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Judges 17: What we See as Best

Micah’s Idol

Friday, June 30, 2017

Everyone did what he thought best . . .

A few days ago, a friend sent me a link to an article about the “me generation” and she wrote in her message:  This is really important . . . make sure you click the link in it about
‘moralistic therapeutic deism’   http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/17/the-me-generation/?nl=opinion&emc=tyb1

I followed the link as she suggested and was not surprised to read that many of us have formulated a god that suits our needs rather than search for the God who is the Living God.  Today we read about a man and his mother who struggle to survive in those days when there was no king in Israel and everyone did what he thought best . . .

The HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY tells us something about this brief story. “The strange account begins abruptly with a theft, a curse, and the making of an idol.  From the outset Micah is presented negatively.  He steals a large sum of money from his own mother (eleven hundred pieces of silver is the amount each Philistine had promised Delilah, 16:5) and engages in apparent syncretistic religious practices . . . Although the exact function and nature of all of this ritual paraphernalia [the ephod, etc.] are obscure, there can be no little doubt that the piling up of these terms is meant as ironic disapproval.  The idol, after all, is made from stolen silver; and though Micah’s mother consecrates all of it to the Lord, she obviously keeps the larger portion”. (Mays 236)

From the article link sent by my friend: As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” 2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” 3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” 4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” 5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20050418/moralistic-therapeutic-deism-the-new-american-religion/index.html

As we read from Judges today – a Book that narrates for us the endless cycle of our turning away from God to pagan deities, of suffering and remorse, of repentance, atonement and forgiveness – we cannot help but see the connection with the kind of thinking outlined in the article from the CHRISTIAN POST.  We humans quickly devolve into self-serving creatures when left to our own design; and it is a miracle that our loving and generous God continues to forgive us for our lack of fidelity.

Despite the fact that centuries have passed since the writing of this simple, sad story, we are presented with data suggesting that we have not evolved much spiritually.  We live in those days when there is the rule of God’s kingdom still . . . everyone does what he thinks best.

Let us pray that we see our ways, and then mend what needs mending.

For more about Micah in JUDGES, visit: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/judges/judges-17.html 

Adapted from a reflection written on June 24, 2010.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 236. Print.

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Judges 6: Gideon’s Call

James Tissot: The Angel Puts Fire on the Altar of Gideon

Thursday, June 29, 2017

We have spent several days with this Old Testament Book in which we watch the Israelites enter into a cycle: neglect of their covenant with God, the worship of idols, repentance, a petition to God for help, God’s generous response, silence as God waits for the people to respond. God always sends a hero to save the faithful – and this particular hero is Gideon.

We find the following when we read commentary.

  • God asks Joshua, in the book preceding Judges, to lead the people into the Promised Land and he does.
  • God asks the people to wipe out those who worship pagan idols but they do not; and this sows the seed of future problems.
  • Prior to God’s intercession in the life of the faithful, the people are forced to run away from invading armies and literally “head for the hills” when these invaders arrived with chariots.
  • Once the people share a loving relationship with God, they have a rock of refuge, a bulwark of safety.
  • When the people neglect their relationship with God, the cycle of idol worship begins anew.
  • God always has a hero in mind.
  • God’s silence is the space we are given to respond to God’s deep and abiding love.

God calls Gideon while he is in the middle of his work, and Gideon, like many of those called, has many questions. He wants to understand why and how should go about the work God has in mind. God answers, as God always does, “I will be with you, do not worry.” Gideon praises and worships God when he realizes what is happening, that he will be an instrument of redemption in the people’s cycle of sin and repentance.

Like Gideon, we are likewise fearful in our response to God. We know what we are asked to do; yet frequently we are too frightened to step out of our comfort zone. In the end, however, no find that no other course of action is worth taking.

The story of Gideon also demonstrates for us that silence can be entirely appropriate when it is patient, loving, merciful, and just. A silence that waits, that whispers to the beloved, that calls the beloved back to the covenant, is a silence that heals.

So like Gideon, let us sit beneath our terebinth and call on God. For God will surely answer.

Adapted from a Noontime written on January 31, 2007.

