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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.

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Judges 1: Cycles of Love

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema: The Women of Amphissa

We know that Judges is the book in the Old Testament that takes us from the time following the death of Joshua through several hundred years of leaders, or judges, who include Gideon, Deborah and Samson, to the time of Jesse, father of David.  It delineates the story of a people struggling to understand themselves and one another, a people who constantly cycle through a loop of straying, repenting, returning, and forgetting.  The last verse of the book speaks about the attitude of the people regarding not only their civic relationship with one another, but also their spiritual relationship with God.  In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he thought best.  We reflected on this idea several days ago, saying that this is a sentiment we might apply to our contemporary times as we watch events unfold over which we have little and no control. It seems that in all ages we humans . . . do what we think best.  We also see God’s reaction to human waywardness: God allows the weeds to grow up with the wheat.

A number of years ago I came across a painting in the National Gallery’s Pompeii exhibit. It showed maenads, those who stir themselves to frenzy with wine and orgy, and who sink so low that they tear apart their own children.  They are the famous Bacchae of Dionysus, the distraught female followers of this god of wine who exacts revenge on any woman who will not submit to his will.  This Dionysus is the antithesis of the God of Israel.  This pagan god takes what he wants for his own satisfaction, and his followers are too exhausted to see the truth of his and their existence.

We are constantly faced with a choice in our lives because God grants us the freedom to follow or to strike out on our own, to enact love or to deaden our senses with the wine of self-pleasure and self-gratification.

The painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadea entitled The Women of Amphissa shows the exhausted maenads as they awaken the morning after a night of mad running through the hillsides in rapacious, orgiastic delight.  We can see their numbness to the light and to life.  The local townswomen protect them and arrange for them to be returned home unharmed; but the damage has already been done, and they remain powerless, forever in the grip of Dionysus.  They cannot escape from his cruel delight in watching them destroy others.  They have no God who loves them enough to sacrifice himself in redemption of their souls.  There is no Christ who refuses to leave his faithful to do what they think best.

Our God . . . the God of Israel . . . the one God of all of us here is not a God who holds us bound by the secrets or the dark debauchery that surround us.  Our God does not destroy with threats, but rather calls us to grow amid the weeds through faith in God’s own hope and love.  Ours is the God who forgives many times and constantly.  Our God welcomes those who witness and turn to goodness.  Our God does not chain us, does not bind us, does not force us into relationships, and does not take revenge.  Our God brings light, and truth and redemption.  And this God asks us to behave in like manner.  God sets us free to search for God’s goodness with our whole heart and our whole soul, to love or to turn away.  Our God is always hoping that when we do what we think best, we will respond in joyful hope to the call of light and truth and authentic, unencumbered love.

Adapted from a reflection written at the close of 2008. 

For more on the Bacchae, Dionysus and the playwirght Euripides, visit : http://www.mythography.com/myth/glimpse-of-a-greek-god-dionysus-in-the-bacchae-of-euripides/

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Mark 12:1-13: Cornerstone – Part IV

Saturday, March 4, 2017

James Tissot: The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Against Jesus

James Tissot: The Pharisees and the Herodians Conspire Against Jesus

 

Again we hear the Parable of the Tenants in Mark’s Gospel but today we focus on the aftermath of Jesus’ teaching.

And have you not read this scripture, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is made the head of the corner: By the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes. And they sought to lay hands on him, but they feared the people. For they knew that he spoke this parable to them. And leaving him, they went their way. And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and of the Herodians; that they should catch him in his words. (DRA)

We know that Jesus came to bring us the Good News, and we also know that his stories were not always welcomed. Those in control of the power structure did not want their carefully constructed world to crumble. They had forgotten – or perhaps had never learned – the lesson that Jesus comes to set us free from our old hatreds and fears. They rejected – or perhaps feared – the promise that we are all equal in the eyes of the one who created us. They dissembled – or perhaps lied – to achieve their ends. For this reason, it is important for us to take this parable in once again; it is vital that we watch the aftermath that follows. We must look for signs of rejection and deceit for when we see them, we will know that those who look out for themselves are building walls of hate and fear between us. They are plotting to catch us out with our words. But it is our very words that – when spoken with and in Christ – will set us and the world truly free.

