yet saw its corruption.  As we read his prophecy we understand that he writes at God’s insistence and this fact enables us “to appreciate better how he could be objective and distant and yet intensely present with his audience”.  (Senior RG 337)  Ezekiel writes these words that come from God, rather than his own initiation, in order to transform and save. We sense his urgency in wanting to make an impression on his readers . . . and this he unquestionably does.

If we allow ourselves to spend time with Ezekiel in the context of the New Testament and if we are honest . . . we suddenly see that in viewing life as a race to be won, we hurry to placate a god who is extreme and unreasonable.  We panic, we look away, we scrabble against one another in our rush to show God how good and obedient we are, how much better we are than others.  And we forget to look at the Spirit within each of our neighbors whom we so anxiously judge.  Sadly, we fail to experience God in others.  We frighten ourselves and we cannot see God as the constant, merciful, just, forgiving and adoring lover.   We miss God’s capacity and willingness to absolve.  We mistake God’s passionate embrace for the chains of doom and damnation.  We miss entirely God’s warmth, safety and goodness . . . until we remember Jesus.


Tomorrow . . . some of Jesus’ words to live by when we consider our image of God.

Post image from: http://www.livius.org/ne-nn/nebuchadnezzar/anet308.html

For more on Ezekiel, visit the Ezekiel – Dry Bones Come to Life page on this blog, or go to: https://thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/the-old-testament/the-prophets/ezekiel-dry-bones-come-to-life/

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.RG 337. Print.  

 

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

2 Kings 2: Weathering the Whirlwind

imagesCAD24SSZThe whirlwind is something we fear – when we feel its ominous approach all we can think of is change with instability and unpredictability.  What if we were to shift our perspective slightly so that rather than be governed by fear of the future, we might be governed by trust and obedience?   What if we respond with awe at God’s power rather than fear of the unknown?  This is what we witness in the story we read today in which the mantle of prophecy passes from Elijah to Elisha in the presence of an amazing whirlwind.

Elisha wisely asks for a double portion of spirit rather than wealth or fame, and when we read to the end of the chapter we see the dimensions of the power invested in Elisha.  What he blesses is blessed many fold; what he curses is cursed harshly.  And all of this comes from his perseverance in trusting his creator.

Footnotes give us more information about Gilgal, the Jordan River, and the prophets guild; but the more important message here might be this: That when the earth shifts beneath our feet in a tectonic tremor of change, when a quick drop in barometric pressure harbingers one of life’s devastating storms, and when our hair stands on end with fear of what we suspect is coming and do not fully understand . . . we will do well to respond simply rather than rashly.  We must trust the Creator who has made us and loves us, follow the example of Jesus as the Christ who saves us and protects us, and we must hold in awe the overwhelming power of the Spirit who heals us and transforms us.  Then we too, will speak like the holy prophets to kings.


Written on August 11, 2010 and posted today as a Favorite.

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Monday, January 20, 2013

Psalm 91: Clinging to God – Part II

boy%20clinging%20to%20mother[1]When we hear the thoughts and emotions shared by the participants in NPR’s Losing Our Religion discussions referenced in yesterday’s Noontime, we recognize that while not all humans cling to God, they cling to a search of some kind.  Perhaps we are genetically wired for this universal pilgrimage. If we take an honest look at the responses to the many petitions we have laid before God we will recognize certain truths.

God usually gives us options.  God always opens doors we do not see.  God cannot turn away or turn us down.   God always acts in love.  God wants to fulfill our dreams and plans.  God places hope in us and asks us to live up to that potential.  God instills faith in us according to some measure we cannot understand.  God is always moving toward us, calling us to intimacy, promising protection, assuring us of love.  God is always clinging to us.

Whoever clings to me I will deliver . . . The amazing story of God is that God wants to save even those of us who do not cling to him.

Whoever knows my name I will set on high . . . We call on God for freedom from our fears and God replies in ways we may not fully comprehend.

All who call upon me I will answer . . . God’s answer to us is more complex than the simple response we humans expect; we do not entirely understand the journey we are on. 

I will be with them in distress . . . We may choose to ignore God’s presence but we cannot completely barricade ourselves against God.

I will deliver them and give them honor . . . We may negate God in all our thoughts and actions yet God somehow finds a way to abide with us.