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Judges 9: Abimelech

James Tissot: Abimelech Slays his Seventy Brothers

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

“The fable, one of two examples of that genre in the Bible (see also 2 Kings 14:9; 2 Chronicles 25:18), is strongly antimonarchical.  It illustrates both the folly of kingship (only the worst and least qualified aspire to it) and its dangers (it destroys those who place their reliance on it).  The bramble offers scant shade but is a prime cause of fire (v. 15).  A monarchy founded on murder can come to no good and inevitably will destroy those who support it.  Jotham’s call for the mutual destruction of Abimelech and the Shechemite leaders (v. 20) anticipates their fate”.  (Mays 232)

The Old Testament is full of brutal stories and in nearly all of them – if we can be patient and read far enough – we watch the antagonist implode on him or herself.  In God’s plan and in God’s way the faithful will always be vindicated.  Suffering will take place, violence will happen, but a remnant will remain and goodness will always rise from evil.  Our task is to keep our eyes on Christ who will lead us home.  Our work is to live in the Spirit, for in the Spirit we will struggle, but we will never fail.

James Tissot: Jotham is Saved

This week in Phyllis Tickle’s THE DIVINE HOURS: Prayers for Springtime, this is the prayer we read three times a day.  It is apt for today’s Noontime as we ask God to keep us safe from harm in our brutal and confusing world.  She writes in the first person singular, but when we change to the plural, we might pray it together. (Tickle 599)

Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep us, we pray, from all things that may hurt us, that we, being ready both in mind and body, may accomplish with a free heart those things which belong to your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who live and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.  

Tickle, Phyllis.  THE DIVINE HOURS: PRAYERS FOR SPRINGTIME. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 232. Print.

A Noontime from May 17, 2011.

 

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Judges 3: Leading in Christ

James Tissot: Othniel

Monday, June 26, 2017

Adapted from a March 23, 2010 Favorite.

The judges in this book “were not magistrates, but military leaders sent by God to aid and to relieve his people in time of external danger.  They exercised their activities in the interval of time between the death of Joshua and the institution of the monarchy in Israel . . . The purpose of this book is to show that the fortunes of Israel depended upon the obedience or disobedience of the people to God’s law.  Whenever they rebelled against him, they were oppressed by pagan nations; when they repented, he raised up judges to deliver them”.  (NEW AMERICAN BIBLE, 217) today we look at the first three judges, Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar.

He raised up for them a savior . . . who rescued them.

James Tissot: Eglon Slain by Ehud

In today’s Gospel we read of an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees.  Their savior stands before them, willing to sacrifice all in order that they believe, in order that they turn back to God to enter willingly into the sheepfold.  Jesus describes the relationship he has with the creator: The one who sent me is with me.  He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him”.  (John 8:29The Pharisees are envious and plot against him; yet many others . . . Because he spoke this way . . . came to believe in him.  (John 8:30

In the time of Judges, the faithful believed that when they went astray they would be punished by God.  In the Gospel of John, we see that when we stray we suffer the consequences that we measure out to other people.  When we isolate or judge wrongly, we suffer the consequence we had meant for another.  When we forgive and seek reunion, we experience the unity Christ offers.

The Pharisees think themselves above the Law because they adhere strictly to the code Moses handed to them; they do not comprehend the New Law of Freedom and Love that Jesus presents to them and which he lives out before them.  It is for this reason that Christ says to them: You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above.  You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world.  That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.  For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.  (John 8:23-24

James Tissot: Shamgar Son of Anath

As we assess where we stand and whether our actions portray our belief in a forgiving, loving creator, we take a moment to re-read stories of long ago heroes: three men who answered God’s call to deliver a nation.  We too, are called in every day ways to lead others to freedom – for in so doing, we free ourselves from the bonds of this world.

Like the judges we read about today, we are called in Christ to become leaders.  We are called to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, and to proclaim liberty to captives.   Like those bystanders who witnessed Jesus’ interchange with the Pharisees, let us come to believe in him, and let us act as if we do.

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Judges 16Samson and Delilah

Peter Paul Reubens: Samson and Delilah

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

This is a familiar story to us – and when we open scripture to a comfortable place, we might look more closely, more intensely, to see if we are perhaps missing something because of the familiarity.

Samson was one of the series of Judges who protected and guided the Hebrew people before they asked for a king.  In this book we see the people of God continually repeat a cycle of dissent into separation from God . . . which causes loneliness and anguish followed by sorrow and repentance.  Yahweh always responds by forgiving and tending to his lost sheep.  There are periods of complacency and quiet when the people forget that God is central to their lives which separate the times of the judges whom God sends to lead the faithful.  Samson is one of the most famous.  We look at the following verses: 2 – And all the night they waited saying, “Tomorrow we plan to kill him”, verse 19 – Then she began to mistreat him, for his strength had left him, verse 28 – Samson cried out to the Lord and said,  “O Lord God, remember me!  Strengthen me, O God, this last time . . . let me die with the Philistines!”

