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Ezekiel 25: Against the Nations

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Bridge over the Drina in Mostar, Bosnia

As we read this chapter of Ezekiel we might be lured into what Richard Rohr – and many others – calls dualistic thinking.  Decisions are made in a yes/no, black/white, off/on world.  If we are able to step outside of our small perspective and move into a greater view of the world we understand that this kind of reasoning is dangerous in that it limits our vision . . . and therefore limits us.  Rohr examines how life is a paradox in his blog posts at http://richardrohr.wordpress.com They are worth visiting as are his CD lectures, the webcasts and other resources on his Rohr Institute site at http://www.cac.org/ as we reflect on the way we think, the way we respond to conflict, and the way we seek resolutions to the difficult passages in our lives.

The portion of Ezekiel that we read today may be used as fuel for the fire of prejudice . . . if we allow the voice of revenge and conquest to go unchecked.  As the recent events in our global community unfold, we are reminded that fanaticism can never be good. As my siblings and I grew, my Dad intoned to us regularly: Anything is a bad thing when taken to extremes . . . even a good thing.  He understood that words like the ones we read today can be taken out of context, can be blown out of context and morphed in importance. Any single verse, Dad would say, when taken in isolation does not tell the whole story. Read the story.  When my father and grandfather told us to read the whole story what they meant was this: stop, think, pray, listen, think, read, think, pray, share ideas, pray, think, pray . . . and act.  We want to take this method with us as we plunge into Ezekiel’s words against the nations.  To what does he call us?

The Old Testament Yahweh can be seen here as a god of vengeance and when we read these verses with anger in our hearts we might believe that God himself justifies the revenge we feel against those who have injured us; but we are also reminded that Yahweh’s love for creation knows no bounds.

The Old Testament Yahweh can be seen here as a god who exacts precise payment for wrongs committed; but we know that Yahweh’s generosity and compassion cannot be outdone when we remember his care for the enslaved and powerless.

The New Testament Jesus fulfills the promise of reunion and union first uttered by Yahweh.

The New Testament Jesus brings human hands and feet and voice to the mercy and compassion first shown by Yahweh.

When we find ourselves in turmoil and wishing to take revenge against the people who have injured us we must not let dualistic thinking close off possibilities of healing, reconciliation and union.

When we find ourselves in deep sorrow over a loss we have suffered we must not let simplistic rule-following to replace decision-making by a well-formed conscience.

When we feel ourselves being pulled into the vortex of darkness that would have us chant slogans that condemn, that would lead us to take an eye for an eye, that would ask us to rail against the nations . . . we must first stop to think and to pray, and to seek so that we might find . . . the forgiving, open, healing way of Christ.  For it is Christ who embodies all that is good.  It is Christ who brings us the outrageous hope that even the most dire circumstances may be righted. It is Christ who will help us to build bridges to the nations.


A re-post from September 15, 2012.

The name “Mostar” means “the city of bridges”.  To read more about what happened to the bridges in Bosnia during the most recent Balkan wars, click on the image above or go to: http://balkansnet.org/mostar.html  Follow more links on that page to read and reflect on reconciliation and revenge.

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Obadiah: Hope and Remnant

Monday, September 30, 2019

We have been looking at this tiny prophecy which is packed with imagery and emotion.  Today we continue our deeper look.

From the CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE Reading Guide page 368: The oracle is really a testimony to the indomitable hope of a people who had been reduced to poverty and insignificance, and were at the mercy of their neighbors. 

While most of us do not suffer from severe fiscal poverty, we certainly skate along the edges of financial crunches from time to time . . . but that is not what I think about when I think of poverty.  The metaphor which comes to me as I read these lines of the people pleading for vengeance is one of a poverty of spirit, a state of broken-heartedness, a state of grief over the great loss of something we held near to us.  All of us at some time have suffered at the hands of those who say they love us, and it is in this light that we can identify with the prophet Obadiah.

