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Posts Tagged ‘Nehemiah’


Ezra 10:1-15: The People’s Response

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Jerusalem

Ezra and Nehemiah, priest and administrator, return from exile to rebuild Jerusalem after its fall and the nations’ exile.  In joy tinged with sadness they dig into the ruins of their past to re-discover their covenant with Yahweh and to and re-pledge their fidelity to him.  Yet in this bittersweet moment as they return from deportation, they continue to ignore God – even the leaders among them who are to serve as models.  We read the long list of their names further along in the chapter and we pause to reflect that we too, are among the guilty.

We remember that although the Old Testament response to their recognition of unfaithful ties with non-Jewish spouses and children was severance and abandonment, our New Testament response is one of openness and an invitation to reconciliation.  Today we might look at Ezra’s response to the original act of betrayal: for he was in mourning over the betrayal by the exiles.  A leader among them, Shecaniah, during his appeal to Ezra says: Yet even now there remains a hope for Israel . . . have courage and take action!  The action they take is to name the culpable . . . and to expel the innocent women and children from their presence.  This story has always troubled me, as does any total severance I encounter in my life.  There is something about it which does not match the Gospel story.

We know that there are times when even Jesus recommends that his missionaries shake dust from the feet to move out of hostile territory and on to new places.  We also know that only God can soften hearts, and can give the gifts of faith, hope and love of enemy.  Only God can unbend stiff necks and open closed eyes, ears and hearts.  Only God can send us the graced moments that make our relationships come alive for an eternity.  Yet, we also believe that we must always make ourselves available for the miracles God wishes to give us.  We must be open to the outrageous possibility that God can grant our hearts’ desires when we ask in Jesus’ name.  We must be willing to remain as constant as God has remained with us.  And we – the victims of abuse – must be willing to petition intercession and salvation for our abusers while maintaining a prudent, watchful and open stance with our enemies.  This must be our response . . . for it is the Christian response.

Many times in the Gospel we see Jesus defer to the Father and we hear the words and bind them to our minds and to our hearts: Do not be afraid.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Jesus’ response is to rely on the creator and it must be our response.  Just as Jesus trusts in God’s wisdom and plan, so must we.

It is easy to assign culpability to the blameless, faceless and nameless women and children in today’s reading who find themselves as destitute as these Jewish people themselves had several times been in their history – slaves in Egypt, exiles in Babylon.  Yet they show no compassion.  Christ has not yet walked among them to show them The Way.

I like to think that when confronted with difficult decisions like the ones we read about and think about today, that we will choose the Jesus Way, the Jesus Approach to the dilemma.  Our response, if we follow Jesus, must be as honest, prudent and open as his.  What is this response . . . ?  With prudence and with trust in God, let us welcome the guilty . . . for we are among them.  Let us forgive . . . for we are forgiven.  


A re-post from May 24, 2009.

Image from: http://blog.thefoundationstone.org/2009/12/23/fasting-as-a-prayer/

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Ezra 10:16-44: The Guilty

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Tower of David Ruins: Jerusalem

At the time that the Jews were returning from their exile, Ezra condemns certain priests who intermarried with the Gentiles strayed from Yahweh.  Their solution?  To sever relationships with wives and children and make a guilt offering.  This is a course of action appropriate for their time but it is not the action that New Testament people will take.  If we are People of the Restoration, People of Resurrection and healing, we will build bridges where there is dissent and conflict.  We will look for compassionate yet just ways to maintain contact and to heal breaches in relationships.

Let us welcome the guilty . . . for we are among them.

Let us forgive . . . for we are forgiven

From the MAGNIFICAT morning intercessions.

You made all human beings in your image: fill us with reverence for one another.  Hear your children’s plea!

You restored us in your image through the work of the cross: teach us to work to restore the dignity of all those degraded by the works of evil.  Hear your children’s plea!

You raise us to newness of life in Jesus Christ: fill us always with Easter joy.  Hear your children’s plea!


Written on April 16, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://www.moderatotours.com/easter_abroad.html

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 4.16 (2008). Print.