Samson enters into a cycle familiar to all of us. He succumbs to Delilah and to the plot surrounding him.  He is human.  He fails.  He suffers.  He has hope.  He repents.  He makes reparation for his former action.  He is honored.  He brings the light of truth into the darkness of greed and corruption.  After closer reading, we see the cycle so familiar in our own lives. After closer reading, we do not understand the mystery of what happened more, but what we do understand is that no destruction or death can overcome the bright light of God’s goodness and mercy, and we are – we hope – a little more willing to see God’s goodness in our own lives..

From MAGNIFICAT today: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  (John 1:5God is mystery.  The maker of the universe dwells in light inaccessible, so bright that it blinds the probing eye, the questioning mind.

For those who are powerless, that they may experience your power employed on their behalf. 

For those who have abandoned hope, that they may know your mercy.

For those who fail to see you in mystery, that they may come to feel your gentle love.

Amen.

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 9.4 (2008). Print.  

Adapted from a Favorite written on April 9, 2008. 

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Revelation 3Superficiality, Fidelity, and Mediocrity   

Tuesday, May 30, 2017    

To the church in Sardis . . . I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead . . .

sardis

A Greek temple in Sardis

To the church in Philadelphia . . . You have limited strength, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name . . .

To the church in Laodicea . . . I know that you are neither hot or cold . . .

Today we read the greetings to three of the seven churches addressed by John in the last book of the Bible.  The seven represent the universal church.  Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea have something special to tell us.

Notes will inform us that Sardis was once a capital city and was noted for its immense wealth at the time of Croesus in the 6th century before Christ.  It had a fortress with the fame of being impregnable, yet it was taken by surprise by both Cyrus and Antiochus.  This church gives the appearance of being unassailable . . . but is warned to be on its guard.  Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die, for I have not found your works complete . . .

We will also learn that Philadelphia was rebuilt by the Emperor Tiberius in C.E. 17 after a different quake.  It may be for this reason that there are references to its royal nature.  Because you have kept my message of endurance, I will keep you safe in the time of trial that is going to come . . .

Laodicea IMG_5913 - Copy

Ruins in Laodicea

Laodicea was a wealthy industrial and commercial center eighty miles east of Ephesus that exported beautiful woolen garments.  It had a famous medical school and was known for an eye salve that could be purchased there and the people had so much money that they were able to rebuild after a devastating earthquake about sixty years after Christ.  And they did this with no outside help.  They were able to stand in their own and were beholding to no one.   For you say, “I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,” and yet you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see . . . (Senior 403-404)

ancient philadelphia

Ancient Philadelphia

Here we have the faithful church sandwiched between the complacent, self-satisfied, self-protecting churches.  As we contemplate this juxtaposition, we might ask ourselves where we stand today.  Are content with doing just enough?  Do we tend to appearance and neglect the inner self?  Are we bothered by poverty of all kinds, or do we brush it away where we cannot see it?  Do we even allow ourselves to see suffering in any way?  If we do, how do we react?  We can spend time in Revelation 2 and 3 and wonder how our preparations for a guest compare with how we prepare ourselves to receive Christ.  Now we focus on three churches that bring us a special window we might open into our own souls.  Are we superficial?  Are we content with mediocrity?  Do we follow Christ faithfully even though the journey of life has taken its toll?

Superficiality, Fidelity, or Mediocrity . . . how do we choose to live?  What is our guiding principal?  Whom do we follow?  Why and how do we do what we do?  The Book of Revelation announces what Christ expects.  Whoever has ears ought to hear what the spirit says to the churches. 

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.403-404. Print.  

For more images of a pilgrimage to the churches, click on the images of Sardis or Laodicea above, or visit: http://www.farnborough-kent-parish.org.uk/recent_turkey.html 

Adapted from a Favorite written on March 27, 2011.

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Psalm 106Grafting to the Vine

grafting vines

Grafting vines in Napa Valley, USA

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Favorite from May 13, 2009.

