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Judith 9The Author of Events

Friday, September 7, 2018

Caravaggio’s Judith

Commentary will tell us that Judith is an apt symbol for Israel in this story as she is a childless widow, a defenseless figure in society and one who is to be protected rather than stalked and raped.  What we read today is Judith’s Prayer, and through it we have a view of Judith’s plan to act as God’s agent.  In some way – she does not tell us exactly – Judith will use her words and her guile against the enemy.  Many wonderful lessons come from this story and one of them is that despite any action she takes herself, Judith continues to see God as the author of all events.  Judith’s ego does not claim success as her own other than her willingness to be God’s instrument.  She further identifies God through a beautiful litany as the God of the lowly, the helper of the oppressed, the supporter of the weak, the protector of the forsaken, and the savior of those without hope.  If we ever wanted a description of God, Judith gives it to us . . . with simplicity and power.

Judith is so faithful to God and knows God so well that after she calls upon the Lord she petitions this God of the humble who authors all events to allow her to act on God’s behalf – and to do so in a subtle and beguiling way.  The entire story is well worth our reading and if you have time in these hot and hazy days of summer, sit with Judith for awhile.  You will be rewarded.

Caravaggio: Judith Beheading Holofernes

THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE tells us on page 520 that although we do not know the identity of the author of this story, and although we cannot determine the reasons for its origin, we do know that it was written to strengthen the faithful in the belief that God truly lives among them.  “The book of Judith is a tract for difficult times; the reader, it was hoped, would take to heart the lesson that God was the Master of history, who could save Israel from her enemies.  Note the parallel with the time of Exodus: as God had delivered his people by the hand of Moses, so he could deliver them by the hand of the pious widow Judith . . . Any attempt to read the book directly against the backdrop of Jewish history in relation to the empires of the ancient world is bound to fail.  The story was written as a pious reflection on the meaning of the yearly Passover observance”.   Clearly Judith’s story is one that we will want to read when we feel that we stand alone before an imposing enemy; it is one we will want to read when we have lost the feeling that God is with us.  Perhaps as we read Judith’s prayer today, we will want to pray along with her . . .

All merciful and ever-tender God, take us up to cradle us away from danger.  You care for the abandoned, the betrayed and the forsaken.  Gather us up into your safety, bring us into your fold today and every day.   

All good and ever-compassionate God, you shepherd the lowly, the meek and the humble.  You defend the oppressed, the beaten, and the weak.  You allow the oppressor to succumb to their own plots.  Rescue us, heal us and restore us today and every day.

All loving and passionate God, you care for the vulnerable, the powerless and the marginalized.  You bring goodness out of all that is wicked and evil.  You turn harm back on its author.  Cure us, mend us, and renew us today and every day. 

Almighty and ever-powerful God, you know all things before they come to pass.  You see and hear all things that are beyond our comprehension.  You accomplish all things that are beyond our ability.  Remain with us, protect us and guide us today and every day.  

You who are the author of all events and lover of the lowly, hear our cry and come to our aid.  Remain with us today and every day.  Amen. 


A re-post from August 8, 2011.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.520. Print.

Image from: http://www.wpclipart.com/art/Paintings/Artists_A_to_C/Caravaggio__Judith_Beheading_Holofernes.jpg.html

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1 Kings 17Moving On

Monday, July 9, 2018

Il Guercino: Elijah Fed by Ravens

So the Lord said, move on . . .

This two-part story reminds us that God provides for those who are willing to follow him; and it also tells us that we cannot snuggle into the comfort of a refuge we know well.  Our true security rests not in the safe harbors we find in life . . . but in our relationships and in the trust we place in God.  This is the message we find in the verse that bridges the two parts of today’s Noontime. 

The prophet Elijah has reason to fear Ahab.  The king’s wife Jezebel has made it plain that her goal is to rid the kingdom of prophets and this is the likely reason that Elijah hides as the Lord bids him after he delivers his fearsome prophecy to King Ahab.  Concealing himself in the Wadi Cherith, he survives with water from the stream and food brought to him by ravens.  All seems safe and well . . . until God calls him to Zarepthath of Sidon.  Rather than hold onto the security he has found in the wadi, Elijah moves on – as God asks – to help first a widow and then later her son.  Elijah not only improves the lot of this impoverished little family to make the world a more humane place, he also allows himself to know God more intimately . . . he moves out of his safety zone to bring life to those who barely eke out a living.

