Nehemiah 1 and 2: Rebuilding Walls

The Damascus Gate by night in Jerusalem

Thursday, October 12, 2017

We visit with Nehemiah several times a year and each time we rediscover the themes of covenant, restoration, and rebuilding.  Today’s reading takes us to the beginning of the restoration of Jerusalem after the northern invasion and the Babylonian exile.  This book was written in about 430 B.C.E. and as it begins, we see Nehemiah, the Jewish man who serves as Cupbearer to the foreign king.  Footnotes tell us this means that he was an important official who was allowed to come into the presence of not only the king but the queen as well.  This would suggest that he was a eunuch but there is no evidence to support that fact.  What we do understand is that he was highly placed in this foreign administration and we can guess, when we see his skills displayed throughout this story that he rose to that position through his skill.  But there is an important element to this story. Nehemiah prayed constantly, and this praying kept him connected intimately with his creator.  Nehemiah called on God continually for direction, and God gave direction to this good and loyal servant.

As the story begins, news arrives with several Jewish men who have just come from Judah, from Jerusalem.  The news is not good; but filled with courage and a love of his God, Nehemiah responds to his creator’s call and so it is with a mixture of trepidation and courage that he goes to the king. As we read, we find several interesting points.

  • Today’s reading begins in the month of Chislev – the same month in which we will later see (in the year 165 B.C.E.) the celebration of the re-dedication of the temple which we were reading and reflecting about some days ago. We too are in the month of Chislev, and the celebration of Hannukah was just completed this week. The Festival of Light – the season of a small shaft of light piercing the intense darkness.
  • Should you prove faithless, I will scatter you among the nations; but should you return to me and carefully keep my commandments, even though your outcasts have been driven to the farthest corner of the world, I will gather them from there, and bring them back to the place which I have chosen as the dwelling place for my name. This is the covenant promise which Jesus fulfills four centuries later and which he continues to fulfill for us each day.
  • Nehemiah not only asks permission to visit his former city, he also asks for soldiers, protection, and permission to fell trees with which to rebuild the city and gates, and a house for himself. He does not do things by half-measures; he is totally and truly dedicated to God in temperance, patience, endurance and perseverance.

Tomorrow, arriving in Jerusalem.

Adapted from a Favorite written during Advent, on December 15, 2007

Nehemiah 1:5-11Continuity

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The commentary in the Biblia de América points out that the words of Nehemiah, the administrator who rebuilt Jerusalem some 50 years after the devastation left by Nebuchadnezzar and his troops, ring with the words of Moses as the people are about to enter into the land promised to them.   And it strikes me today that these are words echoed by Christ . . . and that they are words we might read with care each morning upon our rising.  It is the confession of the people that they have erred.  It is the cry to God that this people seek God’s companionship.  It is the best response we can make to the promise extended to us.

Moses speaks in Deuteronomy 30 and we see both the scattered and the call to the Diaspora to return.  Just so are we scattered today among the various pagan places where people have the choice to fall down in worship to empty gods or to the one true God.

All of this reminds me of the parting of bread and the spilling of wine which Christ performs during the Eucharistic prayer at Mass on countless altars in countless places each day.  In order for the sharing to begin, the bread must be broken, the wine shared.

There is continuity in this paradox of breaking and joining.  As we break away from our distractions to focus on true life and our vocation in it, we move closer to the person we are meant to be.  As we share the wine of life with others and allow ourselves to be poured out as a libation, we move into intimacy with God.

This is a message worthy of hearing and passing on.  This is a life which cries out for continuance.  It is a belief which deserves continuity.  And if we do not move forward into this act each day . . . what other life will following generations model?  What other life can we imagine worth living?

God’s plan unfolds in God’s time, in God’s places.  God’s vocation coalesces in our actions of love, of hope and of faith.  We make God visible when we continue the work and agree to become his priests and his builders.  We become carpenters in the kingdom of God when we willingly join the long line of followers, when we take up the threads of God’s story to weave them into the lives of countless other pilgrims who commit to the continuity of the one great story . . . that we are created in love . . . that we are create for love . . . and that are to love in return.