With length of days I will satisfy them and show them my saving power . . .  Although we struggle with our doubts, anger, fears and anxiety, we cannot shut God out of our existence . . . for God is always present to us . . . clinging to us . . . abiding with us . . . loving us.

As we spend some quiet time today . . . let us at least consider an initial, authentic response.


To hear the interviews conducted in the NPR Morning Edition broadcasts or to read the news stories, go to: http://www.npr.org/series/169065270/losing-our-religion

To find out how to help families who are clinging to life, click on the image above or go to: http://sosbabyhelp.org/Burma%20Disaster.html

A re-post from January 20, 2013.

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Psalm 91: Clinging to God – Part I

NPR Morning Edition - Losing Our Religion: The Growth of the "Nones" Jan 14, 2013

NPR Morning Edition – Losing Our Religion: The Growth of the “Nones” Jan 14, 2013

This week we spent time with the opening chapters of Deuteronomy reflecting on what it means to be in relationship with God.  This may have generated questions that still linger.  Do we need scientific evidence in order to believe that God is with us and that God exists?  Do we keep the new word that God loves and protects us to ourselves or do we teach this story to our children and to our children’s children?  What does God’s guidance look like?  How are we to respond to God’s assistance?  Do we owe something in return for God’s protection and mercy?  Do we deserve the unmerited successes we are given at no cost?

Psalm 91, a hymn of thanksgiving and remembrance, describes the meaning of God’s presence.  Psalm 91, an anthem of hope and petition, expresses our basic human want to be protected from evil.  Psalm 91, a song of call and response, is an intimate conversation with God.

You need simply watch; the punishment of the wicked you will see.  Looking at the negatives in life it appears that the wicked always win; remembering the many small times when we somehow did not fall into the path of the wicked, we give thanks for God’s enduring wisdom.

You have the Lord for your refuge; you have made the Most High your stronghold.  Knowing that God chooses to love us no matter our faith, no matter our hope, no matter our love, we give thanks for God’s enduring persistence.

No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent.  Choosing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, God among us, we give thanks for God’s enduring power

For God commands the angels to guard you in all his ways.  Giving ourselves over to the Spirit who abides within each of us, we give thanks for God’s enduring love.

With their hands they shall support you; lest you strike your foot upon a stone.  Accepting the guidance and protection freely given to us, we give thanks for God’s enduring presence.


For a reflection on our Unmerited Success, enter those words into the blog search bar and explore. 

On U.S. National Public Radio (NPR) the Morning Edition journalists have explored religion and spirituality in the series Losing Our Religion.  Today if we take time to listen to even a small portion of these broadcasts we may gauge our own awareness – and gratitude – for God’s presence in our lives.  Click on the image above or go to: http://www.npr.org/series/169065270/losing-our-religion

A re-post from January 19, 2013.

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2 Maccabees 8: Nicanor

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Gustave Dorè: Judas Maccabeus before the Army of Nicanor

Here we return to the heroic story of Judas Maccabeus from an earlier portion of the Maccabees’ story; and the role the Maccabeus family plays as a thorn in the side of the Selucid Empire as it struggles to retain control of its territories and holdings.  We see Judah gathering his troops’ we watch military maneuvers and battles.  Winners divide spoils; they celebrate victories.  There is not much different from the evening news except the level of technology we use in killing one another.

The last verses of this chapter focus on Nicanor, a man who intensely dislikes the Jewish people and all they stand for.  He will appear later in Jewish history and he will eventually be killed in battle; his head and right hand will be on display in Jerusalem for all to see.  But here we read of a time of humiliation for him and we might spend time with this verse: he was eminently successful in destroying his own army.  So he who had promised to provide tribute for the Romans by the capture of the people of Jerusalem testified that the Jews had a champion, and that they were invulnerable for the very reason that they followed the laws laid down by him. 

This new Champion is Judas Maccabeus; the laws are those of the Lord.  The man who intended to be slave-dealer flees like a runaway slave, leaving behind him the clothing that designates him as “A Friend of the King”.  He will later return, but his end will be ignoble.

http://www.bible-history.com/isbe/N/NICANOR+(1)/

All of this brings me to thinking about those who float through life establishing their worth as friends of those in power; rather than finding a way to live a genuine life of devotion to God.