So the Lord said, move on . . .

Bernardo Strozzi: Elijah and the Widow of Sarepta

Each of us has known times when we would rather remain wrapped in our sanctuary, blocking out the horror of a cruel world so that we might live happily and blindly.  Oh how much easier, we say to ourselves, to remain in well-known territory in order to stay away from the uncomfortable parts of life.  Yet when God calls, we must move on.

We may have experienced for a time the desperation of not knowing where we will find the food to feed our families.  Perhaps we have suffered the misery of working with a colleague who has condemned us or of going home to a loved one who has rejected us.  Maybe we have crept to the edge of life itself thinking it better to bring all to an end.  These are the times when a kind look, a warm smile or a gentle touch heals the wounded heart.  This is when a few understanding words that acknowledge pain without censure bring the sweetest balm of all . . . the healing hand of one who has moved out from a safe harbor to bring others safely home.

We may say that not all of us can be Elijah for we cannot resuscitate life.  In truth, this does not matter.  God knows the prophet, God knows the widow, and God knows each of us.  This alone is enough for us to take courage, it is enough for us to move on.


Images from: https://www.artbible.info/art/large/730.html and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bernardo_Strozzi_-_Prophet_Elijah_and_the_Widow_of_Sarepta_-_WGA21919.jpg 

We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 18, 2011.

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Mark 12:35-44: Comparison

James C Christenen: The Widow's Mite

James C. Christensen: The Widow’s Mite

Monday, August 31, 2015

As we continue to study the Gospel of Mark, we are struck again by his immediacy and precision; and we see how Jesus turns stark divisions into unifying calls. 

The widow we meet today who gives from her poverty is seen in sharp contrast to the scribes who give from their surplus.  Jesus as the son of God is also juxtaposed against those who would be servants but who are more enamored of status, money and place.  The obvious lesson here is understood quickly, even by children.  The widow’s contribution – small as it is – is worth as much and perhaps even more than the large amount given by others from their surplus; and the widow herself is as valuable, or more, as those who profess great learning and experience.  We can see that this portion of Mark’s Gospel asks us to take a deep look to examine our own status, our own motivations, our own spiritual life in Christ.  The more obscure lesson is this: We ought not to worry if we only have two cents when come forward to add to God’s treasury . . . God is counting on this small gift to appear and God has a plan for this small gift which we cannot see from where we stand.

My dad, the oldest of eleven, always used to say that when we compare ourselves to others we will always come up way short of some and way ahead of others.  He would encourage us to compare what we have done in a day to what we might have done on a good day.  He asked that we measure ourselves against our own potential.  He directed us to steer well clear of comparing ourselves to others in any way with the words: You have no way of knowing what God knows.  And when he himself became frustrated with life and with what he believed to be his own weaknesses, he would often murmur repeatedly in low words:  God only knows.  Only God knows.  God only knows.  Only God knows. 

My mother, born the seventh of eleven, was fond of telling us – when we balked at going somewhere we thought we might be bored – Did you ever stop to think that God might have need of you today?  Did it ever occur to you that your presence has a purpose even when you do not see it?  Maybe you are being asked to bring something you do not realize you have.  Go and find out what it is.  And so we would go . . . and we always found out that yes, we had two cents, and they belonged in God’s treasury.

When we believe that the efforts we make are puny in attempting to answer God’s call, we might remember the contributions of the scribes and the widow.

When we fear that we have erred in responding to God’s call, we might remember that Jesus sees all of us, knows our worth and values our gifts accordingly.

When we feel that we have somehow gotten things wrong, that we have misunderstood the instructions we think we hear, we might remember that with God, our two cents are worth worlds . . . because we have come to God, trusted God and loved God.

And so we pray.

Precious God, We know that we often misunderstand messages.  We sometimes doubt our ability to hear you clearly.  We also know that we ought to be wary of those wearing robes for the sake of show.  We sometimes become enamored of the robes ourselves.  We always know that when you destroy temples you also rebuild them in days . . . deep within our hearts.  Continue to guide us as we filter through the pageantry of life to find that which is worth more than the mere two-cent value it appears to have at first glance.  Help us to compare ourselves to our own work rather than to the work of others.  Lead us to your way of seeing and thinking.  Lead us to your way of trusting and believing.  Lead us always back to you.  Amen. 

A favorite from August 23, 2009.

