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Jeremiah 19: The Potter’s Flask

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Written on February 3 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

It will make their ears tingle when they hear about the bloodshed of the innocent!  The Valley of Ben-hinnom will become the Valley of Slaughter.  The city will be an object of amazement and derision.  Passers-by will catch their breath at the wounds they see.  And a flask will be shattered like the lives of these people.  There will be so much death that there will be no place for burial.  This because they have stiffened their necks and have not obeyed my words. 

Jeremiah has visited Topheth, a town whose name could be pronounced with the vowels of the Hebrew word for shame.  “This was due to the practice of there of sacrificing children as burnt offerings to Baal and Molech in the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah (Isa. 30:33;  Jer. 7:31, 32; 19:6, 11-14; cf. 32:35).  Kings Ahaz and Manasseh of Judah are reported to have offered their sons in the Valley of Hinnom (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; cf. 2 Kings 16:3; 21:6).  King Josiah attempted to put a stop to the practice by defiling the altar of Topheth (2 Kings 23:10) but it was revived after his death”.  (Achetemier 1162)

When Jeremiah returns to Jerusalem and denounces not only this practice but the corruption in Jerusalem as well,  he is beaten and placed in stocks by orders of a temple priest and administrator, Pashhur.  “The prophet’s response was to rename the priest ‘Terror on every side’ (v. 3; cf. 6:25, where this phrase describes the people’s response to an invasion from the north, and 20:10, where is describes Jeremiah’s response to his enemies’ actions).  This name symbolizes the fact that Pashhur will be a ‘terror’ both to himself and to his friends: they and the whole land will suffer death, plundering and exile at the hands of the Babylonians (vv. 4-6).  The assertion that Pashhur has misled his friends (v. 6b) is the key to his condemnation.  His reaction to Jeremiah’s message was based on a partisan political position, supported, of course, by an appropriate religious ideology.  From his own standpoint Jeremiah was convinced that this position would lead to disaster”.  (HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY, 561)

This is grime reading and yet it is the kind of persecution that takes place constantly in our world.  Sometimes is happens an ocean away . . . today I am thinking of the people of Egypt.  It also happens right under our noses . . . today I also think about someone dear to me who is persecuted for speaking up.  No matter when this kind of harassment takes place, the effect the bully wishes to create – silence – is void, and in time an opposite result occurs – the truth always comes out in the end. 

My parents continually reminded all five of us that this is one of the surest things we can count on and we read it here in Jeremiah.  This prophet was eventually taken away to Egypt by Jewish authorities who fled before the waves of invaders from the north.  His prophecy unfolds before their eyes, and still they revile him.  In the end, although there is no written evidence of this, Jeremiah is murdered in exile.

The sins in Topheth and the crimes of Pashhur continue today, but we must not allow this fact to sap us of our courage or energy.  We must remind ourselves and one another that the truth always comes out in the end.  So what are we called to do?  We must learn to faithfully witness to these crimes, to humbly pray for ourselves and our enemies, and to joyfully participate in the redemptive love that sets all injustice right in God’s time and in God’s way, lest we too be shattered like the potter’s flask . . .  beyond repair.


A re-post from September 15, 2011.

Achetemeier, Paul J. HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE DICTIONARY. 2nd edition. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996. 1162. Print. 

Image from: http://pottery.about.com/od/stepbystepprojects/ig/Mug-Project-Photo-Gallery/Pottery-Flask.htm

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Jeremiah 42: False Solutions

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A number of years ago a friend of mine pointed out the tactic that many of us use to go around an obstacle in our path.  She called it the geographic solution: When the going gets tough . . . our instinct is to get out of town.  We want to avoid the problem at all costs so rather than sort through the tangled threads of the dilemma, we avoid it . . . and hope that the conflict will magically disappear.  This is, of course, false logic.  If no one addresses difficulty, we know it will not be overcome.  Another friend adds: When you run, you take your problems with you.  This is the same warning we hear today from God who speaks to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah: If you remain quietly in this land I will build you up, and not tear you down; I will plant you, not uproot you . .

