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2 Maccabees 13: The Fire Tower

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Ruins at Shiraz: a city in ancient Persia

Upheaval in the Middle East seems to be a human curse.  It is a land over which many civilizations – both ancient and modern – have fought, and continue to fight.  Today’s Noontime reading is as brutal as any modern headline.  Intrigue, slaughter, deception, parlay, betrayal, treaty, treason, murder, truce, assault, skirmish, daring, withdrawal, indignation, victory, defeat, and death – we find all of these in today’s story.  We find persuasion but we do not find peace.  We see wrangling but we do not see union.  We read about standoffs and stand-downs but we do not find true coming together.  In this ancient story we might change a few details and find ourselves reading a press release from our favored news source about the conflagration that is the Middle East.

Old tribal fears and alliances govern the lives of those we read about today.  Compromise is often seen as a weakness.  Honesty is employed only by the foolish.  Integrity is not valued.  And love of enemy is regarded as idiotic.  We also find these clannish tendencies in our own culture despite the fact that we may define ourselves as a mosaic or melting pot or amalgam of ethnicity and customs.  Even in our own modern political arena we have the smoking infernos that resemble the fire towers of ancient Persia that we read about here.  We will want to study this story in the hope that when we recognize it as our own . . . we will know to turn back to the God who calls us forward together . . . rather than follow the little gods who doom us to our own fiery tower and smoldering pit of ash.

Ahura Mazda

Commentary tells us that the tower we see in verse 5 resembles those erected to Ahura Mazda, or the Wise Lord, who “was the supreme deity of Persian mythology. The Zoroastrians identified him with purifying fire and tended fires on towers as part of their worship”.  (“Myth Encyclopedia”)  And this leads us to our examination of conscience today as we continue our Lenten journey.  What fiery towers to self do we erect?  Into what smoldering ash pits do we lead ourselves and others?  How do we react to tribalism and the worship of false deities?  Do we hate or love our enemies?  Do we prefer the fire of self destruction to the salvific love of Christ?  Do we seek comfort in our hope to avoid suffering rather than willingly follow the living God whose only focus is our salvation?Today’s narrative is so violent that we might pass it off as an episode in ancient history that deserves only a moment of our time.  We might also see it as sectarian violence that takes place only in far off places on the other side of the ocean.  We might fool ourselves into thinking that there is nothing here for us to learn.  And in this thinking we evade God’s word to us today for when we look closely we can find ourselves.  As we enter into interactions with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and strangers we see all the characters of our intimate and public lives: the invader versus the defender, charioteers who ride swiftly through our days swinging swords and mahouts who seat unmoving elephants in our path, foot soldiers who obey and distant leaders who reign over the lowly, Jews and Gentiles, pagans and believers, rebels and loyalists.  We brush against these people each day as we move from sun up to sun down, and through it all we have only one question to ask ourselves.Do we throw ourselves from the fiery tower we have built to the gods that have become so important to us that we foolishly take part in daily scenarios that we read about today . . . or do we love our enemies despite the ash pits they build . . . do we ask for peace through our own actions and not just our words . . . and do we love the Living God who saves us more than the tumult of war? 


A re-post from February 25, 2012.

Images from: http://www.infohub.com/vacation_packages/26382.html and and http://history.factoidz.com/mysteries-of-the-persian-empire-the-faith-of-zarathustra/

Read more: Persian Mythology – Myth Encyclopedia – Greek, god, legend, names, ancient, war, world, Roman, creation http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Pa-Pr/Persian-Mythology.html#ixzz1nPJV2ALp  “Persian Mythology.” Myth Encyclopedia. Advameg, Inc., n.d. Web. 25 Feb 2012. 

http://www.usccb.org/bible/2maccabees/13/

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Joshua 12: Conquered Kings

Thursday, April 4, 2019. 

A re-post from Holy Week 2012. 