When we spend time with the aftermath of this Parable of the Tenants that we begin to know and have confidence in the reality the rejection of the cornerstone is an act that sets us free. If this Douay-Rheims translation does not suit us, we can use the scripture link and drop-down menus to explore other versions. 

For more on the Pharisees, religious leaders, and the Herodians, political leaderrs visit biblehub.comhttp://biblehub.com/topical/p/pharisees.htm  and http://biblehub.com/topical/h/herodians.htm

The Herodians family tree can be found at: http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great/HERODThe_Herodians.htm

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Matthew 5:38-48: About Revenge – Part I

Sunday, February 19, 2017god-is-love1

For the next several days we will explore Jesus’ words from his Sermon on the Mount. Today, what does Jesus tell us about the freedom we find when we stay clear of the temptation to seek revenge?

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth”. Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: “Don’t hit back at all”. If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. (MSG)

Jesus challenges us to live generously; yet what does this mean?

This is impossible, we say to ourselves as we hear his words. And a life lived in this way will never work. Who will protect me and my loved ones if I do not? How will I keep the bullies at bay? And how will I avoid being everyone’s doormat? This is impossible we repeat.  And then . . .

confucious-revenge-two-gravesGod says: I am quite aware that many of you see Jesus’ suggestion as an idealistic, and even ridiculous, plan for living. You see the Law of Freedom as a threat to your autonomy. You see the world viewed from this perspective of love – without defenses and using liberal amounts of revenge – as childish. But I say to you that it is childlike. I do not ask you to go into the world completely open to assault; rather, I ask that you use my enormous power, presence and love as a bulwark and as your rock of safety. I ask you to trust me more than you trust your own resources and your little powers. I also ask that you replace your bluster and bravado with my own call to love those who hate you and wish you harm. When you surrender to my Law of Freedom, you give up all pretense of power – and yet you will have more power than you ever imagined. When you remain in and with me, you need not build the walls you falsely believe will protect you. I ask that you put away your childish ways of dependence of self and replace them the childlike life of generosity and openness. I tell you that this new interaction with the world brings you a new freedom . . . and even a new authority, the authority of my love that surpasses all.

Jesus challenges us to live generously. Do we see ourselves as able to follow this call?

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Psalm 112: Rising in the Darkness

Monday, February 13, 2017candles

Whether we know it or, once we commit to loving God as we see God in others, we begin to generate light in the darkness.

Those who love the LORD rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.

We may be unaware that others are watching us but they are. When we say that are committed to Christ, do our actions betray or support our words?

It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.

If we hope to make a mark in human history, all we need do is follow Christ. In this way we will find ourselves in the story of hope and generosity rather than the story of fear and exclusion.

For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.

Once we begin to think and move in Christ, all fear falls away for we know that we are not in charge and that the long arc of human history is moving toward the light of Christ.

They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.

lightWhen we feel ourselves moving in that great tide of humanity that yearns for universal justice, impartial freedom and eternal peace, we will know that all is well.

Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

The honor we seek is not the reward of this life; it is the quiet, humble, everlasting honor that Christ bestows when we follow after him.

They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; they are exalted in honor.

We cannot think that our progress is smooth for the way of discipleship is difficult in the best of circumstances.

The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

And we must remember that in our gladness of living and loving in Christ, we are called to invite all those who weary from their journey of opposition, mistrust, and manipulation to join in this great generation of life and light and love.

Those who love the LORD rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.

candles-burningWe give thanks for the times when are the light. We ask forgiveness for the times we have brought darkness to others and ourselves. And we remember to look for the face of Christ in every soul that passes our way.

When we spend time with various translations of this psalm, we find that our hearts are lighter, our path more easily seen and trod, and our journey more full of peace.

 

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Deuteronomy 15:12-18: Slavery

Wednesday, February 1, 2017qumran

A Favorite from January 23, 2009.

We experience all sorts of slavery in our lives: slavery to work, slavery to ideas, and slavery to people.  Paul characterizes himself many times as a slave of Christ, obeying to the utmost, owning nothing, being strength itself in his earthly weakness and poverty.