It brings me to thinking about how those who “live by the sword also die by the sword”; ending their lives in the very way they had intended to end the lives of others.

It brings me to thinking about my own life, my own circumstances, and how and where I spend my spiritual and emotional self.  Whom do I value and why?  What do I value and when?  How do I value anyone or anything . . . and do I come to my evaluation with or without God?

We might eliminate a good deal of treachery and betrayal from our lives if we first find a way of doing all things through, and for, and with God alone . . . for God alone guarantees an honorable path for living.  God alone assures us a life spent in eternal serenity.  God alone makes promises that are fully and truly kept.


For more on Judas Maccabeus and the Selucid Empire, go to: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/353851/Judas-Maccabeus  and http://www.britannica.com/search?query=selucid+empire

Written on November 24, 2010; re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://www.mundellchristianchurch.com/art/2Macc-15-Judas-Maccabeus-before-the-Army-of-Nicanor.html

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Hosea 3: Triumph of Love

Saturday, December 14, 2019

“Hosea was instructed to take Gomer back, redeeming her from her paramours.  On condition of her amendment, she will be restored to her former position of wife.  This in turn signifies God’s enduring love for his people.  He will put the people through a period of trial – the dissolution of the kingdom – in order that they may return to him wholeheartedly”.  (Senior 1111)

So he bought her for fifteen pieces of silver and about ten and a half bushels of barley.  Then he said to her . . . “I in turn will wait for you”.

It is only a fully good and gracious God who can take back one who has sunk so low as to have given herself to swine.

It is only a faithful and patient God who can take back one who has scoffed and scorned a love fully and freely given.

It is only a hopeful and healing God who can redeem and restore one who has sinned so egregiously.

We shall come trembling to the Lord and to his bounty . . .

We shall be like grains of sand of the sea, which can neither be measured or counted . . .

We shall be called “Children of the Living God” . . .

We shall be gathered together . . .

We shall become Jezreel, or “God sows” . . .

We shall say to our sisters and brothers, Ammi,” or “my people” . . .

We shall say to our sisters, “Ruhama,” or “she is pitied” . . .

We shall experience the triumph of love . . . and we shall be restored. 


Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.1111. Print.   

Written on October 27, 2010 and posted today as a Favorite.

To read more about Gomer and her children – and her remarkable marriage to the prophet Hosea – click on the image above or go to: http://www.netplaces.com/women-of-the-bible/temptresses-harlots-and-sinful-women/gomer.htm

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Wisdom 14: Superstition

Monday, December 9, 2019

Castor and Pollux

When reading this chapter with footnotes, we will understand that calling a piece of wood here is a reference to the custom of calling upon the twin gods of Castor and Pollux for safety at sea.  “St. Elmo’s fire, the electric discharge from the ship’s mast during a thunderstorm, was regarded as their corporeal epiphany”.  According to Cyril of Alexandria (commenting on Acts 28:11), it was especially an Alexandrian custom to have pictures of the twins to right and left of the ship’s prow”.  (Meeks 1519)  The opening of this chapter reminds us of how foolish we are to pray to gods who do not exist when we will be wiser to appeal directly to God’s providence.  [I]t is your providence, O Father, that steers its course, because you have given it a path in the sea, and a safe way through the waves, showing that you can save from every danger, so that even a person who lacks skill may put to sea. 

I am thinking of the image of each of us as we put to sea each morning when we rise, to sail through the waters of the day, hoping to return to safe harbor at night.  Some of us are more skilled than others at navigating the waves of life, but when the storm clouds brew above us and the sea churns beneath us . . . who among us is not tempted to reach for a personal talisman as a security blanket to see us through?  When we sail with God, our expertise does not matter because even a person who lacks skill may put to sea. 

Notes tell us that verses 6 and 7 refer to the Ark of Noah and the wood of Christ’s cross: For even in the beginning when arrogant giants were perishing, the hope of the world took refuge on a raft, and guided by your hand left to the world the seed of a new generation.  For blessed is the wood by which righteousness comes.  These wooden objects save, because they are instruments of salvation that come directly from the Father.