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

Adapted from a reflection written on February 3, 2009.

Ezra 10The Fruitfulness of Suffering

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

From today’s MAGNIFICAT Meditation of the Day by Elisabeth Leseur (205-206) entitled The Alms of the Heart:

We must never reject anyone who seeks to approach us spiritually; perhaps that person, consciously or unconsciously, is in quest of the “unknown God” (Acts 17:23) and has sensed in us something that reveals his presence; perhaps he or she thirsts for truth and feels that we live by this truth. 

Those who seem to be spiritually dead are not always those least accessible to the divine Word; when wood is dead, it needs only a spark to set it afire. 

Many people live on the surface of their lives without ever penetrating their profound and sorrowful depths.  If we knew how to center ourselves, how to look clearly into ourselves, and how to understand the meaning of fruitfulness of suffering, then the slightest gesture, the most imperceptible movement of the most unassuming of human beings, would reveal to us these abysses of sorrow or tenderness that remain open interiorly until the day when another pours light into them and causes life to burst forth.

I am certain that we know a number of people – we may even know many – who live on the surface of their lives, protecting themselves from plumbing the depths of their souls where they might encounter the true and living God.  These are people who say they are seekers but they hope to find truth while at the same steering clear of pain.  They say that they value integrity yet they hide in the shadowy portions of their own lives.

In Ezra 10 we meet people who have suffered so greatly and deeply for so long that they can bear no more . . . and so they capitulate to reality.  They acknowledge their guilt.  They own their actions.  They assemble to confess and to return to God.  They have allowed their grief to bear meaningful fruit.  They acknowledge their suffering . . . and they are ready to both approach and to be approached by those is pain.  They recognize and smile openly at like travelers.

The Leseur Meditation concludes in this way: Silence is sometimes an energetic act, and smiling is, too.

To defend oneself against the multiplicity of external things and the agitation they bring, make firm resolutions, and carry out faithfully the fruit of our meditation.

Look around oneself for proud sufferers in need, find them, and give them the alms of our heart, of our time, and of our tender respect.

Leseur urges us to be firm, steadfast, and resolute – it is a message we have heard several times this week.  She wants us to both welcome and be welcomed by those who understand the value of suffering well, to both receive and to give the kind of love Christ bears for us.  Leseur hopes to inspire us to live more in God’s world and less in our own.  She wants to open to us the understanding that . . . there is abundant fruitfulness in suffering . . . and that a gentle smile for fellow sufferers might be the perfect salutation to those who also bear witness to these alms of the heart. 

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 15.6 (2011): 205-206. Print.  

A Favorite from June 15, 2011.

Ezra 9Inbetween-ness – A Reprise

Monday, October 9, 2017

Written on February 2, 2010 and posted on February 3, 2012 as a Favorite . . .

About six months ago we looked at both Chapters 8 and 10 of Ezra to see what happened as the scattered nations drew themselves back together for their long and dangerous journey home.  Today we look at what takes place between those book ends.  Word has arrived that the hoped-for journey will be taken and the people realize that there is an obstacle to that return: they have intermarried with non-believers and, according to their explicit laws, they must rectify this situation.  The measure taken by the Hebrew people seems harsh by our standards today; yet we can take this story as an opportunity to evaluate our own actions when we find ourselves in a state in inbetween-ness.  When we are neither here nor there we are in a vulnerable position, we are in danger of losing ourselves . . . or our way to God.

The Jewish people established a regimen in order that they not forget Yahweh in their passage from life to death.  Sometimes these rules were too difficult to follow.  Sometimes the rules took on a life of their own.  Coming from this tradition, we who are Christians have the need to investigate the rules we live by – in order that we not throw away something that is precious – in order that the rule not become more important than God.  As Christians, we must be aware that as we make transitions from one point to another, we are in danger of focusing too much on the past or too much on the future . . . at the expense of not knowing who or why we exist, at the cost of fouling the relationships that are so important to how we live and behave.