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Friday, January 13, 2012 – Mark 7:24-30 – Rejection

Jean Germain Drouais: Christ and the Canaanite Woman

I am always impressed by the persistence of this woman who urges Christ to heal her sick daughter.  Mark, writing to a mainly non-Jewish audience, describes her patient belief in this new message of hope and healing.  If we were as unrelenting as this woman in asking for justice and redemption, might not the entire world benefit from our prayers?  She is reminiscent of the persistent widow in Luke 18 who badgers the corrupt judge into giving her what she is due.  Her continual plea became an embarrassment for this man, and so he gave in . . . to do what ought to have been done in the first place.

How do we react to rejection?  Do we cave in to harsh criticism?  Do we evaluate the words and actions we have heard and seen?  Do we put our experience in a proper context to measure its validity?  Do we ask God for advice?  Do we ignore what has been said entirely without giving it further thought? 

Jesus has gone to Tyre, the city of Jezebel, a pagan center out of reach of the influence of the Jews; and here he encounters a woman who challenges him with his own good news, reminding him that even the lowest of the low deserve respect and fair treatment.  What I like about this Greek woman, this Syrophoenician by birth, is that she enters into a dialog with the master and is not cowed by his authority.  Perhaps she has lived so long in subjugation she has nothing to lose. 

There is something to be learned here: that when we experience rejection we ought to evaluate it, and take it apart to discover its origin.  Once satisfied that we have heard and understood, and once we have established that we come in justice and peace . . . then we must pursue justice.  We must be bold, we must be constant.  We must enter into a conversation with Christ to further our argument.  And if – as in the story of Job about which we thought yesterday – we bring an innocent heart to the healer, we may find that which our own heart seeks . . . justice and peace . . . in place of the offered rejection.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011 – 2 Kings 4:1-7 – Deep Trust

Written on March 20 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

A reflection I read recently pointed out that genuine faith is not blind obedience; rather it is a deep trust in the revealed Christ.  When we receive the Gospel story as coming from God – and not just as a narrative from one of Jesus’ followers – we will naturally raise our limbs to the light to welcome the Spirit into our hearts, and we will put down deep roots in the conviction that God can neither deceive nor be deceived.  Once we allow ourselves to risk believing that God’s love precludes deceit, overcomes all pain, and converts all suffering, we begin to feel the growth of an enduring and unshakeable trust deep within. 

The widow who complains to Elisha in today’s Noontime acts in faith – not blindly in obedience, but actively trusting, certain that God will fulfill her needs through the prophet.  “Bring me another vessel,” she says to her son; yet when none arrives and when the oil stops, there is enough oil for her to eliminate her debt and feed her children.  God provides.

From Jeremiah 17: 7-8: Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.  He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit. 

From Psalm 1:1-3: Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked, nor go the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers.  Rather, the law of the Lord is their joy; God’s law they study day and night.   They are like a tree planted near streams of water that yields its fruit in season; its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers.

Job 18:16 describes the wicked man as one whose roots dry up below and branches wither above.

Parrish: Riverbank in Autumn

Ezekiel 47:12 describes the fruit trees that will grow by the banks of the river that flows from the new, restored temple: Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail.  Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them.  Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. 

Sirach 11:20-21: Hold fast to your duty, busy yourself with it, grow old while doing your task.  Admire not how sinners live, but trust in the Lord and wait for his light.

The desert is a dry and barren place yet even in the arid terrain there is life – for God is everywhere.   The widow in today’s story understands this fact.  She has so little that she and her children will perish.  Elisha speaks to her and through this prophet God works a miracle that rescues her not only for that one day, but for all of her days.  The widow allows her life and the lives of her children to be transformed, not merely changed.  She stays close to God, the living water.  She puts down deep, trusting roots.  She shelters her children beneath the leaves that spring forth in a dry season. 

God provides . . . even – and especially – in the desert.  God transforms . . . even – and especially – when we feel that all is lost.   God reveals himself . . . even – and especially – when we are at our lowest point. 

From yesterday’s MAGNIFICAT Evening Prayer Mini-reflection: God is very present in the deserts of our lives.  It is in the desert that God revealed himself to Abraham.  It is in our dryness and desolation that God is often working the most marvelous transformations.  Let us rejoice in this blessed desert of Lent where Christ reveals himself. 

Cameron, Peter John, Rev., ed. “Mini-Reflection.” MAGNIFICAT. 19 March 2011. Print.

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