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Judith 10God’s Favor

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Gentileschi: Judith Beheading Holofernes

We have visited the story of Judith frequently this year and there is much to be learned from the narrative as she enacts sublime fidelity and heroic love.  A favorite Noontime reflection on the Book of Judith may interest you.  It is linked to the Favorites page above, or through the Pagesnavigation panel in the right-hand column of this blog.

Just yesterday we reflected on the concept of fasting.  Today we see Judith set aside her sackcloth and ashes to break her mourning; she goes out to face the enemy, armed with her woman’s weapons of beauty and speech.  Judith will save a nation . . . and she will do this by first seeking and then living in God.  She will receive God’s favor . . . and she will become the vehicle of a people’s salvation.

We notice that God is central in every decision Judith makes and in every act she performs.  Judith is able to escape the enemy’s revenge by walking past the sentries with her maid – and with the head of Holofernes hidden in their food pouch – precisely because she and her companion have walked out each night to pray at the ravine of Bethulia.  The guards are accustomed to seeing this regular ritual and so do not intercept the two women; they do not even search the food pouch.  After bathing each evening, Judith seeks God’s help . . . and she receives it.

We watch Judith as she leaves the city of Bethulia – a city which has provided her people safety and is now threatened by the Assyrian enemy: Order the gate of the city opened for me, that I might go to carry out the business we discussed” . . . Judith and her maid went out . . .

When we are called to go out of our comfort zone we are frightened.  We tell God that he has chosen the wrong emissary.  We say that we are too consumed with all the many other tasks he has assigned to us.  We find reasoning and excuses for not doing God’s will and yet . . . when we pray as Judith does, when we develop steadfastness as Judith has, when we trust God and take each step as it comes to us rather than worry about the distant future, we are able to rejoice – as Judith does – in the favor God bestows on her.

And so we pray . . .

Good and holy God, we are both fear-filled and awestruck at your power.  We watch as Judith goes into the very heart of the enemy camp – for this is where you need her – and we worry that we will not be able to slay the enemy in your name as Judith does.  We watch Holofernes and his soldiers set Judith in a place of honor – knowing that these acts come from lust – and we worry that we may not be as clever as Judith is.  Give us the courage to remain faithful to you.  Give us the endurance to wait on your plan.  Give us the prudence and patience to allow you to unfold before us, through us, and in us . . . so that we, like Judith, may rejoice in you.  Amen. 


A re-post from August 13, 2011.

Image from: http://www.lilithgallery.com/arthistory/baroque/Artemisia-Gentileschi.html

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joySaturday, November 22, 2014

Judith 11-16

Joy and Deliverance

The story of Judith is full of danger and violence counterpointed by fidelity and great rejoicing. Today we discover that despite grave danger, joy is present. If today’s story calls you to search for more surprises, 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 we find joy in miraculous deliverance.

Judith’s story is not included in all versions of the Bible because it is regarded by some to be an historical novel rather than sacred word. Others see is as a kind of allegory in that the name Judith is the feminine form of the word Judah. Still others point to anachronisms and decline to regard these words as inspired. In any case, the story holds is one of consequence, and one in which we see God’s deliverance of the faithful from the most extreme of circumstances.  It is a story to which we will want to attend.

Artemisia Gentilischi: Judith and the Maid-servant with the head of Holofernes

Artemisia Gentilischi: Judith and the Maid-servant with the head of Holofernes

If you did not have time to read the introductory chapters, move through them today – if even only quickly. The opening pages of the book prepare us for the dreadful middle and the joyful end. They put us in a time and place we will recognize as much like our own. They will give us a firmer footing from which to view this story, a stronger reason to hope as Judith does, and a clearer image of the desperation and joy she experiences.

Verse 14:9: When she had finished her story, the people cheered so loudly that the whole town echoed with sounds of joy.

Is there a Judith among us who quietly moves forward through God’s plan and surprises us with an outrageous act of hope? Are we the unobtrusive Judith or almost unseen handmaiden who turns history on its head in a surprising way? And when God intervenes with and in us in such startling ways, do we recognize the presence of the Spirit in our hour of desperation?

Verse 15:9: When they arrived, they all praised her, “You are Jerusalem’s crowning glory, the heroine of Israel, the pride and joy of our people!”

Do we recognize the Judiths among us and if so, do we value their quiet persistence and determination? Do we perhaps see ourselves in the gritty and resolute actions of these women?  And when God intervenes with and in us in such surprising ways, do we give thanks and honor to the Living God who is in and with all who find joy in great peril and outrageous deliverance?

To better understand Judith’s world, click on the Gentileschi image above, or visit: https://thenoontimes.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/artgentileschi_judithandthemaidservantwiththeheadofholofernes_1625.jpg 

For more details and insights about the encounters between Judith and Holofernes, visit other Noontime reflections by entering the word Judith into the blog search bar.