Gossip repeated commits us to a kind of slavery.  The speaker can never move out of an entrenched opinion; the victim remains stuck in an unpleasant characterization.  The irony of slavery is that it reduces the owner more than the slave; and perhaps that is why we see the recommendation in today’s reflection that the slave be set free . . . For remember, you were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God ransomed you.

At the time the book of Deuteronomy was written, and also in Jesus’ day, slavery was an accepted fact of life.  Only the Essenes of Qumran rejected it in principle (Achetemeier 1031) as we can read in the works of Josephus, a Jewish historian.  The famous stoic philosopher Epictetus was a slave, as was the family of St Paul.  Slaves in Old Testament days were mainly for domestic service, and they “played a minor economic role in the ancient Near East” (Achetemeier 1029).  Crown and temple slaves were usually captured during war; private slaves were defaulting debtors and their families, or indigents who resorted to self-sale.  In New Testaments days under Roman rule, slaves comprised as much as thirty five percent of the population.  Poor masters were to be punished; slaves were to participate in the Sabbath rest.  Many of the rules regarding slaves were established in an effort to maintain the dignity and humanity of these human beings; but no matter its form or purpose, slavery is something to be abolished.  It meant “social death” in ancient times (Achetemeier 1030) and remains so today – cutting the slave off from family, friends, homeland and resources.

To what are we slaves today?  Who do we enslave by our words and actions?  How might we free ourselves and others from chains real or unreal?

The only freedom that is eternal and redeeming is that which comes when we give ourselves over to God’s love.  Placing ourselves in the compassionate hands of Christ is the single most effective method of ensuring that we are slaves to no one and to nothing; for when we place God before all else in our lives . . . we put ourselves in a place which no shackle can chain.

God always rescues; he always keeps his promises.  As the prophet Zechariah tells us (8:7-8): Thus says the Lord of hosts; Lo, I will rescue my people from the land of the rising sun, and from the land of the setting sun.  I will bring them back to dwell within Jerusalem.  They shall be my people, and I will be their God, with faithfulness and justice.

No matter where we are or what our condition, we are well-loved by our creator.  When we turn to him and agree to serve him only, we live in a state of freedom which can never be enslaved.  Would it not be wonderful if we might set ourselves and others free from the chains in which we have entrapped them?

From this morning’s MAGNIFICAT intercessions:

For those who feel hopelessly trapped by the habits of sin: grant them forgiveness and peace.

For those who fear your anger: show them also your love.

For those who delay examining their decisions and habits: let them see how quickly life passes.

God in heaven, deliver us, rescue us, set us free from all that keeps us from you.  Amen.

Achetemeier, Paul J. HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE DICTIONARY. 2nd edition. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996. 1031. Print.

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 1.23 (2009). Print.  

For more on the Essenes of Qumran, click on the image above or visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/portrait/essenes.html

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Job 3Misery

Wednesday, October 12, 2016peace-in-christ

We continue our reflections on peace and we find that even in the depths of misery, there is peace. 

In the Biblia de América, the commentary refers to the technique used in this book as a dialog of the deaf.  This certainly explains how we so often feel misunderstood, misheard, misspoken, misunderstanding.  As humans, we are often poor at expressing ourselves clearly . . . and we are equally poor at hearing well.  Job’s three friends, in an effort to either console Job in his misfortune or to justify themselves in their good fortune, do not fully comprehend the depths of Job’s misery.  He is innocent.  He has followed God’s precepts well.  He has done nothing wrong.  He has done all things well . . . yet he suffers tremendously.  This does not fit the Old Testament thinking that if we do as we are asked to do, we will not suffer.  Goods and good times come to us as a reward.  Suffering and pain come to us as a punishment.  Job struggles to find the logic in what has happened to him, and here in the opening chapters he is clear about his grief; yet his friends will reply as if they have not heard the idea their friend struggles to communicate – he has done nothing wrong and still he suffers greatly.  Job, looking for justice and compassion, will find only preaching and separation from his friends.  It is not until the end of this travail that he will see the wisdom and awesome power of God.  And for his fidelity and his willingness to suffer . . . Job will receive compensation beyond his imaginings.