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Daniel 9:13-19: Prayer in the Desert

Third Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019

Just a few weeks ago we took a look at this chapter of Daniel but on that day we were reflecting on God’s messenger Gabriel and thinking about the times that God has sent us messages in rapid flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.  The message that we ponder today is Daniel’s famous penitential prayer on behalf of the community.  In this Eastertide we have been examining the state of exile and captivity, and we have given thanks for God’s abiding presence despite our despair and loss.  We have reflected on how to suffer well . . . and how to trust God when there is nothing and no one else to trust.  Through our Lenten journey we pondered how to best search our souls and how to best ask forgiveness.  Today we might come together as an ethernet community to pray these words together.  They are words that we see again in Ezra (9:6-15) and Nehemiah (1:5-11 and 9:6-37) when the priest and the administrator rebuild the Jerusalem temple after Cyrus allows the Jewish people to return from exile.  This chapter tells us of the sad day when the Jewish people are told that their exile will last much longer than they had anticipated . . . not 70 weeks or 70 years, as they had thought and as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah.  No, they receive word that their captivity will really end in 70 x 70 years, 490 years . . . which is precisely the amount of time until the arrival of Jesus . . . the Liberator and the Redeemer of all . . . for all . . . for all time

The HARPER COLLINS COMMENTARY tells us that this prayer is not seen so much as a petition from the people who obey God; but rather, it is seen as an appropriate act of piety from a people who have erred, from a people who have disobeyed.  And so we might pray it together today . . . in an admission of our own willful act of waywardness and disobedience, and in gratitude for blessings and graces received.   (Mays)

We recognize that we spend much of our lives in the desert; we acknowledge that we are often held captive; and we also acknowledge that during these dry and lonely times we are not actually alone . . . we are accompanied by God.  And just as the angel Gabriel comes to Daniel to bring him the news that God abides, so too, does he comes to us to remind us that God is with us, that God is good, and that we are loved by this eternal God.

Today we read Daniel’s prayer and we pray as the Jewish community prayed with Ezra and Nehemiah when they returned to their ruined city.  We pray as we ponder the ruined places in our lives . . . and we give thanks.

God of Heaven, God of Earth, Spirit Dwelling Among Us,

Guide us . . . and grant us the faith to follow,

Be glad in us . . . and grant us the hope to rejoice in you,

Love us . . . and grant us the grace to grow in you.

We wish to turn . . . we wish to return to you.

For you are the beginning, the end, the all.

We are your servants.

May we serve you well.

Amen. 


A re-post from April 20, 2012.

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

For more reflections and a wonderful poem about footprints in the sand, click on the image above or go to: http://celesteanima.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/poem-footprints-in-the-sand/

For more on Gabriel’s visit with Daniel, go to the Gabriel Comes to David post on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2012/02/07/gabriel-comes-to-david/

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Nehemiah 6:1-14A Great Enterprise

Monday, December 31, 2018

Model of the Temple Courtyard

Written on January 2, 2011 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

I am engaged in a great enterprise and am unable to come down; why should the work stop, while I leave it to come down to you?

In this portion of the rebuilding story, Nehemiah knows that Israel’s enemies – Sanballat and Gesham – plot against them, trying to create problems for the Jewish people as they rebuild their city and temple.  They invite the builder to the plain of Ono – about 25 miles northwest of Jerusalem – in a plot to harm him.  If he does not meet with him, they threaten, they will alert the king of Persia that Nehemiah was planning to make himself king.  Nehemiah refuses their “invitation,” turning away outside threats.

We also read about the advice given to Nehemiah by Shemaiah, a prophet who was likely paid by Sanballat and Tobiah to lure the builder into breaking an important law – laypeople were allowed to seek asylum by grasping the horns of the altar in the courtyard, but were not permitted to enter into the temple itself.  Nehemiah fends off this “invitation” and another from the prophetess Noadiah, turning away threats from within.  (Mays 348)

What was it that called these outer and inner enemies to want to overthrow Nehemiah?  As we see in the previous chapter, he has the well-earned reputation of being a man lacking self-interest, he cannot be bought or bribed, and the enterprise he has undertaken is going well.  His work goes well because it is God’s work, and Nehemiah trusts God to see the work finished.  Those who plot Nehemiah’s end do not understand this perhaps because they do not live their lives in this way.  They do not see themselves as stewards of God’s grace . . . for this is the great enterprise in which Nehemiah sees himself engaged.  It is the huge project he will not forsake.

Today we hear a portion of the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians read to us at Mass in which he explains this special stewardship with which each of us is charged: to share our talents – whatever they may be – with all, in order that we participate fully in God’s plan.  Whether we know or believe this does not matter, we still carry this gift within, and we are meant to share it as Nehemiah shares: utterly, totally, and always.  We are accountable for our own participation in the great enterprise. 

Robert Morneau writes in today’s meditation and then poses questions in DAILY REFLECTIONS FOR ADVENT & CHRISTMAS: Waiting in Joyful Hope 2010-2011: Everyone is given the privilege and duty of being a steward of God’s grace . . . This stewardship, this receiving, nurturing, and sharing of God’s love and life, is a way of life and involves serious accountability . . . In what way are you called to be a steward of God’s grace?  What is your unique gift?  Do you have a sanctified vision of God’s plan of salvation?