We can always count on God’s fidelity despite anything we think, say or do.  God’s love is that immense.  All generations experience the collective sin of turning away.  All generations have the opportunity to return.  How do we show God that we desire this goodness?  We thank and praise God when God visits the many small miracles of each day upon us.  We credit God with what is God’s; we credit God with all that is true and honest; and we allow this truth and honesty and love – this God – to become manifest in us.

From today’s MAGNIFICAT Meditation by Sister Lucia, one of the three children who spoke with the Blessed Mother in Fatima, Portugal on this day in 1917.  To love is to possess the greatest gift of God, himself . . . It is to possess God and be ourselves immersed in God; it is the true love of God in us . . . The materialistic world does not know God, does not understand the spiritual life of the indwelling of the most high Trinity . . . And not only does it not understand it.  It actually despises it and even persecutes it; but it persecutes it because it does not know it, and is unaware of the countless treasures and intimate riches which are contained in it . . . The world seduces and deceives, and Christ cannot reveal himself to those who allow themselves to be caught in the deceitful illusions of the world.  Hence, those who abandon themselves to materialism do not understand the language used by Jesus Christ who is the Word of God; they have been called, since we were all called to follow the divine law, but they have not been chosen, because they do not wish to hear the voice of God, . . . the teaching of Christ . . . They have blocked off their own entrance to eternal life.

Being a language teacher, and thinking about these words, I want to rush about setting up environments and laying out lesson plans to be certain that all of us learn the language of God so that we might fear less and love more.  Then I pull myself up short and realize that each day as I go through my thousand little jobs and works, I have the opportunity to create these plans by the way I move through the many scenarios of my day.  The words I say and the gestures I enact are my lesson plans.  And more than this, the time I spend with God in reflection prepares me to enter into these scenarios.  It empowers me to try to live these scenes with truth and light.  And lastly, it brings me the tools I need to discern the fruits of each day.  Have my thoughts, words and deeds borne fruit?  Has this been good fruit or bad?

Today’s Gospel is from John 15 when Jesus explains that we might remain in him just as he remains in the Father.  We become the branches of his vine.

From a mini reflection in MAGNIFICAT: Branches severed, branches hanging tenuously from Christ the vine, wither.  Branches firmly grafted into Christ the vine continue to be refreshed and renewed by the water of life, the Spirit of God, for whom all human beings thirst, knowingly or unknowingly.

When we graft ourselves firmly to the vine, we find grace in every situation – both the bad and the good.

When we graft ourselves firmly to the vine, we become renewed in the Spirit – even when we have reached the bottom of our resources.

When we graft ourselves firmly to the vine, we can acknowledge freely our turning away from God – whether the turning is individual or collective.

When we graft ourselves firmly to the vine, we need not fear the materialistic world – whether it despises or loves us.

When we graft ourselves firmly to the vine, we can join the psalmist who writes: Give thanks to the Lord, who is good, whose love endures forever . . . Let all the people say, Amen!  Hallelujah!

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 13.5 (2009). Print.  

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Ezekiel 43: God’s Glory Returns

archway-roman-ruins-tyre-lebanon_12240_600x450

National Geographic: Ruins of Roman Archway in Tyre, Lebanon

Thursday, May 25, 2017

As a counterbalance to the description of the downfall of Tyre on which we have reflected before, today we have a description of the temple in the New Jerusalem. What we see described here is God living with all of the Israelites forever. The man leading the prophet through this beautiful scenario says: Describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider the plan, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple – its arrangements, its exits and entrances – its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations. This portion of Ezekiel’s prophecy is full of detailed descriptions of the place and the people who make up this new city where God dwells forever with his people. It was meant to both instruct and to bring comfort to those who lived in exile with this prophet. The footnotes in the NAB point out that in the new Israel the temple is free, even physically, from civil jurisdiction – moving away from the habit of corrupt kings like Ahaz and Manasseh who treated it as a private chapel for pagan rites.

Jerusalem _ Old City Walls _ Noam Chen_IMOT

Noam Chen: Old City of  Jerusalem

When Jesus arrived on the scene hundreds of years later as the true Messiah, he upset much of this separatist and purist thinking. It was for his openness and universality that he was hunted down, condemned and put to death.  Because his new Law of Love fulfilled and superseded the old Law of Moses, he and his apostles were hounded out of towns and executed. Even in the early Christian church we see the struggle with this idea of openness and universality with the first Council which convened in Jerusalem to determine the importance of circumcision as a requirement for church membership. After discussion, and when the dust settles, we read in Acts that circumcision was not determined necessary.  God’s church is open to Gentile and Jew, slave or free, woman or man – to all those who will be faithful to the Covenant first established with Adam and Eve.