Ancient Canaanites

I sometimes wonder what life was really like for leaders in the ancient world.  It was such a violent and predatory place and much time and energy were spent merely surviving.  This is still true for many in our modern world in which focus on survival is necessary in order to see the next day’s dawning.  In today’s Noontime we read a roll call of the vanquished along with a description of the division of conquered lands.  Conquest is marked by neat categories; there is no evidence of the horrific jumbled chaos that is war. These verses make the telling of this list so orderly and so tidy that we might think that Joshua and his men performed this work without much personal cost or effort.  We would be wrong.

This territory had belonged to the Hittites, the Amorites, Canaanites and others.  A series of city-states falls, their kings are vanquished: Jericho, Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, and more.  With a quick reading it might appear the subjugated are nameless, faceless peoples.  If this is our impression, again we would be wrong.

This kind of struggle never comes without a cost, and it comes as part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 15.  He was to have descendants that numbered as stars in the night sky, and these descendants were to inhabit a land that would be delivered with the help of God.

The twelve tribes use violence as they take over the mountains and foothills, deserts, slopes and rivers of this promised place.  Several thousand years later, Jesus arrives to tell his people that this way of violence is over, that now they are to deliver another cheek to an attacker rather than another blow.  He brings the strange message that rather than pray for our friends alone, we are to intercede for our enemies.  We can see how bizarre this thinking must have seemed to a people who had won what they had through the spilling of blood.  We can see how the message will seem strange to us today.

Our question on this Holy Wednesday is this . . . As we go through our days, moving toward the promises made to us by God, do we take care with how we move and why . . . and do we use Old Testament ways or New Testament thinking . . . do we resort to the weapons of violence, or do we use the tools of peace?


For more information on the many tribes cited in Genesis and Joshua, go to:http://biblos.com/ and search the dictionary, encyclopedia, atlas or other resources on this site.  

Image from: http://heavenawaits.wordpress.com 

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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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Judith 13: God’s Yardstick – Judith

Fidelity’s Gift

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Caravaggio: Judith Beheading Holofernes (detail)

Caravaggio: Judith Beheading Holofernes (detail)

In these opening days of a new year, we look for ways to better see God’s yardstick in our lives, and for ways to leave the world’s yardstick behind.

When we explore different versions of Judith 13 we find these quiet clues that will lead us to a deeper understanding of these verses.

They were all overcharged with wine. Douay-Rheims 1899

Judith stood by Holofernes’ bed and prayed silently, O Lord, God Almighty, help me with what I am about to do for the glory of Jerusalem. Good News Translation

O Lord, God of all might, in this hour look graciously on the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem. Now is the time for aiding your heritage and for carrying out my design to shatter the enemies who have risen against us. New American Bible Revised Edition

Judith was left alone in the tent, with Holofernes stretched out on his bed, for he was dead drunk. New Revised Standard Version

Judith’s victory will represent a contradiction of the gentle, persistent love of Mary, Hannah, Anne and Elizabeth; it is a stark contrast to the New Testament Law of Love that Jesus brings to us. So how do we make sense of Judith’s story? Is the violence we find here the foundational reason that this book is considered by some a parable in which Judith is a metaphor for Israel? Do the anachronisms we find in this story mean that is it an ancient historical novel rather than an inspired text? Has Judith been laid aside by many with a disdain for women figuring as powerful and clever? Read this chapter along with Judith’s victory in Chapter 15 and decide how to best consider Judith. Decide how or if she represents God’s yardstick. What does her fidelity to God through prayer and deed mean for us today?

Caravaggio: Judith beheading Holofernes

Caravaggio: Judith beheading Holofernes

For more reflections on this woman and the impact her story might have on us, enter her name into the blog search bar and explore, or go to the Judith – Sublime Faith, Heroic Love page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/the-old-testament/the-historical-books/judith-sublime-faith-heroic-love/ If there is time over the next few days, read her entire story and reflect on God’s yardstick in Judith’s life. Click on the images above to explore other ideas. 

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yellow heart

Psalms 11 and 12: Prayer Against Arrogance

Sunday, November 15, 2015

In praying Psalm 11 we can be mindful that our reliance on God bolsters us and so we need not rely on our own strength. The innocent psalmist depends on the Lord’s protection for God defends those who seek asylum in God’s temple. It is good to know that we are allowed to flee when the wicked begin to hunt down those who are “upright of heart”.