For more information about anxiety and joy, visit: http://riselikeair.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/anxiety-joy-a-journey/

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joyFriday, November 21, 2014

Judith 9-10

Joy and Peril

The story of Judith is full of danger and violence counterpointed by fidelity and great rejoicing. Today and tomorrow we discover that despite grave danger, joy is present. If today’s story calls you to search for more surprises, 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 we find joy in great peril.

The opening chapters of Judith’s story set a scene of violence, intrigue and power. War begins. An ultimate is delivered. An enemy is defeated and a council takes place to assess plans and possibilities. Nineveh and Ecbatana are now at the center of this drama, but Nebuchadnezzar rages against more than Persia. He lays out a secret plan to take revenge on the entire world, and once these plans are complete he sends for his general Holofernes. These events bring forth images from our daily newscasts that we might recognize in our modern world. Who would suspect that the town of Bethulia and the little-known widow, Judith, would turn the Assyrian power structure on its head? How might each of us, in our own infinitesimal way, have an effect upon the wider world? How might each of us find joy amid the peril that surrounds us?

Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith and her Maidservant

Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith and her Maidservant

Verse 10:3: She took off the sackcloth and her widow’s clothes . . . Judith turns away from her inner grief and turns outward to the world. So might we.

She took a bath, and put on rich perfumes . . . Judith enters into an intentional plan brought forward through prayer. So might we.

She brushed her hair, tied a ribbon around it . . . Judith prepares herself as herself and not as another entity with grandiose ideas. So might we.

She dressed herself in the fine clothes she used to wear on joyful occasions when her husband Manasseh was still alive . .  . Judith moves forward in the only way she knows how. In fidelity. In trust. In faith. In hope. So might we.

In Chapter 9 we find The Prayer of Judith, beautiful, honest verses of petition from one who is so small against gargantuan obstacles. If we spend some time with these words today, we might better understand how Judith calls forth the joy she had once known to find joy in great peril.

For more Noontime reflections about this woman’s story, enter the word Judith into the blog search bar and explore.

 

For information about the woman who painted this rendition of Judith and her servant, click on the image above or visit: http://zadokromanus.blogspot.com/2005/06/artemisia-gentileschi.html 

For more information about anxiety and joy, visit: http://riselikeair.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/anxiety-joy-a-journey/

 

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

images[9]Psalm 55:18

Morning, Noon and Night

Evening, morning and noon I will cry out in my distress, and God will hear my voice.

Like Judith and her maid who were accustomed to going out of the enemy camp at regular prayer intervals, we will escape the traps that await us.  Even more than this, in our regular communication with God we become conduits of God’s action on earth.

God says: I know how busy your days and nights are.  Do I not see all?  Did I not create you?  It brings me joy to be with you in prayer and it matters not if you bring me your sorrows or your joys.  All that matters to me is that you arrive in the evening, in the morning and at noon.  I do not ask that you neglect your work or your loved ones.  I ask that you pause and think of me, speak to, pray with me for even the briefest of moments.  I am always with you . . . but your prayer delights me . . . and I long to hear your voice.

God created Jesus as God’s Word and it is clear from this creation that communication is paramount to God.  Can we imagine a life lived in such constancy to God?  Can we imagine a life without God at all?  Let us consider how we might pause if only for a moment in the morning when we rise, at noon as we traverse our day, and in the evening as we lay our head on the pillow.  In this way we place ourselves in God’s hands so that we might complete God’s work.

For more information about Judith and her maid, enter the word Judith in the blog search bar and explore.

To read different translations of this verse, click on the citation above or go to: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2055:18&version=NIV;MSG;DRA;EXB

For a Noontime reflection on how Psalm 55 and how God guides us when we are betrayed by an intimate companion, go to: https://thenoontimes.com/2013/03/28/an-intimate-companion/

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Francesco del Cairo: Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Francesco del Cairo: Judith with the Head of Holofernes

Judith 12:16 – Holofernes’ Banquet

As we continue our series of reflections on the nature of schemers and their plots, how to avoid them and how to rebuke those who lie on couches to conspire, we return to the story of Judith.

Holofernes is a man accustomed to using power and he also knows how to bide his time, lay traps, and bring others into his schemes.  What he has never encountered in his powerful life is a woman who is as beautiful, God-centered, and determined as Judith. And Holofernes’ lust is no match for Judith’s constant, prayerful attendance on God.  This story is worth reading from beginning to end but if there is time for only one verse, it is 12:16 for it teaches us how to deal with schemers, seducers and plot-builders.