And so we pray . . . Good and gracious God, we are never quite certain of how to shift from one track to another as we shift and move with life.  Our judgment may become fogged by our concern for legacy.  Our vision may become blurred as we search for new alliances.  When we are adrift as we swing from one stage to the next, we question once again.  Is this path too broad that we travel and too easy?  Is it too narrow and too stifling?  Help us to see more clearly which way we are to go, why we are to proceed, how we are to decide.  Keep the people in our lives more important than the rules.  And keep the rules as simple as your one supreme commandment: Love your God above all gods, and love one another as I have loved you. Keep us ever in mind we pray.  Amen. 

Ezra 7 & 8The Hand of the Lord

Michelangelo: The Creation of Adam

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Because the hand of the Lord, his God, was upon him, the king granted him all that he requested.

A Favorite from May 2, 2011.

This is something for us to consider – particularly on a day when we come to grips with the death of Osama Bin Laden.   It is one of the most difficult lessons that scripture poses and I often return to certain lines from Exodus because they remind us that the process we initiate in our lives is likely the process with which we will finish.

In Exodus 8:15 and 8:32 we read that Pharaoh hardens his heart which seems to set the pattern for his life.  Later, in Exodus 9:12, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, and 14:8  we read that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heartfollowing this pattern the man had set in motion.  In 9:14 read that Pharaoh’s leaders have also hardened their hearts.  Finally, in 10:1 the Lord warns Moses that he has hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

All of this reminds us of Newton’s First Law: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. Or as we read in the story of Job, what we plow and sow we also reap (Job 4:6).  St. Paul reinforces this idea with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 9:6) and Galatians (Galatians 6:8-9).

Fortunately for nature there is Newton’s third law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  This is not so much the power of good against evil but rather, the power of God to convert evil into good.  Fortunately for us God loves us enough to pull goodness out of evil.

As we read Ezra’s story to see how he and Nehemiah nurture the return of the Jewish people, it becomes clear that he indeed has the hand of God upon him for together with his friend he brings order out of chaos.   There does not seem to be any other explanation of how these two men achieve so much against such heavy odds.

Psalm 95 encourages us to harden not our heartsIt is true that when we turn away from the Lord our world and our lives become colder each day while conversely when we turn to the Lord with our problems we increase in goodness and abundance.  This is what Christ tells us in the Gospel stories – Matthew 25:29, Mark 4:25, and Luke 19:26.  This is what Christ tells us today.  If we wish to have God’s hand upon us, we must act as though we believe it is so.

Ezra 5 & 6: Hesitation

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Favorite from Tuesday, January 12, 2010.

We have looked at the opening chapters of this book to reflect on the idea of restoration after captivity.  We have seen the Israelites number themselves in a new census to best prepare themselves for the work ahead when they return to their ruined city and temple.  We listened as a great shout went up from the people who rejoiced to have their sacred places returned to them.  And we also spent time looking at how opposition entered into their individual and collective lives almost immediately.  I am not certain why we are back here again unless it is to remind us of something.  And then I find the nugget we look for today: Hesitation is as much a part of God’s plan as forging onward.

When we read this story from the opening of the book we see that the work was halted (4:24) even after it had been initially approved.  When we go to the end of chapter 6, this is what we read: They joyfully kept the feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days, for the Lord had filled them with joy by making the king of Assyria favorable to them, so that he gave them help in their work on the house of God, the God of Israel. 

The Lord had filled them with joy . . . he gave them help in their work . . .

We know that true and lasting joy comes only from God yet we humans still look for it elsewhere.  Then we are disappointed when it disappears.  We also tend to forget that we cannot accomplish all things.  We forget that God has a better perspective than we do – even of our own lives.  We do not like to relinquish control of any of this – our joy, our work, our lives.  We cannot see that sometimes doing nothing is actually doing something – especially when this hesitation is part of the divine plan.