This is how we see the New Temple and the New Jerusalem as revealed by Ezekiel millennia ago. This place of worship where God dwells is where we live even today . . . if we might only choose to open our eyes and ears to it. This prophet was painting a picture of radiance for his exiled peope, and they must have taken heart at the memories these words stirred of how it is to gather together as Yahweh’s faithful to repent, to petition, to give thanks, to worship.

As Easter people who believe in the Resurrected Jesus, we too, can relax into these images and make them our own. We can carry them into the world with us each day as we encounter and then counter the darkness that wishes to prevail. We can arm ourselves with these pictures of the universal gathering of all of God’s People . . . the Faithful to the Covenant . . . the Hopeful in all things hopeless . . . the Truthful in all relationships . . . the Struggling with the cares of this world . . . the Freed who have escaped the chains of doubt and anxiety. For we are Easter people who live the Resurrection even now. For God’s Glory has returned in us . . . in our willingness to serve . . . our willingness to be vulnerable . . . our willingness to witness . . . our willingness to be Christ and Light and Truth to a world struggling to be free of the darkness.

This is God’s Plan. This is God’s Design. This is God’s Law.

Amen.  Alleluia!

A Favorite from April 13, 2008.

For a Noontime reflection on Tyre, visit: https://thenoontimes.com/2012/09/18/tyre/ 

For more National Geographic images of Lebanon, click on the image above. 

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2 Samuel 18: Recklessness

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

kingdavidpalace02_m_0722

King David in Grief

When we examine the story of David and his son Absalom, and see that sometimes we cling to outmoded ideas or dangerous people.  We humans seem to prefer the devil we know to the one we do not.  We make a way to survive with the horror we experience rather than set boundaries against the craziness of the world.  This is the fine line we walk between forgiving transgression and accepting abuse.  This is the difference between pardon and leniency.  It is the distinction we draw between recklessness and prudence.

Absalom is the favored child who does as he likes; he is coddled and feels entitled.  We see many examples of this in our current world – men and women who take what they like from whomever they like, pitted against the innocent who are open and trusting.  It is an uneven match and we wonder why God does not protect the naïve and unknowing more.

In today’s reading we see the dreadful end of Absalom, the favored child who abused his father who had given him so much.  We also watch the mourning of the father who believes he has recently lost a child without understanding that he had lost him years before.

As Jesus reminds us, we cannot put new wine into old skins.  (Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:21-22 and Luke 5:33-39) We cannot sew new patches on old sleeves.  We are called by our maker to transform ourselves, to move beyond our old form and style, to become new in Christ.  For just as the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New, as the old Covenant is re-written on the new heart, so are we called to make a place for a clean spirit, so are we called to sit at the city gate to indicate that we have returned – but in a new form.

In this Easter season, let us be determined that when we are fuddled by the line between compassion and acceptance of violence against one’s self, we will examine our lives in light of the Gospel to see if our suffering bears fruit or draws us down.  In recent days at Mass we have been reminded that we are the fruit bearing branches of the vine that is Christ.  We are nothing and do nothing except through the Creator.  There is no secret thought; we keep no actions from the Spirit.  We belong to God and our lives are transformed when we understand this.

From the mini-reflection in today’s MAGNIFICAT we read in reference to Acts 16:1-10: “Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number”.  This was due in large part to Paul and Timothy’s attentive docility and obedience to the Holy Spirit.  They had been chosen “out of the world” by Jesus.  When we act out of belonging, conscious that we do not “belong to the world”, we change the world”.

And this is how we address the recklessness and violence we see around us.  We take on Christ, we go to the Creator, and we allow our transformation in the Spirit.  In this way, we pray that we do not come to harm when the violence of the world threatens us.  And we pray that when the violence of the world does invade our lives – as it surely will – we will have the courage, strength and clarity to witness with attentive docility and obedience to the Holy Spirit.  We pray that we remind ourselves of our true belonging.  And we pray for the lost souls of those who have been sucked into the cycle of danger and fear.   In this way we change the world.  Amen.

A Favorite from May 8, 2010.

Cameron, Peter John, Rev., ed. “Mini-Reflection.” MAGNIFICAT. 8 May 2010. Print.

 

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