The territory of Edom (against whose people this oracle is written) was settled by the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob who allowed himself to be tricked into giving over his birthright to his brother with indifference.  At the time of the exile and captivity, the Edomites raided Judah and pillaged what the northern invaders had left behind.  This continued what had already been a bitter animosity between Jews and Edomites, their neighbors and near kinsmen, an animosity between peoples who ought to be linked closely in friendship and blood ties.  Deception by friends and family is felt more intensely than any other, I believe; and it cuts deeply, swiftly . . . and surely.  This kind of betrayal is the most difficult to overcome.  But overcome we must . . . for we are a Remnant People . . . with a destiny for conversion, for transformation, for kingdom.

From THE ARCHEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE article on Edom, page 1467 we find that Edom (located south of the Dead Sea and north of the Gulf of Aqaba) prospered from its control of north-south trade routes and its excavations of its copper and iron mines.  Moses was unable to negotiate a peace with these people and so the Hebrews were forced to go around them on their way home to the Promised Land.  David managed to control this tribe, many of whom lived in high caves cut out of the stony faces of the mountains, but other Jewish kings were not so fortunate.  These people (later known as Idumeans) finally succumbed to Roman rule after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and “disappeared from history”.

These are the neighbors who took advantage of Judah when she was suffering; yet we see that in the end . . . these people were the ones who disappeared . . . not the Jewish people . . . not The Remnant.

We can easily identify with the prophet and people who suffer at the hands of their neighbor.  We might as easily call for vengeance over the despicable acts of those who are near to us in body and in heart but if we are a Remnant People we must call for Hope.  We must call for the Messiah.

Let us put aside our very human desire for revenge, and let us petition our Creator God for the same peace and compassion which we have been given.  Let us ask intercession for those nearest to us who have hurt us.  And let us ask forgiveness of those nearest to us whom we may have injured.  Let us ask for restoration for all.


A re-post from September 10, 2012.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990. RG368. Print.   

“Edom.” ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Written on March 24, 2008  and posted today as a Favorite.

For more about the Edomites  (Idumeans) and their territory, click on the image above or go to: http://www.bible-history.com/maps/edomites.html or http://www.ordination.org/edomites.htm

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Matthew 14:3-12: The Death of John the Baptist

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Henri Regnault: Salomé

Confident and startling, sulky and sultry, alluring and fear-inspiring, dappled with light and yet somehow dark, gifted with beauty and talent . . . yet drawn to revenge and self-interest. As we read these verses that tell us of the death of John the Baptist, and as we look at this beautiful yet horrifying painting of Salomé we might ask ourselves where we stand in this story.  We cannot take our eyes from the platter and knife.  Has she already washed them clean or is she holding them in anticipation?  Has she known that Herod is in the mood to grant wishes this evening or does she plant the seed of the idea somehow days in advance?  Does she choreograph her dance to play on the king’s drunken frame of mind?

Plotters lie in wait for years if need be; those who seek vengeance have infinite patience and determination.  They use any means and they go to any lengths to achieve their purpose.

What do we say to Salomé if anything?  What do we do in this moment of terrible waiting?  Do we speak or do we remain silent in fear?  Are we distressed as is the king?  Do we encourage Salomé as does Herodias? Do we gloat?  Do we smile?  Do we turn away?  Do we cry?

Prompted by her mother . . .

How and what do we enact in peace?

Because of his oaths and the guests who were present . . .

Why do we allow society’s pressures to squeeze us into places of no return?

Give me here on a platter . . .

What terrible requests do we make of God in our moments of anger and fear?  What petitions do we lay before him?  Does our whispering instigate devious plans or do we speak and work for peace and reconciliation at all cost?

Let us spend some time today with Salomé and wonder who we are and where we stand.  And let us consider what it is we might ask for on shinning bright platters.


A re-post from September 8, 2012.