“The story of Judith is full of unexpected turns.  The first and most obvious . . . was that a woman – and not a man – saved Judah in its time of severe distress.  Judith is more faithful and resourceful than any of the men of Bethulia.  She is more eloquent than the king and more courageous than any of the leading citizens of the city, yet Judith is a very unlikely heroine”.  (Senior RG 213)

The story of Judith is full of the detail which we might overlook if we rush through the reading; and it is the kind of detail that a good writer uses to describe the depth of one’s personality, the reason for one’s perversion, the cause of one’s sociopathy.  It is the kind of writing which brings us up sharply when we experience the shuddering reality that human beings often spend more time trying to lure others into a personal agenda than they do honestly working at the task God assigned to them.  The image of this man “burning with desire . . . yet biding his time” is one that haunts me.  I cannot shake it.  And it returns in the written word on a day like most others  . . . packed with activity . . . with so little time for reflection about what is real and not real.

This story tells of how God delivers the faithful through a crushing crisis . . . and how God does this through a woman.  The Reader’s Guide of the CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE tells us that Judith destroys the enemy not through might but by “her beguiling charm and disarming beauty.  The Bible sometimes portrays a woman’s beauty negatively as a snare, but here it is the means of deliverance”.  (Senior RG 213)

And so we hear this story which has been retold so many times through history and in so many ways.  It is a story that teaches us how to combat the lavish allure of the banquets staged by those who plot against innocents and of a woman who answers God’s call with the only tools left to her.  It is a story rife with irony and inversion.  It is a story of how God moves in our lives if we but allow God to enter.

May we all take a lesson from Judith.

To see and study more paintings of Judith’s encounter with Holofernes, click on the image above or go to: http://bjws.blogspot.com/2011/08/judith-holofernes-1600s.html 

To read more Noontimes reflections on Judith, enter her name in the blog search bar, seek . . . and find.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.RG 213. Print.   

Adapted from a Noontime first written on October 3, 2007.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2013

Cristofano Allori: Judith With the Head of Holofernes

Cristofano Allori: Judith With the Head of Holofernes

Judith 13 – Slaying Holofernes

Judith teaches us about courage, fidelity, and divine providence.  She shows us clearly the strength of women, the power of faithfulness through duress, the results of steady, enduring, immutability . . . and the gift of God’s abiding presence.  Judith instructs us on the results of constancy and the privilege of discipleship.

In this particular chapter, we see Judith carry out the final stages of her plan . . . and I am always intrigued by the fact that none of Holofernes’ soldiers see anything suspicious about two women leaving the camp and the reason for this is that from the first night of her stay Judith makes it clear that she and her maid will go out to pray each evening.  For this reason their escape route is made through their accustomed daily commitment to God (12:5-9).

It is also clear that Holofernes’ principle error is seeing women as sexual objects.  The heart of Holofernes was in rapture over her, and his spirit was shaken.  He was burning with the desire to possess her, for he had been biding his time to seduce her from the day he saw her.  (12:16) Neither this man – nor anyone in his inner circle – sees the true significance of the presence of this quiet, beautiful, spiritual woman in their midst.  And they pay for this blindness with the loss of life and the loss of the campaign they have planned against the people of Bethulia.

What can we learn from this today?  How can we take this lesson into our own lives and honor it?  What is it about Judith’s conduct that speaks of her so well?

This story – when read from beginning to end – is full of unexpected twists.  And so is life.  This story – when we take the time to examine it more fully – can startle us and even repel us with its stark reality and violence.  And so can life.  This story – when reflected upon in the context of the coming of Christ – brings us the expectation of restoration, justice and joy.  And so does life.  This story brings us the gift of constancy, a gift we receive through our own discipleship.

Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem: Reconstruction Model of Ancient Jerusalem

Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem: Reconstruction Model of Ancient Jerusalem

What do we do against life’s twists and turns and ironies?  We remain constant, we abide with God, we fear less and we pray endlessly.  We empty ourselves of ego and pride . . . and we allow God to complete and fill us.  We act – just as Judith did – from a custom of constantly walking and praying with God.

Good, merciful and just Creator, we place ourselves in your hands each day at our rising.  We carry you with us throughout each day.  We return to you each evening just as we return to family, home and hearth.  Abide with us this day and all days, just as you accompanied Judith and her maid into the enemy’s camp.  Abide with us each evening as we walk out to the ravine to pray with you, just as Judith and her maid were accustomed to doing.  We seek you, just as Judith sought you.  We bring to you our worries and fears, just as these women did.  May we too remain constant to you in our prayers and in our actions.  May we too know the triumph and the peace which comes from abiding with you.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

If you have time to read more about Judith’s story and reflect on her importance in our lives today, enter her name in the search box on this blog and spend time with her.  Or open your Bible to this book and begin her story in Judith 8.  For background, and to better understand the context, begin reading from Chapter 1.   For an online commentary, click on the model of ancient Jerusalem above.

First written on July 27, 2008.  Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

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