I frequently read from a small book of reflections (LIVING FAITH: DAILY CATHOLIC DEVOTIONS) and today’s is written by Rebecca Sande.  Its title is Wholehearted Prayer, and I am thinking that this is how we must conduct the hesitating portions of our lives.  She prays: Dear Lord, I will devote quality time to my prayer today.  Let it be loving, fervent, intimate contact that you desire to have with me.  With this kind of praying we cannot go wrong even in the middle of a prolonged and painful hesitation.

The Lord had filled them with joy . . . he gave them help in their work . . .

For my part, when I begin to think about shaving time from God in order to give it to my work or play, I am always amazed at how much better my work and play go when I have given God his full due.

The Lord had filled them with joy . . . he gave them help in their work . . . Dear Lord, I will devote quality time to my prayer today . . . and it will be my wholehearted prayer . . . for it is the only way I will survive this present hesitation. 

Ezekiel 4Inevitability

Friday, October 6, 2017

Michelangelo: Ezekiel

Today’s post is a reprise from December 24, 2011. We have an opportunity to consider the possibility of recovering from calamity, an opportunity to accept the gift of Christ, God Among Us. Let us imagine that we are about to celebrate the gift of the Nativity. And let us be grateful for God’s greatest gift of self for God’s generosity, love and goodness are inevitable. 

There is a certain inevitability about Ezekiel’s prophecy.  He is certain that his predictions will come to pass.  From our place in history centuries later, we can easily see that what seemed impossible for Judah and Jerusalem does indeed take place.  Their fortified city is besieged and destroyed; their powerful and comfortable leaders are killed or deported.  Why did anyone doubt Ezekiel and the other prophets?  They reported what they saw in the present and what they saw to come.  They were accurate, so why did anyone have reservation about their words?   Most likely it was because the naysayers had too much invested in the corrupt system.  We might learn a lesson from all of this.

There is a certain inevitability about Jesus’ story.  He comes to tell us that he is Emmanuel – God Among Us From our place in human history we can read about the miracles he performed.  We can also number the times that impossibilities take place in our own lives.  Jesus tells us that he will be destroyed and yet rise again in new life.  He tells us that he has come to take us with him on this amazing journey as his well-loved sisters and brothers.  Jesus tells us what the Creator has asked him to report to us: that we are free, liberated from anything that holds us to the material world in which we live.  This freedom includes freedom from anxiety and stress.  Why do we cling to our old and familiar discomfort when there is a newness offered to us without cost?  Why do we behave as those who heard but ignored Ezekiel’s words?  Do we doubt what Jesus has told us?  What are the reservations we have about his words or his actions?  On this eve when we celebrate his coming into the world as a vulnerable baby, why do we continue to ask for additional proofs and for further assurance that he will complete his promise to bring us to the new life he experiences?  Why do we hang on to our fears and reject the possibility of joy?

Gerard Van Honthurst: The Nativity

So on this Christmas Eve, as we await midnight in order to join in praise of God’s goodness to us, we have this to ponder about our own acceptance of what we have heard and what we have seen.  What is it about Jesus’ story we do not believe?  What are the further proofs we demand before we accept the prophecy of his coming as true?  Who has lured us away from the one true story of redemption and the promise it holds for all?  How have we become like those who hear but so not listen?  When will we tire of hiding behind subterfuge, of supporting corrupt systems and people?  Why do we persist in being as blind as the inhabitants of Jerusalem to whom Ezekiel spoke?

Let us reflect on God’s gift of inevitability as we pray . . .

Tomorrow is the feast of Christ’s birth . . . the feast of the birth of newness in each of us.

Tomorrow is the celebration of a new-found freedom . . . the celebration of our release from fear and anxiety.

Tomorrow is the commemoration of the arrival of hope and God’s promise . . . the commemoration of God’s coming to dwell among us. 

God’s love is inevitable.  Let us cease our resistance.  Let us rejoice in this good news and be glad.  Amen.

Ezra 3: Joy and Worship – A Reprise from November 2014

Thursday, October 5, 2017

We move further into scripture looking for stories of joy that continue to surprise us. To explore other stories, click on the word Joy in the categories cloud in the blog’s right hand sidebar and choose a reflection, or enter the word Joy in the blog search bar. You may also want to visit the Joy for the Journey blog at www.joyforthee.blogspot.com to see how joy surprises you there. Today our story is taken from the Book of Ezra.