The image of archers hunting birds is an apt one in Psalm 11.  The friends and advisors here are worried about the collapse of the foundation, but we are reminded in this prayer that God sees all, and that God “detests the lover of violence.”  We reflect today on the many forms of violence beyond the obvious physical violence. We remember as well the insidious and hidden deceit that wounds as deeply and as surely as the arrow meant to still the faithful heart.

Psalm 12 from THE MESSAGE: Quick, God I need your helping hand! The last decent person just went down, all the friends I depended on are gone. Everyone talks in lie language; lies slide off their oily lips. They doubletalk with forked tongues.

We do not know where to go nor whom to trust; and just when we believe there is no salvation the Psalmist speaks words that foreshadow Jesus’ Beatitudes: Into the hovels of the poor, into the dark streets where the homeless groan, God speaks: “I’ve had enough; I’m on my way to heal the ache in the heart of the wretched.” It is in this way that God rescues the small and powerless from the influence and control of the arrogant. So let us pray . . .

Good and generous God, console and comfort us as we deal with backlash from our faithful witnessing to your goodness so that we might continue to witness to you.

Good and tender God, offer us your protection when anger and violence stalk us so that we might seek refuge in the temple of your Spirit that lives in us.

Good and powerful God, provide us with a refuge for the righteous at heart when slander and gossip surround us so that we might recoup our strength in the sacred presence of your love.

Good and precious God, live in us always to deflect the arrows of the arrogant and restore our fragile hearts so that we might remain in unshakeable confidence in you.

Good and humble God, abide with us as you do with the widow and orphan, the abandoned and anxious, and transform our worries and fears with your healing hope.

We ask this in Jesus’ name in communion with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Favorite from July 22, 2007. 

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James 3:13-4:10: Envy

Friday, November 13, 2015envy

“Within this call to conversion, James develops the theme of envy as exemplifying the measure of the world . . . Why is envy so singled out? Because its underlying assumption is that your gain is my loss. This is the opposite of the Spirit of the community, where all gain by anyone’s growth and all rejoice in anyone’s good fortune. Envy causes me to sorrow when another has something I lack. And when life is measured simply in terms of what I possess – ‘I am what I have’ – then for another to have and me to lack is intolerable. Envy drives the acquisitive instinct . . . the step is a short one to conflict, war, and murder, not only between individuals but also between nations . . . It is remarkable that this passage, which alone in the New Testament analyzes the causes of human conflict, should play so little role in moral discussions of war and peace”. (RG 551-552)

God says: James is correct when he tells you that envy is often at the root of your violence and anger. He is also correct when he points out that life in the Spirit means that you feel joy when one of you rejoices and sadness when one of you is in pain. Your friendship with me brings much than consolation; it brings you the ability to see the world as I see it, full of potential for goodness. I resist those who are full of pride in themselves and I nurture those who look for life in me. When you agree to live in The Way you will no longer be envious of others and you will celebrate when any one of you does well because you will understand that all good things come from me. When you are envious of others I am saddened, for your envy tells me that you do not understand my generosity. When you make war against one another I grieve,  for I can see that you do not understand my love. James is bringing my message to you . . . take time with it today.

Enter the word envy into the blog search bar and explore.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.RG 551-552. Print.

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James 3:13: The Gentleness of Wisdom

Sunday, November 8, 2015c6a21-gentleness

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

We spent time with James 3 several weeks ago when we considered living well, wisely and humbly, and at that time we reflected on how we might find joy in humility when the world so ably tells us that this cannot be so. And we considered the role of wisdom in the finding of this humility.