We enter Jeremiah’s story at the time that the people living in the southern portion of David’s kingdom are frightened.  They have witnessed the deportation of those living in the north and, hoping to have bought themselves a bit of safety, they have made unholy alliances with the pagan nations that surround them.  To their disappointment, not only do they find themselves threatened by these warring neighbors, they also find that their willingness to accept and even participate in pagan rites and ceremonies has cut them off from Yahweh who had so many times saved them.  They have distanced themselves spiritually, mentally and physically from God and rather than take a hard look at an effective reform of their own beliefs and behaviors, they seek the geographic solution.  They have begun to believe the myth that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  We remind ourselves, as my friend frequently intones, that: We can run, but we take our problems with us.  The people in today’s story do not believe or understand this.  Having the benefit of historical perspective, we see that the people of Judah have abandoned their belief that God can and will save them.  They do not see what we see – that running from their problems will not improve their predicament.

Jeremiah conveys God’s word: If you disobey the voice of the Lord, your God, and decide not to remain in this land, saying, “No, we will go to Egypt, where we will see no more of war, hear the trumpet alarm no longer, nor hunger for bread; there we will live” . . . the sword you fear shall reach you in the land of Egypt, the hunger you dread shall cling to you no less in Egypt, and there you shall die. 

They have forgotten Yahweh’s promise . . . For I am with you to save you, to rescue you . . .

Perhaps they believe they are beyond redemption.  If so, they have forgotten another one of Yahweh’s promises . . . For I regret the evil I have done you . . . I will grant you mercy . . .

As we hear the dialog between the Creator and his creatures, we may want to take this opportunity to reflect on our own strategies for problem solving.  When a disturbance erupts we do not have to run away or even hide; there are options.  We can turn away in embarrassment.  We can deflect the cause or culpability to someone else.  We can become defensive or passive aggressive. We can remove ourselves forever from the people and situation.  But none of these actions will solve anything.  None of this will bring us true peace for there is only one road to true harmony.

We must rely on God . . . and step forward to both forgive and be forgiven.  We must ask for God’s intervention . . . and begin the process of healing.  We must be willing to begin anew with God at the center of the storm . . . and we must remember this: There is no geographic solution that works . . . and we take our problems with us. 


A re-post from September 4, 2011. 

Image from: http://tomorrowsreflection.com/grass-greener/

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Genesis 43The Second Journey

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Bacchiacca: Joseph receives his brothers

Just when we think we have reached a plateau in our journey where we might walk along the flatland rather than clamber up and skitter down the mountain sides . . . we find that we have to go back to repeat a leg of our passage.  Just when we have begun to relax at the oasis where we have filled our water sacks and rested in the shade from the heat of the day . . . we are told that we must move on.  Just when we are beginning to become comfortable in the little fortress where we are hiding from our foes . . . we hear the voice that calls us to make a second journey.

Today we find ourselves in the Joseph story at the point where the brothers have returned home to Jacob to tell him that they must go back to Egypt . . . and this time they must take the favored son Benjamin with them.  Just when Jacob thought his problem of famine had been resolved . . . he is told that he must relinquish the last person who brings him comfort.  Despite his age and the litany of difficulties he has undergone, Jacob must trust God and allow himself to suffer again.  The brothers who had sold Joseph into slavery know that they must make a return trip to Egypt.  Little do they know that well-hidden secrets are about to be revealed, questions will be asked and answered, truths will be spoken.  They plan to go to Egypt to purchase food for their families.  They do not plan to encounter the brother they have delivered to slavery and death.  They do not know they are about to make a further journey.  We do not hear from Benjamin, the young boy whose full brother wields power second only to Pharaoh, but we can imagine that he feels both anxiety and excitement.  Everyone in this story will suffer.  Everyone in this story will be rewarded beyond their wildest imaginings.

I am reading a book by Richard Rohr which a friend gave to me.  In FALLING UPWARD, Rohr posits that in life each of us is given the gift of a second or further journey. “[I]n my opinion, this first-half of life task is no more than finding the starting gate.  It is merely the warm-up act, not the full journey.  It is the raft but not the shore . . . There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life.  The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.  The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life, which does not mean that we do it well.  The second task, I am told, is more encountered than sought; few arrive at it with much preplanning, purpose, or passion”.   (Rohr viii and xiii)

Rohr cites W. H. Auden:  We would rather be ruined than changed.  We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die.  (Rohr 65)  And on page 73 we find this from Matthew 16:25-26: Anyone who wants to save his life must lose it.  Anyone who loses her life will find it.  What gain is there if you win the whole world and lose your very self?  What can you offer in exchange for your one life?”