William Brassey: Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem

Nehemiah will not be drawn away from what he sees to be the work that God has laid in his hands.  He is confident of God’s call in his life, and the firmness of this belief is seen in the focus he gives to this work.  He allows no influence – either from within his community or from outside it – to diminish his determination.  In this way, he takes up the gift and privilege of serving God.  In this way, he engages in the greatest enterprise any of us will ever know . . . the work of God’s incomprehensible yet breathtaking plan for our salvation.


A re-post from November 28, 2011. 

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 348. Print.

Morneau, Robert F. DAILY REFLECTIONS FOR ADVENT & CHRISTMAS: Waiting in Joyful Hope 2010-2011. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2010

Images from: http://larryavisbrown.homestead.com/files/OT_history/unit4/Unit4b_exile.htm and http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/J_Transp/J01_JudaismIntro.html 

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Ezra 6Rebuilding

Friday, September 14, 2018

Written on January 8 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

The house is to be rebuilt . . .  

We are so often exhausted by life’s demands that we cannot experience joy when we hear good news . . . the house is to be rebuilt.

In today’s Noontime, King Darius reiterates the original command given by King Cyrus . . . the house is to be rebuilt.  Nehemiah, the administrator, and Ezra, the priest, set about restoring the city and temple in Jerusalem.  They travel through dangerous territory and carry with them a letter of safe-passage from their former enemy.  They arrive in Jerusalem to find a pile of rubble so dense that horses cannot find a pathway – they must pick their way on foot through toppled stone.  They return from exile most likely drained of energy . . . but there is hope and even joy because . . . the house is to be rebuilt.

I am struck by the concordance of the instructions in the decree we read today with the original description of the temple that Solomon built which we read in 1 Kings 7.  God does not forget his promise to the Jewish nation that . . . the house is to be rebuilt.

Nor does God forget all that he has promised us, his daughters and his sons.  Just like the destroyed temple, we too will be rebuilt and in fact are being rebuilt each day.  We are the temple in which the Spirit dwells, and as the cares of the world tear at its pillars and nibble at is foundation, Jesus becomes the master planner who constantly offers to help us reconstruct.  His constant attention and love remind us that . . . the house is to be rebuilt.

I am thinking of Psalms 126 and 127.  Those who go out weeping return singing . . . we labor in vain unless the Lord is the master builder of our house.

Whatever our flaws, whatever our sorrows, all will be converted to joy for we are promised that . . . the house is to be rebuilt.

Whatever our obstacles, whatever our fears, they become our stepping stones to serenity once we remember that . . . the house is to be rebuilt. 


A re-post from August 14, 2011.

Image from: http://www.amazon.com/Rebuilding-House-Laurie-Graham/dp/0140123385/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1313344601&sr=8-2 

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Nehemiah 7: Seek Trust – Process

Thursday, December 14, 2017

We often take a look at how the exiled people prepared to return to Jerusalem; we also reflect on how the people who journeyed home depending on God to protect them rather than troops and arms.  Today we a look at the same story a little further along, and from a different perspective – that of the builder/administrator Nehemiah.

This rebuilding of all that has been lost is not an easy task; it is a long and arduous process ans nothing ever feels complete.  Indeed, the writer records that the enemies of Israel, once they hear that the walls and gates of that great city have been rebuilt, plot to bring the nation down again; yet even so, the people are exhorted to confide in God alone.  We hear in Nehemiah’s own words (6:15) that our enemies lost much face in the eyes of the nations, for they knew that it was with God’s help that this work [of rebuilding] had been completed.  Reading further, we see how plots and their schemers roil around these people who huddle in the ruined glory of their ancestors as they try to rebuild.  The remnant nation is shielded from her enemies as restoration – through God – transforms rubble to beauty.

Once the outer structure is established, Nehemiah begins to re-organize within and he re-arranges the people to protect the little gain they have purchased.  Being wise and following the call of Yahweh, Nehemiah knows that greed will spark jealousy in their enemies and so he takes a census to count the flock, to present them as delivered by their God.

We have visited with Ezra and Nehemiah before in the Noontimes, and we have watched this pair of men – the priest and the administrator – work in concord to save a humbled nation from harm as she returns home.  We might marvel at the trust they place in God as they take on the responsibility of shepherding these faithful in their process of restoration.

When we allow God to assist us in our recovery from calamity . . . and when we have rebuilt the doors and gates of our precinct . . . when we have set up gatekeepers and appoint night watchmen to guard against further damage by old and wily foes . . . we must rely on God to put into our hands all the tools that we will continue to need as we once again flourish in the sun.  For if we have trusted God with the great misfortunes on our lives, so must we trust him with the many small mishaps of the day.  This God who loves us is capable of great and small deeds.  When we find ourselves at stopping points in our process of rebirth, we will also need encouragement to continue to progress to full and joyful renewal and rejuvenation.  When we place our trust in God, when we turn the long and difficult process over to the one who creates all good . . . then we too will want to take our census and to count ourselves as present and as saved by our God.

A Favorite from June 14, 2009. 

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Nehemiah 5: Self-Interest

Monday, October 16, 2017

How does Nehemiah confront oppression in the process of rebuilding Jerusalem? When we examine this chapter of his story, we find that Nehemiah operates with transparency, honesty, and generosity.

When Nehemiah receives God’s call, he answers it in a very big way; he does not do things in half measures.  We see that he regards his work in re-building as his vocation and he does not take monetary re-payment for the work of the rebuilding.  Nor does he take credit for this amazing feat.  In contrast to his predecessors, he takes no reimbursement for his work in the rebuilding Jerusalem’s city walls and Temple.  He makes both the physical and financial outlay knowing that God will sustain him.  In this way, Nehemiah shows us how to understand our true relationship with our creator.

Nehemiah is an excellent administrator who prays constantly, and who is constantly guided by God.  He is neither self-serving nor glory seeking.  He understands that God does all, and is all. He speaks with God as his good friend and says: Keep in mind, O my God, in my favor all that I did for this people. 

Together with the priest, Ezra, Nehemiah creates a physical structure that enables the faithful to return to Yahweh.  He invites the Jewish people, magistrates and peoples from all nations to his table – something unusual for an observing Jew of his era – yet he listens for God’s voice and does whatever is asked of him to realize the work laid out by his God.  He rises over a foreign king, distant and local enemies, long-entrenched customs, gossip, and even the in-fighting raging around him in order to achieve this incredible goal of taking the rubble that surrounds him in order to participate in the making of God’s kingdom for both God and God’s people.

We, today, can be new Nehemiahs.  We can create around us structures that are collegial, safe, and predictable.  We can form relationships that are open, honest, and supportive.  We can refrain from nay-saying, gossip and destructive thinking.  We can seek solutions, listen more than we talk, think of self last, and remember that God does all and is all.

Adapted from a reflection written on December 23, 2007.

Tomorrow, praying with Nehemiah.

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Nehemiah 1 and 2: Arrival in Jerusalem

Friday, October 13, 2017

Jerusalem wall today

Yesterday we reflected on Nehemiah’s exit from captivity and his arrival in Jerusalem. Today we pause to explore how Nehemiah begins the Lord’s restoration.

  • When Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem, he rests three days before he set[s] out at night with only a few other men. Three days . . . a few other men . . . apparent ruin, death and destruction . . . three days . . . restoration. Jesus fulfills the promise of restoration three days after his death.
  • Nehemiah had not spoken to anyone of his total plan for Jerusalem. He goes at night to investigate and when he does, the ruin is so complete that he has to dismount and continue on foot because there is too much rubble for his horse to traverse. He speaks to the magistrates and others of his plan and they reply: Let us be up and building!  Those who have been left behind amid the bleak destruction respond to God’s call of hope which arrives with the administrator, Nehemiah.  This is our season of Hope.
  • The hopeful are ridiculed and mocked by the aggressors; yet they maintain their newly found energy to rebuild. Nehemiah responds to the jeering: It is the God of Heaven who will grant us success. We, his servants, shall set about the rebuilding.  They put their trust where it belongs . . . in God.

In a season that anticipates a time of Light and Hope, Restoration and Rebuilding, Turning and Returning to God, we have the opportunity to practice boldness in Christ Jesus. Let us respond to our Call together with the love of the Holy Spirit; and let us place our Trust in the one who most deserves that confidence, in God alone.

For with God all things are possible . . . even the gathering of the dispersed remnant from the farthest corners of the earth . . . to be gathered into the promised dwelling place . . . the place of God’s name.  For with God all things are possible . . . even resurrection after devastating and annihilating ruin . . . to be gathered into the promised dwelling place . . . the place of God’s name. 

For with God all things are possible . . . even the fulfillment of all of those dreams which seem so crazily and utterly hopeless . . . to be gathered into the promised dwelling place . . . the place of God’s name. 

For with God all things are possible . . . for this is the season of Hope.  Amen.

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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

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