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Esther 1: Susa

Jacopo del Sellaio: The Banquet of Ahasuerus

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Over the next few days, we will explore the story of Esther, a recounting of how a brave young woman saves a nation of people by mustering the courage to respond to God’s call. Polar forces place her in grave danger; yet Esther survives to rejoice in God’s guidance and protection. As we accompany her on this journey from fear to joy, we move from ordinary time through Ash Wednesday to Lent to discover the potential for transformation. Esther invites us to move away from typical days of activity into a more quiet life of introspection. Like Esther, we examine our relationship with God to see how fear manipulates us. And like Esther, we arrive at a new level of understanding of God’s love.

This is the story of something that happened in the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled from India to Ethiopia – 127 provinces in all. King Xerxes ruled from his royal throne in the palace complex of Susa. 

UNESCO has declared Susa a World Heritage Site as one of the oldest cities in the world. Rebuilt by the Persian King Darius, inhabited by the monarch Xerxes in the Book of Esther, and later conquered by Alexander the Great, Susa represented a city where many cultures and peoples came together.

In this opening chapter of Esther’s story, we learn about Xerxes’ court. As a soldier and builder, he made his mark in the ancient world, and his famous Tukta banquets were reknown. It is at one of these feasts that our story begins.

The king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.

Queen Vashti refuses to do as King Xerxes asks and so is banished from court. Into this scenario steps the innocent, beautiful young Jewish woman, Esther. We observe the wealthy and famous in this ancient world and we reflect on our world today. Celebrities and sports figures hold our interest, while the lower classes serve as the invisible support to a lavish life. The powerful command while the powerless live on the margins of society.  What questions come to us as we reflect on this opening chapter of Esther’s story?

Tomorrow, Esther becomes queen.

For another reflection on Esther 1, visit The Race of the Just post on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2011/10/19/the-race-of-the-just/ 

King Xerxes is also known as Ahasuerus or Achashverosh. For more information on the people in this story, visit http://www.iranchamber.com/history/susa/susa.php, http://www.livius.org/articles/place/susa/, https://www.britannica.com/place/Susa, https://www.ancient.eu/Xerxes_I/, https://amazingbibletimeline.com/blog/esther-and-mordecai-under-xerxes-of-persia/,or http://www.womeninthebible.net/women-bible-old-new-testaments/queen-vashti/

 

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UNESCO: World Press Freedom Index 2104

UNESCO: World Press Freedom Index 2104

Sunday

January 18, 2015

Joy and Zephaniah

Degradation

The prophets warn, threaten, exhort, and promise us that God is always present, even though we may not recognize this presence. The Old Testament prophecies foreshadow the good news of the New Testament, and they remind us that no matter our circumstance God’s joy rescues us from sure destruction, Christ’s joy redeems us from our recklessness, and the Spirit’s joy heals us despite the gravity of our wounds.  Today Zephaniah describes how we might respond in joy even when we suffer the curse of degradation.

“The age of Zephaniah was a time of religious degradation, when the old idolatries reappeared and men worshiped sun, moon, and stars”. This prophet calls us to oppose the worship of false gods and the adulation of false priests and ministers. It is a message we cannot hear too often. (Senior 1153)

Fanaticism will always flourish whether it comes from the both ends of a political, civil, social or religious spectrum. Ancient and contemporary philosophers promote moderation and balance. Scholars assess the values presented by sophist, pluralistic and diverse viewpoints. Arguments divide families and workplaces. Corruption finds a home in an environment of fear and settle into our bones as a response to our anxieties. Extremism and division will always plague us. What then, is to be done?

Zephaniah 3:17-18: For the Lord your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will give you victory. He will rejoice over you with great gladness; he will love you and not accuse you.” Is that a joyous choir I hear? No, it is the Lord himself exulting over you in happy song. “I have gathered your wounded and taken away your reproach.

God says: So what is the great gladness that lives among you and does not accuse you? It is My Word. What is the joyous choir we hear? It is the billions of voices in my creation coming together: the songs of my trees and winds and seas, the voices of my birds, and reptiles and mammals, the songs of my faithful people. All of this beautiful, universal sound is in and with and through me. Come to me. Despite the degradation that threatens to pull you into darkness, listen for the songs of joy that the faithful are singing. And join your voice with theirs.

A week ago today more than three million people in the country of France came together to sing in the universal song of solidarity. Spend some time investigating the myriad issues that surfaced in Europe and around the world last week. Click on the image above and visit the UNESCO Free Press post. Reflect on the importance of open, free and authentic journalism, and decide how our many voices might come together in a song of joy to God.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990. 1153. Print.

joyIf this week’s Noontimes call you to search for more ways to encounter Joy or urges you to investigate the New Testament, click on the word Joy in the categories cloud in the blog’s right hand sidebar and choose a reflection, or enter those words in the blog search bar. You may want to visit the Joy for the Journey blog at www.joyforthee.blogspot.com

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

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