Jacob believed that his sons were going to Egypt to purchase food that would save the family.  He did not know that his lost son Joseph would be their savior.  Joseph’s brothers thought they were purchasing food to save their lives . . . they did not know that they would also redeem their souls.

Just when we believe that we have convinced everyone of the reality of our illusions . . . we are given the opportunity to leave our comfort zone and enter the second half of our lives.  We are blessed with the gift of seeing clearly that we are created to love honestly and suffer well.  We are created to take the second journey of our lives . . . the journey that promises far more than suffering . . . the further journey that brings us more reward than we can ever imagine.


Rohr, Richard. FALLING UPWARD: A SPIRITUALITY FOR THE TWO HALVES OF LIFE. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.

The painting above is housed at the UK National Gallery.  To see more detail, click on the image and follow the link.  A spy glass on the museum site will allow you to see detail by zeroing in.   You will also find a link to other scenes from the life of Joseph which may interest you. 

A re-post from August 16, 2011.

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Matthew 2:19-20Rise and Go

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Gaetano Gandolfi: Dream of St Joseph

In this Favorite from April 4, 2008, we remember that the Holy Family were refugees in Egypt after the birth of Jesus. We also remember that an angel comes to Joseph with the message that it is time to return to the land of Israel. Today, as we continue to explore how Jesus is the resurrection, we contemplate how our own lives move through times of exile, transfiguration, and return; and just as Mary and Joseph respond to God’s urging, we rise and go when we are called . . . for we are resurrection people.   

We are living through the Resurrection time – the time after Jesus rises from the dead in unity of body and soul and the time that he ascends to heaven.  We are a Resurrection people.  We are immortal.

From today’s MAGNIFICAT Reflection: Those who bear the sign of immortality are attractive to others.  People group around them . . . The Resurrected Lord gives a new lightness of the Spirit . . . Easter’s unity . . . This is a sign that little by little, the spirit of Easter is filling our lives and is pushing out the devil who is division and rivalry, jealousy and hate, the incapacity to carry each other’s weight.  The experience of the Resurrection carries a continual note of hope into our lives . . . Hope arises from faith; it is the visibility of faith; it is faith which becomes operative with the present.  Hope is life in action which transfigures the present; it does not permit “victory” of nothingness – delusion, a bitter nostalgia, narcissistic self-contemplation, the desire to do without another person.  Everything which would be a victory for nothingness is forced out by the victory of Christ.  The Spirit of the Risen Lord enters our lives and makes us creators of unity, filled with new creativity and hope for ourselves and therefore for all people. (Monsignor Massimo Camisasca)

We are a Resurrection people.  And just as the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph and so many others in scripture, so too do angels appear to us.  They bring the message of hope, of courage  . . . of transfiguration.  We too, may be transfigured in Christ.  We too, can be hope to others.  We too, must trust the Lord as did Joseph and Mary.  We too can respond to the call of Rise and go! 

For we are a Resurrection people. 

Tomorrow, what do we do with our anger?


Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 4.8 (2008). Print.  

Image from: http://russ-ramsey.com/day-20-when-joseph-woke-from-his-dream-reflection-questions-and-art-during-advent/

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Matthew 2:13-15: A Time to Flee

Monday, January 8, 2018

When is it appropriate to flee rather than witness?  When do we step away from injustice rather than challenge it?

After [the Magi] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, “Herod will be looking for the child in order to kill him. So get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you to leave.” (GNT)

Commentary tells us that, “Egypt was a place of refuge for those fleeing from danger in Palestine (see 1 Kgs 11, 40, Jer 26, 21), but the main reason the child is to be taken to Egypt is that he may relive the Exodus experience of Israel”. (Senior 9)

The Holy Family become refugees in a world of turmoil. A world that persists in tumult today. Seeking shelter, much like their Hebrew ancestors, Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus understand that it is time to seek sanctuary.

Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left during the night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod died. This was done to make come true what the Lord had said through the prophet, “I called my Son out of Egypt.” (GNT)

Leaving during the night . . .

The act of slipping away in the darkness tells us that Joseph and Mary understood the gravity of the threat. They know that although they have shepherded light into a shadowy world, and despite their belief that God’s light pierces those shadows, they must also act in prudence. They must listen to the voice of God that comes to them through the angel.

“I called my Son out of Egypt . . .”