To read more about Henri Regnault and his work, click on the image above or go to:  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/16.95

 Image from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/16.95

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Esther 5:9-14: Retribution

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Esther

I love this story for its crystalline message: The measure that we measure with is measured out to us.  (Luke 6:38).  We need to hear this story today because lately we have been reflecting on convolutions and betrayals big and small, on expiatory sacrifices, on our complaints, on making a proper response to the call we hear from God, and on forming the alliances we will need to see us through our journey in this life.  All of these themes are present in the story of Esther . . . and they can weigh heavily on us in this season when we want to participate in Easter joy.

Often we are exhausted from the many lessons of discipleship which we must learn.  Often we grow weary of hearing the message that only God can pass judgment and exact retribution.  Often we spend ourselves down to the bottom of our resources keeping up with both listening for the call and by managing our human desire to ask for revenge.  Often our personal well runs dry after we drink from it more times than we replenish it.

Today offers us an opportunity to fill the well, to re-stock the granary, to rest a bit and to recoup.  There are many psalms and stories in scripture in which humans petition retribution and violent revenge on their enemies who appear to skate through life unscathed by the wreckage they leave in their wake.  What today’s story tells us is this:  These enemies drown in their own wake. 

Yes, we reply, we hear this . . . but when will we see it . . . and why does it happen . . . and how do we survive?

We can never visit this story often enough.  We help ourselves if we read it several times a year because it has so much to offer and speaks to the basic human desire to judge and to enact our own retribution.  Various Bibles order the inserts differently and the introductory commentary and the accompanying footnotes will explain the reasons for the jumbled structure of this book which ought to be important to each of.  It is through this story that we are reminded of how our enemies fall.  It is through this story that we remember that we doom ourselves by not answering the call we hear.  It is through this story that we can assure ourselves that our reward will be certain, definite . . . and will flow from our own hands.  It is also from this story we learn that our own actions wash back on us if we enter into the world of envy, fear, obsession and hate.

Rembrandt: Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther

Today we read about how Haman is content and happy with the plot he is weaving.  We see how he flatters himself and gets lost in his own distorted view of life.  We cannot miss how Haman’s friends and wife misdirect him.  These are such important lessons for us to read.  We cannot hear them enough.  These are lessons we must see and live because . . . in the living of these events, we become more like God.  We respond to the call of our potential.  We enter Christ’s Mystical Body.  This is how we survive.

And so we pray:  Help us to see, help us to live, O God.

When we are weary from learning the lessons of life: Help us to see, help us to live, O God.

When we tire from seeking and waiting and searching: Help us to see, help us to live, O God.

When we become lost in the webs we and others weave: Help us to see, help us to live, O God.

When we are exhausted from living on the edge:  Help us to see, help us to live, O God.

Amen. 


A re-post from May 21, 2012 .

Images from: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/rembrandt/haman-begging-esther-for-mercy and http://christianrep.com/blog/2010/08/08/let-your-life-speak/

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Matthew 18:21-35The Unforgiving Servant

Thursay, January 17, 2019

Rembrandt: The Unforgiving Servant

It is so very difficult to forgive those who have wronged us grievously; and it is also difficult to curb the pressing urge to seek revenge against our enemies.  Jesus tells us today that we must endlessly forgive those who harm us . . . otherwise we are like the unforgiving servant in today’s parable.  And the frightening outcome of his life is not one we want for ourselves or our loved ones.

Seventy-seven times, we are told by scholars and experts, represents a number of completion.  By forgiving endlessly we near the perfection or completion we yearn for.  The irony here is that when we become the unforgiving servant we distance ourselves from the very fullness we seek.  We label ourselves as partial and lacking.  Jesus warns us of this today.

Luke also records that Jesus tells his followers they must forgive endlessly (17:4).  This is something they and we struggle to understand.  Our instincts tell us to attack, defend, justify and explain.  We want to come out of any dispute or confrontation as the clear and evident winner.  We want to survive.  For most of us it is difficult to walk away from an argument or to allow another to have the last word; yet Jesus tells us that our first step toward wholeness is to forgive.  Reconciliation will follow if we remain open.  Isolation, anger and fear become more distant and even impossible when we turn our backs on revenge and seek union instead.  Jesus calls us to this today.