John Peter Glover: St. Elmo’s Fire

The rest of this chapter tells us that the idea of statue-making and idol worship is an invention of man when turning away from God.  We might smile when a friend or relative confesses an addiction to a pet superstition.  And we can understand the comfort that this panacea may bring . . . but the relief from anxiety is temporary . . . and lacking divinity . . . and eventually leading us to a destructive end.

It is difficult to give up our folk customs which give an immediate but false sense of security.  It may be frightening to put away old habits that lead to a temporary reprieve from worry; but then is it not even more frightening to embark on life’s tide each day without the master pilot in our ship?  Is it better to appeal to these short-lived superstitions . . . or turn to God who upholds us infinitely?

Psalm 107Some sailed to the sea in ships . . . They reeled like drunken men, for all their skill was gone.

Mark 4:37-42A violent squall came up . . .

The Morning Star

Stepping out on our own is impossible, even with a million potions, sayings and powers in our hands.  Setting sail in a boat fashioned by the master shipbuilder’s hands, with sails sewn by his angels, with charts, sextant and compass as gifts from God . . . setting our course by the Morning Star . . . this is the wisdom that always leads us home.


Meeks, Wayne A., Gen. Ed. HARPERCOLLINS STUDY BIBLE (NRSV). New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. Print.  (Meeks)

To learn more about the mythology of Castor and Pollux, click on the image above.  To learn more about Castor and Pollux and the Gemini constellation, go to: http://astroprofspage.com/archives/677 

For more information on the phenomenon of St. Elmo’s Fire, go to: http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/atmospheric/st-elmo-fire.htm

For more about the Morning Star, click on the image above , or go to: http://www.futilitycloset.com/2009/10/03/the-morning-star-paradox/   or http://www.johnpratt.com/items/astronomy/eve_morn.html

http://www.johnpratt.com/items/astronomy/eve_morn.html or

Written on November 23, 2008. Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

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1 Kings 14: Death of Abijah

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The nameless woman returns to her city and as her foot touches the threshold . . .

This is a story which tells of the two kings of the split kingdom of David – Israel with her king Jeroboam in the north and Judah with her king Rehoboam in the south.  Notes, websites and histories can give us a visual of the lineages and a few are listed below.

What we miss when we read history without scripture is the detail, and we have it in abundance in this short chapter.  There is the child, Abijah, the two kings, the wife who is not named and Naamah, the mother who is.  There are other ancillary characters.  http://bible.cc/1_kings/14-1.htm

There are place names: Shiloh, Tirzah, Jerusalem.  Maps can help us find these places to see how they relate in space. http://bibleatlas.org/

We can put ourselves in the timeline and in the space to try to see, hear, smell and hear these sights and these people . . . but what strikes me is this . . . this is a story which might happen to any one of us.  And who am I?

Am I the nameless wife and mother who fears the death of her child?  Am I married to the son of Solomon who finds his kingdom split?  Am I the besieged king or the aggressor, the shield maker, the guard, the prophet, the chronicler?  Do I have a loyalty to the north or south?  Do I believe Jeroboam to be maligned or do I know him to worship idols?  Do I follow Rehoboam blindly or do I question?  In this vivid picture . . . Where am I?  Who am I?  What am I doing?

We know that Jeroboam feared re-unification of these split kingdoms because he would no longer collect the temple worship taxes which he now did since setting up his own capital.  We know that Rehoboam, son of Solomon, scrambled to keep these two territories united, fearing invasion from Assyria, Persia, Egypt and others.  We know that one king was buried with honor and the other was not.  And we know why.

I have such empathy for the nameless woman in this story.  She dies as she is bidden yet she is powerless before these men and apparently before her God.  She moves like a shadow.

I also have empathy for the woman Naamah whose son leads Judah to do evil in the sight of the Lord.  What does she think of the cult prostitutes the leadership has encouraged?  Does she agree that they are a means to worshiping God?  Does she dare to speak if she disagrees?

What do these women think?  What do they say?  What do they hold dear?

Today’s story calls us to think of our journey . . . do we travel light . . . do we travel alone . . . where do we stop along the way . . . what waters and feeds us?

The nameless woman in today’s story is told that her child will pass away as she returns home . . . so in that moment she knows that she will not see him again.  What does she feel?

The nameless woman in today’s story returns to her city and as her foot touches the threshold . . . her child dies.  What does she say?