Jesus re-experiences the exodus journey of his people, showing us that if his family trusts God enough to step away from evil, then so must we.

Stay there until I tell you to leave . . .”

Today we reflect on the flight of The Holy Family to hear what it has to say to us

After the scholars were gone, God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him.” (MSG)

Are we open to the angels who bring us God’s word?

Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.” (MSG)

Do we obey the call of God’s voice?

He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness . . .

Are we willing to take flight from injustice?

Stay until further notice . . .

And are we prepared to return when God calls us?

When we use the scripture links to read varying translations of these verses, we open our hearts to the messages of angels.

Gentile da Fabriano: Flight Into Eygpt

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.9. Print.

For a chronology of Jesus’ life, click on the map above, or visit: http://www.bible-history.com/Chart_Jesus_Chronology/

For a reflection connecting this reading with the plight of refugees, visit the Flight Noontime at: https://thenoontimes.com/2011/10/24/flight/

 

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Matthew 2:13-14: Migration – Part II

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Flight into Egypt

Flight into Egypt

We are familiar with the problem of migration in modern society. Not only does evil force families to uproot lives and shift to foreign lands, it also stalks the very societies that offer haven. In the presence of this evil, we consider the anger and rage that sends families into exile, and we recall that Mary, Jesus and Joseph were forced to migrate to a foreign land in search of safety. Today we read again the familiar words but with an openness to the plight of migrants looking for safe harbor. We renew our commitment to Christ who asks that we pray for those who hide among the innocent to commit horrendous acts of malice. And we ask for the intercession of the Spirit in the lives of all who forced into migration.

Refugees on the island of Lesbos, autumn 2015

If there is time today, focus on a news story about migration and bring your prayer together with al those who work for peace in homelands and abroad. If we are able, we might render our tithes to an organization that works for local or global peace.

To read a sermon entitled “Holiness Always Wins,” click on the image of the flight into Egypt, or visit: https://interruptingthesilence.com/2014/01/06/holiness-always-wins-a-sermon-on-matthew-213-15-19-23/ 

For drone footage of refugees moving through Slovenia, click on the image from Lesbos, or visit: 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/11986994/The-migrant-crisis-is-a-mere-gust-of-the-hurricane-that-will-soon-engulf-Europe.html 

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Genesis 46:1-4Migration – Part IPyramids

Monday, July 25, 2016

I am thinking about how I typically react when God asks me to migrate.  Not in the physical sense – for I have lived and worked and worshiped in the same places my entire life.  I am thinking about the so many times I have been asked to migrate in or out of a relationship, to or away from a task, toward or away from a habit.  Usually my reaction is doubt . . . doubt that I have not heard the inner voice well.  Doubt may be a sign of prudence and healthy caution.  Doubt can also be a sign of recalcitrance, stubbornness, or a lack of faith.

I am reading today’s selection and I am reflecting on the fact that so many times in scripture we hear the Father who created us or the Son who redeemed us whisper to us: Fear not, for I am with you.  I will be with you until the end of the age.  Chapter 43 of Isaiah begins with the beautiful idea that no matter  our circumstances, God will continue to remind us that we redeemed, loved, and each named by God . . . and and called by that name.

Our days are full of activity and noise, but we might continue to think about this idea as we go about all we must do before our heads hit the pillow:  When we are called to migrate, what must we change in ourselves so that we might trust God more?  Do we not remember that even when we step wrongly, we are sustained by the one who created us?  We will want to answer swiftly as Jacob did, “Here I am, Lord”! 

As we examine our need to migrate spiritually, emotionally and physically, we also pray for those who are forced to migrate from the places and people they love.

Adapted from a favorite written on July 31, 2008. 

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Clay Cylinder of Nebuchadnezzar II

British Museum: Clay Cylinder of Nebuchadnezzar II

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Jeremiah 46

Routed Heroes

This oracle against Egypt that we read today is one of Jeremiah’s many. The young Hebrew nation sought refuge in Egypt under the protection of Joseph, they prospered and grew in the land of Goshen and were later enslaved. Led from their enslavement by Moses, they migrated to their promised land where they again prospered and grew. They became a formidable force under the leadership of Saul and David but with Solomon the empire begins to crumble. This young king who had shown so much promise bows to the desires of pagan wives and allows his people to turn to pagan gods. Babylon threatens in the north while Israel and Judah become two kingdoms. Ahead of the forces of Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah is swept away and carried off to Egypt; but Babylon follows and Nebuchadnezzar’s forces move swiftly through the Levant to rout the heroes who attempted to stem the force of his advance. Jeremiah had warned his people but they chose to ignore the word of God as delivered by the prophet.