St. Paul reminds the Ephesians (4:32) to be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.  Which one of us, he implies, is so perfect that we cannot forgive?  And how do we hold a grudge when Jesus – God among us – does not?  St. Paul points this out to us today.

Immaculée Ilibagiza

Following the horrific genocide in Rwanda, the warring Hutus and the Tutsis were brought together in a journey from fighting to forgiveness.  We follow events as they unfold; we want this reconciliation to work because this coming together of bitter enemies tells us that we are worth redeeming.  It shows us what God sees in us.  It reminds us of God’s covenant promise to us.  Powerful testimonials to our capacity to forgive can be found in both print and video media and here are only a few examples.  http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/8564297/ns/today/t/fighting-forgiveness-rwanda/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK0W4jx2OZY  and http://articles.cnn.com/2008-05-15/world/amanpour.rwanda_1_hutu-gitarama-tutsis?_s=PM:WORLDWhen we read, hear or view these stories, we take heart.  We once again bolster ourselves for the difficult yet redeeming task of forgiving others.  We once more feel the stirrings of hope in our tired hearts.  We again pull ourselves away from our fear to love our enemies into goodness.

Kill them with kindness, my mother always advised, taking her example from Jesus.  Let God worry about the other guy, Dad always told us, knowing that evil is too enormous and too dangerous for us to conquer on our own.  In her book entitled Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Genocide, Immaculée Ilibagiza tells her story that echoes those of so many other holocaust survivors that God resides even in the center of hell itself if that is where he has to be in order to save us.  This is how much God loves us.  This is how much we can love one another.

When we feel ourselves drawn into this story as the master or the servants, we know that it holds something for us.  When we find ourselves giving over to the anger within us and fear that it will control our thoughts, words and actions, we will want to turn to this story.  When someone who has wronged us approaches us in humble fear of our retaliation, let us reach out a warm and welcoming hand and remember the words that Jesus taught us to pray . . .  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And let us remember the story of the unforgiving servant.


A re-post from January 17, 2012.

Images from: http://australiaincognita.blogspot.com/2008_10_01_archive.html and https://thenoontimes.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/thumblg_immaculee1.jpg

To read more about Immaculée Ilibagiza, see: http://www.beliefnet.com/Inspiration/Most-Inspiring-Person-Of-The-Year/2006/Immacule-Ilibagiza.aspx

For more on Rwando, go to: http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/genocide/genocide_in_rwanda.htm

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2 Samuel 16Making Mistakes

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Michelangelo: David

Written on January 30 and posted today as a Favorite . . . 

Today we see a part of the story of David that might be difficult to understand if we view life as a series of good decisions.  When we view life as it really is, however – as series of decisions we make both bad and good – we have less anxiety and fear, we experience more hope and serenity.  I heard a radio preacher recently say: When you live your life in the Spirit, you can’t make a mistake.  “This is incorrect”, we might say to ourselves.  “How can a good life have bad decisions in it?  How can a life of flawed decisions be good?”  If this is our thinking, we have forgotten something and it is this : If we are living in the Spirit, we will have arrived at understanding how God operates; we will fully comprehend that God turns all harm to good.  So whether we err accidentally or whether we mean to inflict harm in any way, God will use these flawed acts to work in his favor for – God turns all harm to good.  And this is part of the story we see today.

David has been a good leader and faithful to God, but he has also sinned and erred.  What sets David apart is the way in which he reacts when others urge him to take revenge.  When he was younger, his soldiers encouraged him to murder the sleeping Saul when he had the opportunity.  David instead makes it obvious that he has breached the enemy’s lines and yet has not taken a life where he could.  David lives in the Spirit.  David later becomes infatuated with Bathsheba and plots her husband’s death; he confesses this sin when confronted by Nathan and sings a beautiful lament of repentance that we still sing today during the Lenten season (Psalm 51).  Even though he has erred, David lives in the Spirit.