God says: In the world’s view, the wise are usually surrounded by servants and dwell in comfort. This is not my view. From the world’s perspective, the wise wield power and influence, they control people, resources and perspectives. This is not my perspective. In the world’s judgement, the meek of heart are silly doormats. This is not my judgment. In my view, the wise serve rather than demand service. From my perspective, the meek are more powerful than all the legions in the world. In my judgment, the wise know more than all the scholars of the world, and they are more loving in their gentle humility to me than all those who make false claim to wisdom.

phil 4-8Listen to Krista Tippet’s interview with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on The Dignity of Difference and reflect on healing violence by finding God in the face of the stranger, and the choice that God sets before us each day at: http://www.onbeing.org/program/dignity-difference/188

Enter the word humility in the blog search bar and reflect on the gentleness of this quality . . . and how we might learn to live in this gentleness.

Spend time with Philippians 4 today and reflect on the gentleness of wisdom. 

 

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je suis charlieSaturday

January 17, 2015

Joy and Habakkuk

Questions

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 Habakkuk reminds us that too often our ways are not God’s ways.

“For what may be the first time in Israelite literature, a man questions the ways of God, as Habakkuk calls him to account for his government of the world”. God replies that he will send “a chastising rod, Babylon”. And God also replies with divine assurance the faithful will not perish. (Senior 1150)

God says: I know that my plan seems slow to you and I understand your impatience for my ways are not always your ways. My prophets deliver your anger, exasperation, and sorrow to me; and I hear your plaint. My prophets also deliver My Word to you. I walk among you as the man Jesus and although you may not see him he is with you all the same. The anger of Habakkuk has not dissolved . . . and nor has my love. Each time you throw your anger at me I return it to you transformed in and by and through love. I return it to you as the gift of love. Read the words of Habakkuk . . . and bring me your fears and desperation. Bring me your sorrow, your worries and your questions. In return, you have my answer . . . the gifts of my presence, mercy, rescue and love.

In this prophecy, it is difficult to find the joy we hope to experience.  How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you “Violence!” but you do not intervene. (1:2)

In this prophecy, we hear the words that speak to human fear, suffering and frustration with the divine plan. I will stand at my guard post, and station myself upon the rampart, and keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what answer he will give to my complaint”. (2:1)

In this prophecy, we hear the Lord’s reply that we will want to hold close when pain and anxiety set in, when we wonder about the promise of God’s rescue and redemption. The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. (2:3-4)

In this prophecy, we pray with Habakkuk: God, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of hinds and enables me to go upon the heights. (3:19)

In this prophecy . . . we have the eternal answers to our unrelenting questions.

A week ago today, the nation of France prepared to welcome visitors from around the world to celebrate with joy in the face of enormous anger and grief. To learn more, click on the image above or go to: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/d0cc3eca-9943-11e4-be30-00144feabdc0.html#slide0

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990. 1150. 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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joySaturday, November 8, 2014

Judges 9

Joy and Conspiracy

Today we continue to visit with scripture to look for stories about joy that will surprise us in a variety of ways. If you want to explore other stories in which joy astounds us, 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 our story is from the Book of Judges.

In today’s story we have a cast of characters, most of them vicious and all of them passionate. Jotham, Abimelech and Jerubbaal are prominent as we visit Shechem, Beth-millo and Mount Gerizim; yet, despite the unusual names and distant locations, this is a story that in many ways takes place in our own neighborhood. Today we read about fear, violence and conspiracy . . . and the unexpected hope that always accompanies us, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Mount Gerizim

Mount Gerizim

Jotham escapes assassination and summits mount Gerizim to pronounce the tale of the trees that speaks truth in a way that even the hardest of hearts can understand. We may have heard this fable of the trees as children but if not, today we take the time to sit with it. We listen to the words from the olive, the fig, the vine and the bramble to see if we might hear them from the lips of friends, family or colleagues. Or perhaps we have uttered – or thought – these words ourselves. Perhaps we have experienced the violence we read about today in a very real, physical way; or perhaps we have suffered emotional trauma that has left its marks of damage on our hearts and minds. Whatever the case, we have something to learn. Joy is always present in the darkest of hours. Joy is always possible in the most evil of conspiracies. Joy is constantly with us in the presence of God.

For information on Mount Gerizim, click on the image above or visit: http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/arc/neapolis/mountGerizim.htm 

For more about anxiety and joy, click on the joy image above or visit: http://riselikeair.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/anxiety-joy-a-journey/ 

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