Still, we are struck by the phrase: a dialog of the deaf.  Is this the way we listen to one another?  Are we bent on finding answers?  On ending pain?  On bending circumstances to our own will?  Why do we not hear?  Perhaps the other’s experience is beyond anything we can imagine.  Perhaps others frighten us and we fear contagion.  Perhaps we do not want to admit that discipline from God is necessary and that our role is to abide by those who suffer.  Perhaps we are not willing to become co-redeemers with Christ and enter into the salvific pain which redeems us as well as our enemies when we pray for their conversion.

Job speaks of wishing he had never been born.  This is true misery for this admits that we would rather be without God and free of pain than with God and suffering with God.  Yet we only become truly free when we give over our self-control to the guiding hands of God.  We can only become truly happy when we agree to live a life which depends on God’s plan for our happiness rather than our own.

True freedom and true joy can wipe out the kind of misery Job expresses here.  Authentic faith, enduring hope, genuine love . . . these are the antidote for deep and inconsolable misery . . . and these come from God alone.  As sufferers here in this life we can listen more to one another, we can abide more with one another, and rather than recriminations, accusations or platitudes . . . we might offer God’s peace to one another.

This is the power, the mystery and the comfort that comes from saying to one another . . . may Christ’s peace be with you.  For it is the only peace that knows the depth of pain that cries out . . . if only I had not been born.  It is the eternal peace of God with which God graces all life.  If only we might find a way to listen . . .

Adapted from a reflection written on February 17, 2009.

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

 

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Luke 8:1-3: Ministering Women – Part III

Friday, September 23, 2016

Carracci: Holy Women at the Tomb

Carracci: Holy Women at Christ’s Tomb

A Favorite from September 6, 2008.

As the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest to settle her young, my home is by your altars, Lord of hosts, my king and my God.  Psalm 84:4

Men and women disciples accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem, to the Cross, and to the Grave.  Women and men sought Jesus at the empty tomb and witnessed to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.  Their perseverance and fidelity were rewarded by many encounters with the Resurrected Christ.  We too, have the opportunity to encounter Christ as we move along our own Jerusalem road.  We too, might build nests beneath God’s altars as we stop along the way.

We are all God’s ministering children.  Let us, with courage then, take up our personal burden, greet one another with a Christian Kiss of Peace, and join Christ on the road back to freedom.  Let us go up to Jerusalem – women and men together – and minister to one another.  For in this act we will encounter Christ. In this act we will find our own infinity.

For more on women at the tomb, click the image above or visit: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2014/04/11/women-empty-tomb/ 

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Joshua 18:1-10Taking Steps

Sunday, September 18, 2016canaan3

How much longer will you put off taking steps to possess the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?

When the Hebrew people make their exodus from Egypt they are going back to the land that has been promised them by Yahweh.  In today’s reading we arrive at the part in that story where several tribes have yet to realize their inheritance.  Archaeologists have not found traces of the enormous migration described in scripture but what they do see is evidence of cultures merging and reshaping as the peoples in the region struggle to survive through periods of famine and drought.  The peoples sometimes unite against invaders.  They sometimes strike out on their own to take over city-states and their surrounding territory.

Today we read about the precision and care the Israelites take in acquiring the land promised to them through the covenant established between Abraham and Yahweh.  We also read about the care they take to include God’s influence and authority in their own plans.  We might learn a good deal from this as we practice how to not put off taking steps to possess that which the Lord God has already given us.

We are given the gift of freedom; yet we sometimes allow ourselves to become trapped by the shackles we insist on acquiring.

We are given the gift of faith; yet we sometimes respond more to fear than reliance on God.

We are given the gift of hope; yet we sometimes sabotage our own possibilities of realizing potential.

We are given the gift of love; yet we sometimes hide this gift for fear of losing it.

We are given the gift of life everlasting; yet we sometimes cling more to life temporal in this world.

How much longer will you put off taking steps to possess the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?

The Lord has promised us God’s care, God has assured us that we are the Lord’s, and God has already given us our inheritance.  Do we abide with God in confident expectation?  Do we take steps to explore and inhabit the land which God has promised?  How much longer will we put off the taking of these steps?

A Favorite from September 26, 2009.

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