David does not use his good standing with God to ignore what he has done; instead he confesses and atones.  He lives his life in the Spirit and does not try to avoid culpability for his actions or gain immunity so that he might do whatever he likes.  Rather, David praises and obeys God.  Living in the Spirit has become part of who he is and what he does.

Today we read of some of the intrigue that mounted as David aged and the time came for one of his sons to rule Israel.  The sibling rivalry, the palace intrigue, and the political plotting are fascinating to see but what is most interesting is the way we see David living in the Spirit.  In verse 10 he speaks the wisdom we can all use today: What business is it of mine or of yours, sons of Zeruiah, that he curses?  Suppose the Lord has told him to curse David; who then will dare to say, “Why are you doing this?” 

We can read commentary to sort through who is aligned with whom, who is against whom, but today we have the opportunity to see another way to step away from revenge, anger and violence and move toward hope and serenity.  We see another opportunity to step away from fear and anxiety and move toward peace and unity.

When we live our lives in the Spirit, we cannot make a mistake.  Do we believe this?  If not, we must study, we must seek, we must be patient, and we must be persistent in living lives directed fully for, in, and to God.

When we live our lives in the Spirit, we cannot make a mistake.  Do we believe this?  If not, we must witness, we must watch, we must wait, and we must insist on living lives governed fully for, in, and to God.

When we live our lives in the Spirit, we cannot make a mistake.  When we believe this, the fretfulness and panic drop away . . . for we have focused our lives on God, we have learned to trust in God, we have begun to love like God . . . and we know that God will turn all harm to good.  We will not worry or fret for we, like David, will reply to a challenge . . . Suppose the Lord has told him to curse David; who then will dare to say, “Why are you doing this?”  We will be truly living in and of the Spirit.


A re-post from August 26, 2011.

Images from: http://ambassadorsforthekingdom.net/2011/07/23/gratitude-verses/ and http://ambassadorsforthekingdom.net/2011/07/23/gratitude-verses/

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Matthew 5:43-48: Love for Enemies

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

You have heard that it was said, “Love your friends, hate your enemies.” But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven.

This is possibly the most difficult of all Jesus’ teachings to grasp.

For God makes the sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil.

This is likely the most puzzling instruction for humans to take in.

Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that!

This is perhaps the toughest schooling we experience when we respond to the Spirit’s call.

And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that! You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

This is conceivably the highest barrier, the widest chasm, the deepest gulf we traverse in our journey with Christ.

When we feel hatred rise, we turn to the Spirit. When we sense the burgeoning of our innate desire for revenge, we trust God alone. When we search for the wisdom we need to understand the beauty of these verses, we rely on our brother Jesus to teach us what we must know.


When we compare varying translations of these words, we school ourselves in the exquisitely unique promise and love of Christ. When we experience the love that calls mercy from harm, we experience the promises of Jesus. 

For more posts on the concept of Revenge, enter the word into the blog search bar and explore. 

Images from: https://envisionmediaglobal.com/zion/2017/10/10/love-your-enemies/ and https://www.mickeyellison.com/love-enemies-world-needs-jesus/

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1 Kings 21: Naboth’s Vineyard

Monday, May 21, 2018

Near King Ahab’s palace in Jezreel there was a vineyard owned by a man named Naboth.

We know the goodness of the well-tended vineyard. The Master maintains a sturdy wall to protect the vines from those who would plunder the fruit of sun and soil. The crop flourishes under the caring hands of the workers who gather in the harvest in due time. Jesus uses the metaphor of the grapevine to explain to us the nature of our relationship with him; and yet, Jesus also knows the familiar story of how Naboth’s vineyard aroused envy and later fury in those who held power.

John Liston Byam Shaw: Queen Jezebel

One day Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard; it is close to my palace, and I want to use the land for a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard for it or, if you prefer, I will pay you a fair price.”

We hold on to that which we hold dear; we cling to the beliefs that support us as we engage in our work and play.

“I inherited this vineyard from my ancestors,” Naboth replied. “The Lord forbid that I should let you have it!”

My father always advised us that the better we became at our work, the more enemies we would have. He also reminded us that there is a difficult line to walk between minding our own business and speaking up about injustice. My mother advised us to stay away from gossip and squabbles, and always, no matter the circumstance, to “kill your enemies with kindness”. My parents knew that these adages would not keep us safe from the world; but they also knew that in living with Christ, we would survive calamity with the more valuable gift: unity with Christ, transformation, redemption.

The officials and leading citizens of Jezreel did what Jezebel had commanded. They proclaimed a day of fasting, called the people together, and gave Naboth the place of honor. 

The schemes of Ahab, Jezebel, and their powerful friends are insidious; these corrupt leaders strike at the heart of Naboth’s industry; they mock his fidelity, and ignore his goodness. They lure him to the feast only to betray him on the deepest level. When we put aside our negative emotions to read this story with patience, we see Ahab ride to his death in battle. Later, in 2 Kings 9; and we witness Jezebel’s gruesome end. We might be tempted to gloat over these outcomes that feel like divine justice. We may want to join in the chaos of war or the crowd’s frenzy; but rather than seek revenge, we might instead focus on Naboth’s goodness that despite the fact that it has the capacity to bring out the worst in his enemies, it also delivers redemption.

Thomas Matthew Rooke: Naboth Refuses King Ahab his Vineyard

During Eastertide, we heard several times the words Jesus speaks to his followers, words we will want to hear again today as we read about Naboth: If the world hates you, just remember that it has hated me first. If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)

Be ready, Dad would say, to find that enemies accompany your successes. Be ready, Mother would remind us, to kill your enemies with kindness. This is our work in the vineyard. No matter the circumstances, we must cling to the vine that sustains us; we must produce good fruit in good time; and we must remain always in Christ who saves, transforms and redeems.


Tomorrow, Jesus is the alpha and the omega.

Compare the GOOD NEWS TRANSLATION with others for a better understanding of these verses.

For more reflections on Naboth, Ahab, Jezebel, or vineyard enter the words into the blog search bar and explore.  

How bad was Jezebel? Visit: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/how-bad-was-jezebel/

Images from: https://929chapters.com/2010/03/18/1-kings-21-%E2%80%9Cnaboths-vineyard%E2%80%9D/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jezebel and https://thetorah.com/the-story-of-naboths-vineyard-and-the-ancient-winery-in-jezreel/ 

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Esther 8: Bloodshed

Rembrandt: Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther

First Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2018

Esther 7 concludes abruptly with the hanging of Haman. We have perhaps looked for this outcome, hoping for the justice we desire in our own lives. We suspected that inversion will take place and that the plotter will suffer the fate he planned for others; but these outcomes have not halted the plot to annihilate the Jewish nation. Today we watch as Esther and Mordecai take steps to stop the impending slaughter.

With New Testament thinking, we shrink from the violence of fighting back. Revenge has no place in the Pax Christi kingdom of Jesus where we forgive, and even intervene for our enemies. So it is with sadness that we read this chapter’s closing verse.

In fact, many other people became Jews, because they were afraid of them now.

On this first Sunday of Lent, we take time to reflect on the power of egocentric living. Experts tell us that when we acquiesce to narcissists, we give them power; and that the key to escaping one like Haman is to detach, observe, protect ourselves, and plan an escape. Esther and Mordecai stand quietly against injustice; yet they leave their own trail of bloodshed, as we will see tomorrow. Rather than establish peace for all, the envy and narcissism that haunt Esther and Mordecai continue to nurture division, suspicion, and old hatred. They may have escaped the power of the narcissist, but the power of unilateral thinking remains. The murder of the Jewish nation is averted, but slaughter nonetheless takes place.

Tomorrow, our modern Purim.

When we compare translations of this chapter, we look for ways to undo the bloodshed that happens too frequently in our lives. 

For more on the meaning of Pax Christi, visit the February 7, 2018 post by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM at: https://cac.org/children-of-god-2018-02-07/

For more on dealing with narcissists, visit: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201711/the-catch-22-dealing-narcissist

 

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