Prepare shield and buckler! March to battle!

The prophet Daniel reminds us that the faithful need not fight, they only need rely on the providence and goodness of God. (Daniel and the Fiery Furnace in Daniel 3)

Harness the horses. Mount, charioteers. Fall in with your helmets; polish your spears, put on your breastplates.

Saint Paul reminds us that the only impenetrable armor is Christ himself. (Ephesians 6:10-20)

What do I see? With broken ranks they fall back; their heroes are routed, they flee headlong without making a stand. Terror on every side!

Jesus tells us that we have nothing to fear when we live in him.

The swift cannot flee, nor the hero escape. There in the north, on the Euphrates’ bank, they stumble and fall. Who is this that surges toward the Nile, like rivers of billowing waters?

Jeremiah warns that there is no route of escape, no avoidance of the inevitable end which corruption and arrogance guarantees.

Pack your baggage for exile, Memphis shall become a desert, an empty ruin. The mercenaries are like fatted calves; they too turn and flee together, stand not their ground.

The unthinkable will take place. All who are powerful will be weak. All who are mighty will fall. Heroes and cowards alike will collapse.

I will make an end of all the nations to which I have driven you, but of you I will not make an end. I will chastise you as you deserve, I will not let you go unpunished.

So compassionate is our God that even those who go against him have an opportunity to change their ways.

But you, my servant Jacob, fear not; be not dismayed, O Israel. Behold, I will deliver you from the far off land for I am with you.

So faithful is our persistent God that those who are lost in the wake of routed heroes will be healed, restored and transformed.

So hopeful is our transformative God that those who fall on the banks of the Nile will be reconciled, rebuilt and made new.

So loving is our merciful God that even those who are swept away with the tide of routed heroes will be raised up, resurrected and brought to eternal life.

For information on the Babylonian Culture and Jeremiah’s prophecy, click on the image above or go to: http://www.biblesearchers.com/temples/jeremiah4.shtml 

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Wadi-Ferian-Bedowin-women-hSaturday, October 4, 2014

Jeremiah 43

The Insolent

You lie, it is not the Lord, our God, who sent you . . .

Many of us have been in family circumstances in which a loved one accuses us of carrying lies. Perhaps our workplaces or neighborhoods have become places of discomfort rather than sanctuaries from the difficult wider world. If this is the case, we are not alone. Jeremiah refuses to be carried away to Babylon and also refuses to flee to Egypt, knowing that what appears to be a move into safety is, in fact, a desperate, hopeless plan.  And for speaking words of truth, Jeremiah is branded a liar, and the people decide to leave Judah. Against the advice God delivers through Jeremiah, they move south to Egypt, taking the prophet with them to a place called Tahpanhes. There the Lord continues to speak . . . and Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign against Egypt in 568 B.C.E. is predicted.

egypt02God says: There are many occasions when I ask you to trust me and do as I ask. There are many circumstances in which you suffer anxiety and fear because of me. But there are also many times in which you rejoice in my saving love. If you are carried off to Tahpanhes do not fear, I am with you. You may be forced to dwell for a time in a place where all those around you worship pagan gods and pagan ways but do not be afraid, I will not abandon you. No matter your place or your time, I abide with you for I am endless. No matter your worry or your joy, I live with you for I am everywhere and in everything. No matter the gravity of your loss I speak to you . . . just as I spoke to Jeremiah even when he was taken off by insolent men and carried into Egypt, even though he came to find himself in Tahpanhes.

When we doubt that we are living God’s word, we only need ask for affirmation and counsel . . . even though we find ourselves surrounded by the insolent . . . even though we find ourselves in Tahpanhes.

For more on Jeremiah 43, click on the camel and pyramid image above or visit: http://precepts.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/jeremiah-in-egypt/ 

Explore the Egyptian journey of Pastor Al Sandalow by clicking on the other images or by visiting: http://fpeb.blogspot.com/2007_03_01_archive.html Scroll down through his posts to read the amazing story of St. Catherine’s and some of his other experiences.St-Cathrines-wide-view-web

 

 

 

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