After the Babylonian captivity and exile, after the scattering of the twelve tribes to the corners of the known earth, after the loss of hope that those who go out weeping will return rejoicing . . . the faithful receive word that they are to return to Jerusalem.  Two leaders, Ezra and Nehemiah, the priest and the administrator, lead the faithful in a journey of reunion and transformation. As with all people who remain open to the power of the Spirit and the healing of God’s presence, these returning exiles gather to worship Yahweh once again. And they know great joy in abundance.

Ezra 3:12: Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away.

James Tissot: Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue 

Can we imagine the sound of joy that might rise to the skies if we were to thank God for all that we have and all that we are? Can we fathom the power we already hold in our minds and hands if we give all our great and petty worries over to Christ? Can we picture the compassion and healing that we might experience and then share with the world if we open our hearts to the Spirit that already dwells within?

God says: You are rightly focused on the daily task of survival but imagine if you were to trust me more and your own resources less? Do you see how much you have already gained? Can you imagine how much you are yet to receive? My servant Paul reminds my followers in Corinth that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”. (1 Corinthians 2:9) And this is so. Today you read about how the faithful returned to me and celebrated with liturgy. Do you know how much it means to me when you join my Son, our Spirit and me in beautiful liturgies of Word and Eucharist? Do you know that I have wonderful plans for you? Plans for joy and not for woe? When you doubt, open scripture to see how many times I have already rescued my people. Open your lives and remember how often I have already saved you. Will I not love you even more as our relationship deepens? Will I not bring you even more joy? Have I not already told you that all of this is so?

As we consider today’s Noontime, let us also consider how we might approach liturgies with a new energy. If we do not belong to a worship community, let us explore the possibility of finding or creating one. And if we long to find union that lasts, let us commit to entering fully into our worship community with a new expectation of finding great joy.

To learn more about Ezra and Nehemiah, spend time with the stories in these two books. Enter their names in the blog search bar and explore. Click on the images for other reflections. Or use the scripture link to compare different Bible versions of these verses. 

For a better understanding of these Books, go to: http://biblehub.com/dictionary/e/ezra-nehemiah.htm 

For more about anxiety and joy, click on the image above or visit: http://riselikeair.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/anxiety-joy-a-journey/


Ezra 2: The List

Ezra 2: The List

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A number of years ago, popular Christmas gifts were publications entitled THE BOOK OF . . . LISTS. We might fill in that blank. With the advent of small computers, calculation of enormous amounts of material became possible and perhaps it is for that reason that these books became popular. Lists of cars, lists of famous people, lists of diseases, lists of favorite vacation spots. Lists of lists.

Today’s citation is an enumeration of returned exiles, those who followed Ezra and Nehemiah back home to a ruined Jerusalem with the pledge to recover and rebuild a city, a temple a nation, and a people. We have an opportunity to reflect on what sort of list we might compile ourselves. We can reflect on what kinds of lists we consult or value. We also have a chance to think about what type of list we might search to find our names. What does all of this listing mean? And where do we encounter ourselves?

The Israelite people hoped to recover much that had been lost. They journeyed through dangerous land to familiar place that no longer existed as they had left it. All they had earned and amassed was gone. All they valued was desecrated. All they had thought they stood for no longer mattered and so this loyal remnant returned to a sacred place to restore a relationship they thought lost. But as always, with our loving God who is full of surprise, they discover that the God of former glory had not abandoned them. This generous God still lived in them. This loving God still nurtured them. This living God still sustained them.

And so as we construct our lists of tasks to complete, people to invite, and goals to meet, let us remember that in truth there are no lists with God. There is only an immense, embracing, nourishing and sustaining presence who numbers all of us without effort and loves each of us with a willing heart.

To read about some of the world’s most intriguing lists, click on the image above or visit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11123049/The-worlds-most-intriguing-lists.html


%d bloggers like this: