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2 Samuel 14 & 15: Deceit – Part II

Alexandre Cabanel: Thamar

Thursday, November 9, 2017

We see Absalom set himself up as heir to a throne he will not inherit.  We see him strip away all that is holy from his life.  Reading ahead, we see him die a ridiculous death, hanging by his hair from a terebinth tree while one of David’s soldiers runs him through with a spear.  Absalom plots for years to murder his brother for the rape of their sister, Tamar.  Absalom relies on the very human resources of power, looks and cleverness to win for him the vengeful goals he lays out for himself.  It is clear that Absalom does not consult God as he enters into and executes his plans.

Absalom was a prince of a powerful nation.  It was written that: In all of Israel not a man could so be praised for his beauty as Absalom, who was without blemish from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  (14:25)  But what had become of his soul?  How had the events of his childhood so shaped him to produce such anger?  Why were the gifts he had received from a loving God not enough to please him?  What was it that made him always want more?

Upon his return from exile, Absalom falls to the ground at his father’s feet when he is pardoned.  He then stands, and leaves the palace to set his newest grab for power into motion.  He employs deceit to win friends and enemies alike rather than obedience to God as his game plan.  He relies on his influence and charm . . . and for awhile these tools prove a powerful arsenal; but in the end they are not enough.  In the end, Absalom . . . the master deceiver . . . is himself deceived.  He returns from Geshur and continues to weave the labyrinth of his life with chariots, horses and henchmen all the while forgetting that . . . the proper response to pardon is a grateful heart.  Let us learn a lesson from Absalom’s ruin.

For more information about the people and places in this reflection, visit yesterday’s post, Deceit – Part I. 

A Favorite from November 21, 2008.

 

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Ezekiel 48:35: The Lord is Here – Part II

Friday, April 8, 2016

Tablets of Jewish Exiles

Tablets of Jewish Exiles

We know that when the prophet Ezekiel was deported, he was taken to a small village on a canal near the banks of the river Chebar. Scholars believe that around the year 597 B.C.E. he trekked with others from Israel to Syria, then south through modern Iraq. He may even have volunteered to accompany an early wave of deportees before the collapse of Israel in 593 B.C.E.  In any case, he was called by the Spirit to speak, and to write down the oracles sent to him.  And he obeyed.  An essay in the CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE tells us that despite the fact that he uses the pronoun “I” so frequently, he “showed little initiative and remained completely obedient to God, like clay in the hands of the potter.  He never questioned God’s complete control”.  (Senior RG 337-338)

Ezekiel was a strong influence in his community and kept before the exiled the central importance of the temple and the presence of the Lord – even though the temple had been defiled, and the faithful could no longer visit its sacred precincts. It is likely that through priests like Ezekiel, the Jewish community was able to cling to Yahweh through the excruciating trial of separation, and so we can look to him as an exemplar of how to best live when we are physically separated from something we hold dear.  We must allow the healing waters of the Spirit to flow through our temple – because the Lord is Here.  He is in the suffering, he is in the healing, and he is in the rejoicing.

When we are faced with deep disappointment or separation from all we love, how do we respond? Today we consider this question as we remember that God is especially with us when we suffer.

The River Chebar today

The River Chebar today

From the CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE (NAB) Readers’ Guide page 337: The last chapters of Ezekiel describe the new temple in the New Jerusalem and the description “offers a vision of fresh water, flowing from the altar, down the Kidron Valley, into the Dead Sea.  It is part of a biblical tradition, symbolically declaring that all life flows from God, enthroned at the Temple . . .  The long passage in Sirach 24 transforms this stream into the four rivers of paradise, awaiting the wise person and true worshipper.  The Temple accordingly becomes a symbol of the messianic era and mirrors God’s true and everlasting home in heaven. . .  The passage from Ezekiel, especially its opening words [in 47:1-12], has inspired the ancient paschal hymn, in Latin Vidi aquam, ‘I saw water.’  Water became an important feature in the Easter liturgy.  The Book of Ezekiel ends fittingly with the new name for Jerusalem, The Lord is here’.”

When we spend time with this prophecy today, we have the opportunity to feel the presence of God as we remember and reflect . . . we are Easter People . . . cleansed by Easter water . . . and the Lord is among us.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.RG 337. Print.   

Adapted from a Favorite written on September 15, 2007.

For more on the Babylonian exile of the Israelites, visit the Encyclopedia Britannica at: http://www.britannica.com/event/Babylonian-Exile 

 

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Judges 5: God’s Yardstick – Deborah

Canticle of Fidelity

Deborah the Prophetess

Deborah the Prophetess

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The book of Judges is the part of the Bible saga where we see a fledgling nation forming.  The twelve tribes have survived the rigors of their years of desert wanderings, following the pillar of fire and smoke which protects them.  Joshua has led them into the land promised to them and they have secured a foothold where a kingdom will be established.  A series of judges, or heroes, will rise up to gather the people to remind them that Yahweh has promised land, kingdom and blessing . . . and that they, God’s people, owe their creator fidelity, loyalty and obedience.  This is the covenant they have entered into.

The context for these stories is “Holy War” and close reading of Judges, in which so much war is waged, tells us that we are called to cooperate with God’s plan and providence rather than serve our own small agendas. The whole point of this part of the story is to stay the course, but it must be God’s course and not our own.  The forces of darkness cannot stand up to the perseverance, the innocence and the trust of the faithful.  Deborah does this well.

Artemisia Gentileschi: Jael and Sisera

Artemisia Gentileschi: Jael and Sisera

In the preceding chapter we see this prophetess sitting under her palm tree delivering just decisions to the people.  We also see Jael, wife of Heber, lure the enemy Sisera into her tent to kill him with a tent peg to the temple.  Jael kills this enemy because Yahweh has ordained it as spoken through Deborah; and we find that these tribes fight off the pagan peoples any way they can; always consulting with Yahweh before going into battle.  In these ancient times, the struggle to survive dominated all aspects of life and we see a good deal of brutal interaction.  Yet is our interaction any less brutal today?

Deborah judges the tribes during the period of time which coincides with political unrest following the death of Ramses II in Egypt.  The time of transition proves difficult for these people who struggle not only against the pagan nations that surround  them, but also with conflict among the tribes.  David will unite these people into a true political and spiritual kingdom, and hoos son Solomon will erect a Temple which speaks to the fame of this people and their God.

Deborah leads well because she listenes well when she speaks with God each day and it is against this voice, this measuring stick that she measures her own life. We will want to follow her example of fidelity as we struggle against the violence that surrounds us.

Adapted from a reflection written on November 18, 2007.

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John 18:28-38: Glory, Part IX: Handing Ourselves Over1000509261001_1553982855001_Bio-Radio-Mother-Theresa-SF

Monday, July 27, 2015

The scene of Pilate moving from inside to outside and back again as he links Jesus and his accusers is an interesting one in which we see two worlds, two understandings, two ways of thinking collide.  In the end, Jesus allows himself to be handed over for judgment, punishment and execution . . . and in so doing he demonstrates to his followers how we are to behave when faced with insurmountable odds.  We are to obey the voice within, follow the example of Christ, and rest in the peace of the Holy Spirit to become the paradoxical witness to the world we know we are called to be.

Today’s lesson on Glory: When we hope to avoid suffering, we also avoid opportunities for intimacy in Christ.

In an auditorium recently in which young people had gathered to raise funds to help a sister parish in Haiti, teenagers sang and swayed to music glorifying God and his awesome works.  I was struck by their innocence and fervor, and I prayed that the crosses they had already born, along with the ones they would be called to bear, would not weigh on them too heavily.  And then I remembered that earlier that evening I had seen evidence that perhaps these young people were not so innocent of suffering after all.  Tucked quietly in an alcove behind the table where Haitian coffee was being served to guests was a simple hand-painted sign clearly written by a youngster . . . and as I read it, I hoped that this young woman or man understood the enormity of the citation cited from the words of Mother Theresa of Calcutta:

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. 

This speaks such plain truth.  And yet we fear the pain and suffering which leads to this tremendous love in which we might rest for eternity.  We too often rush to the arms of denial, quick comfort, or easy silence which gives assent to corruption and wrong doing.

In today’s reflection we see this truth in the gestures and words of Jesus who allows himself to serve as savior and symbol for all peoples of all times and all places.

May we serve as humble replicas of this paradox of Christ’s love. And may we come to know God’s glory through our simple acts of handing ourselves over to God.

Search for information about Theresa of Calcutta and reflect on why and how her presence among India’s poor gave rise to opposing views about her work. Consider how this paradox may or may not be a sign of God’s glory in our time. 

Adapted from a Favorite written on September 14, 2008.

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Grace_wordle[1]Psalm 32

Overwhelmed by Grace

The second of the penitential psalms “is a joyous testimony of gratitude for God’s gift of forgiveness for those who confess their sins and follow the law of God.  Instead of constantly pondering their sins, believers acknowledge their wretchedness before God and accept forgiveness and reconciliation.  Their torment ceases, and a new person is born, overwhelmed by grace, confidence, and a sense of obedience.

“In praying the psalm, we can focus not only on the happiness resulting from the forgiveness of particular sin, but also on the more profound happiness obtained by the complete victory given us by God in Christ over sin in all forms”.  (Psalms 86)

We too often emphasize all that is wrong with the world, our community, our colleagues and even our friends, family and self.  Today’s reading invites us to accept the knowledge that we are not perfect, to ask forgiveness for the times we have wronged self and others, to graciously accept the pardon we receive, and to allow God’s grace, joy and peace to bring us profound happiness.  This deep and lasting contentment is the gift of complete victory we are free to reject or receive.

And so we pray . . .

Forgiving and unifying God, we lay all our imperfections in your hands.

Grant us this day the complete victory of your love as we come to you in truth.  

Give us the confidence we need to believe that your love has the power to bring joy out of suffering.

Inspire in us such love for you that our obedience is a source of delight rather than a burden to shoulder.

Move in us a spirit of reconciliation that surmounts all fears, calms all anxieties, and heals all wounds.

Bring us your profound happiness that heals, binds, unifies and transforms.

Grant us your lasting gift of overwhelming grace that seeps into the bone, calms the heart, and warms the troubled soul. 

We ask this as we ask all things through  your son, Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

THE PSALMS, NEW CATHOLIC VERSION. Saint Joseph Edition. New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 2004. 86. Print.

For a sermon on Grace: The Verb, click on the image above or go to: http://ssje.org/ssje/2010/03/09/grace-the-verb-br-mark-brown/

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Friday, June 28, 2013

prison2[1]Casting Away Chains

Psalm 2:1-3

Why do the nations rage and the peoples devise futile plots? The kings of the earth rise up, and the princes conspire together against the Lord and against his Anointed One: “Let us finally break their shackles and cast away their chains from us”.

Jesus came into the world to set us free from all the fears and anxieties that enslave us.  He lives and breathes with us that we might believe that we do not need to pay homage to any of the little gods the nations, the peoples and the princes have established.  Jesus is the Anointed One who comes to tells us that there is only one law to follow . . . The Law of Love.

God says: As I have said so many times, it is confusing to sort through all the little gods you have chained yourselves to: the god of time, the god of space, the god of power, the god of control, the god of fear, the god of fame, the god of glamor, the god of wealth, the god of status and so many more.  There is only one God and I Am that God.  There is only one law, The Law of Love.  There is only one dominion, the Kingdom I invite you to build with me.  I have broken your chains just as I broke the chains of Paul and Silas.  Trust in me and put aside your little plans.  Allow me to cast away the chains that are too heavy for you to lift.

We need no plots, no schemes, and no tricks to be one with God.  We need only surrender, obedience and love.  Let us trust the one who forgives endlessly.  Let us rely on the one who judges mercifully.  And let us follow the one who unlocks all chained and secret places.

Type the word plots or schemes in the blog search bar and examine how we separate ourselves from God . . . and how we might allow God to release us from our personal prison.

To read the story of Paul and Silas’ miraculous release, see Acts 16.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013 – Ezekiel 12 – While they are looking on . . .

NaysayersBeatsMysapceHeader2[1]In today’s Noontime we are reminded that we do not have to fight against the obstacles in life’s journey that loom so large.  It tells us that when barriers to freedom are gigantic and overwhelming we cannot struggle against them.  It says to us that we must turn to God in trust and obedience.  We must do as Jesus does even while the naysayers are looking on. 

Going into exile was an embarrassment to the “chosen” people.  They who had always been miraculously protected by Yahweh now found themselves going into captivity at the hands of the very pagans whom they had previously conquered in battle.  The Israelites have discovered that while they fought against the barbarian outside of the city walls, it was the enemy within that doomed them.  Corruption and deceit in their own community had decayed their society to the foundation.  There is no other outcome to expect than the one they are living . . . they are to pack their baggage in full view of the enemy, and then they are to dig their way through the broken walls of the city to march into captivity.  And all of this while the unbelievers are looking on.

So many times we find ourselves living among rebellious people, and we sometimes cannot even tell if we have become one with the idol worshipers.  We feel as though the world has gone mad and we are one of the few sane ones who remain.  In our Noontime journey we have reflected on how to weather the whirlwind when we see and hear it approaching; today we reflect on how to journey faithfully into captivity . . . while the world is looking on.

There is a remnant left by Yahweh: Yet I will leave a few of them to escape the sword, famine and pestilence so that they may tell of all their abominations among the nations to which they will come; thus they shall know that I am the Lord.  This just yet merciful God is always willing, and indeed eager to give his people another door to salvation, another opportunity to return.  God will vindicate us even in the darkest and most painful of times even while those who deny us are looking on.

There are occasions when it seems as though we alone are able to see what others cannot.  Circumstances and events speak loudly to us while they only whisper to those around us or speak not at all. The prophecy we hear and see and then repeat for others falls on stubborn ears.  The world mocks those who live simply so that others may live.  Society denies truth so that deception might reign.  Many favor the apparent security of tangible comfort while few remain faithful to the Spirit who is willing to abide while those who wish us gone are looking on.

Ezekiel describes a vision today that seems a long way off and yet is present in the Spirit within.  Ezekiel says that in a distant time to come there shall no longer be any false visions or deceitful divinations and yet this word is fulfilled by Christ in us today.  Ezekiel tells us of a future in which none of God’s words will be delayed any longer and yet this future lives in us today because God loves us so . . . even while the naysayers are looking on.

Let us spend time with this prophecy today.  And let us see that, despite the naysayers, Ezekiel’s vision lives in us in this present moment through the promise, the rescue and the love of God.

To read more about weathering the storms on our journey, type the word whirlwind into the search box on this blog. 

The opening paragraphs of today’s Noontime were written on August 12, 2010.  Today’s post is an amplification of that reflection.  

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Friday, January 18, 2013 – Deuteronomy 7 – Blessings of Obedience

Count_blessings6[1]This is one of those portions of the Old Testament that we humans can distort to fit our own agenda; we might take it to mean that God shows partiality, or that some of us are somehow above others of us.  I do not believe this to be so, and careful reading of good commentary tells us otherwise.   The message we might better take away from today’s Noontime is this: Israel has a special function to serve in God’s plan – that of bringing other nations out of the darkness of pagan worship and into the light of mercy, justice and hope which the Living God brings to all.  From the HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY (Mays 198-199): “God has chosen Israel, not because of any special worthiness on its part, but out of God’s personal attachment based on divine love and the promises made to the ancestors (vv. 7-8).  The Exodus experience reveals that God’s essential character promises covenant loyalty over uncountable generations (vv. 8-9).  However, the integrity of God’s character also threatens individual retribution for those who are apostate (v. 10).  A further motive for wiping out Canaanite religion is offered by the promise of fertility for family, field, and flock (vv. 13-14), an especially appropriate counter to Baal’s claims to bestow fertility.  Obedience also leads to good health.  The plagues of the Exodus tradition will be reserved for enemies (v. 15)”.

When we consider this, we understand that rather than giving his chosen people an exemption from acting in God’s name, God is expecting his faithful to behave as he himself does: with justice and compassion, bringing hope, and acting in love.  This is the thinking we hear from Jesus in Luke 12:48: From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. 

Like Israel, the faithful are in a special covenant relationship with God.

Like Israel, the faithful are called to act in obedience to God’s call.

Like Israel, the faithful are graced with God’s countless blessing.

Like Israel, the faithful have not earned a “special worthiness” . . . yet are loved deeply and dearly by the Living God.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 198-199. Print.

Written on October 31, 2010 and posted today as a Favorite. 

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Monday, January 13, 2013 – Deuteronomy 1  – God’s Guidance

guide[1]In this last book of the Torah, we find a reiteration of the covenant relationship between God and his creatures as mediated by the man Moses.  His aim, as we read in commentary, is to enforce with the Israelites “the Lord’s claim to their obedience, loyalty and love”.  (Senior 187)  What we see here is God establishing a firm relationship with his people; much as a parent devotes care to strong enforcement of family values with a toddler . . . knowing that the teenage and young adult years – and even the years that carry us into maturity – will be difficult ones.  God wants to leave nothing to chance where his creatures are concerned. 

In verse 10 we see reference to the fact that these tribes are so multiplied they are as numerous as the stars in the sky.  And we remember the promise made to Abraham that even in their advanced years he and Sarah would be the vehicles through which God would create a people dear to him.  This is followed with a plan laid out by God for gaining the territory promised to Abraham and his family.  Scouts are chosen to reconnoiter the land.   This is when they discover that the people are stronger and taller and they have become fainthearted.  They begin to lose courage.  Moses reminds them of the countless times God saved them from death in the hostile desert . . . and we begin to see the purpose of all their wanderings and suffering. 

Of course, these people disobey – as do we – and in this Old Testament story we hear how God punishes them for their lack of faith.  Moses reminds them that they have disobeyed and struck out on their own.  As observed above, God disciplines the child nation, calling them to himself with reminders that he has been faithful to them despite their rebellion.

There is no doubt that we are sustained by God’s love and intervention as we muddle through our days.  God continues to provide resting places, to shepherd us with a pillar of smoke, to guard us with a column of fire.  It is easy to become lost, distracted, anxious or discouraged and so as we put our heads to pillows this evening we might reflect on the story we have read today and look at our lives through the filter on this exodus story of God’s people.  And we might ask ourselves how we react when we lose courage . . . how we see our wanderings through the hostile desert.   

What is our relationship with God like?  Do we rely on God at all times or only when we need help?

How do we celebrate God’s goodness?  Do we rejoice with others and share the good news that we are well-loved?

What is our belief system?  Are we ready . . . and are we willing to give over to God our obedience, our loyalty and our love? 

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.187. Print.   

Tomorrow, more on Deuteronomy.

First written on July 24, 2009. Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

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