The nameless woman in today’s story sees her child buried . . . with all of Israel mourning.  What does she pray?

Oh, Father in heaven, spare us from the tragedies which are too hard to bear.  Save us from the people from whom we might suffer irreparable damage.  Keep us always close to you.  Protect the ones we love.  Save us from harm.  Feed us.  Nourish us.  Be our column of smoke and fire and protect us on our way as you did the Israelites who journeyed out of slavery and into freedom with you always guiding.  Alert us to the dangers.  The noise of this world is sometimes so overwhelming.  Sound the alarm when we stray.  Hold us closely.  You are our rock and our refuge.  We give thanks to you, our awesome God.  Amen.


Written on January 13, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://www.womeninthebible.net/women-bible-old-new-testaments/naamah/

Other resources are: http://www.kchanson.com/CHRON/isrkings.html and http://www.bible-history.com/map_israel_judah/ and http://larryavisbrown.homestead.com/files/OT_history/unit1/Unit1a_geography.htm and http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/directory/A/1 and http://bibleatlas.org/ and http://bibledictionaries.com/ and http://www.womeninthebible.net/

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Daniel 9: Gabriel and the Seventy Weeks

Sunday, November 17, 2019

“I was still occupied with this prayer when Gabriel came to me in rapid flight”.

“A pressing theological question asserts itself.  Does the writer of Daniel think God’s purpose in bringing history to its end can be changed merely by uttering human prayers?” (Mays 631-632) Commentary will enlighten this passage for us further but if time is brief today we might reflect on this one question: How do we react when we discover that a period of trial will last longer than we had first believed?  How do we manage pain that endures not seventy years but seven times that number?  Do we reject God in anger or do we go to God in faith?  Do we sink into private despair or do we turn to God in universal hope?  Do we lash out against those who bring us truth or do we react in love . . . even toward our enemies?  What do we do when we find out that our seventy years of pain are seven times that number?   How do we endure?

Daniel provides us with a model, a plan, a pattern we can follow when we receive the news that life is a string of trials interspersed with little triumphs.  Chapter 9 lays out a simple map.

I turned to the Lord, pleading an earnest prayer . . . We turn to God and pour our fears into God’s ear.  We tell him our worries with honesty.  We do not hide any of the details for God already knows them.

With fasting, sackcloth, and ashes . . . We make an outward sign to our inward selves that we have given over all control to God.  We put aside all pride.  We place ourselves fully into God’s hands for God already holds us firmly.

I prayed to the Lord my God, and confessed . . . We enter into an open and straightforward dialog with God.  We say all that is on our minds, all that weighs down our hearts.  We admit that we have erred and have sometimes adored false idols.

And we can turn to God because God is good.  We can be truthful with God because God is forgiving.  We can put away our fears, our defenses and our weapons because God is love.

Know and understand this . . . Jerusalem was to be rebuilt . . .

When we discover that our suffering will not be ending when we first believed it would . . . we can follow Daniel’s model and remember that God always loves, God is always present, God always forgives and welcomes his tired ones home.  God does, indeed, respond to human prayer . . . and he sends his messenger to bring us the news that God is with us.


More notes on Daniel 9: “The prophet Jeremiah (25,11; 29,10) prophesied a Babylonian captivity of seventy years, a round number signifying the complete passing away of the existing generation.  Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the capture of Babylon by Cyrus and the subsequent return of the Jews to Palestine.  However, the author of Daniel, living during the persecution of Antiochus, sees the conditions of the exile still existing; therefore in his mediation, he extends Jeremiah’s number to seventy weeks of years (v 24); i.e., seven times seventy years, to characterize the Jewish victory over the Seleucids as the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy”. (Senior cf. 2, 1100-1101)

To re-visit our reflections on other portions of Daniel 9: We begin with Daniel seeking Ultimate Fulfillment in God; Daniel intones a Prayer in the Desert; then suddenly Gabriel Comes to Daniel in rapid flight.  A vision ensues through which Daniel understands that an end will come to the anguish he and his exiled nation suffer . . . but this end is further off than anticipated. 

To read more about this prophecy, go to the Daniel – God Calls the Faithful and Faithless page on this blog. 

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 631-632. Print.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.1100-1101. Print.   

A re-post from October 27, 2012.

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