April 26, 2008 – Judith – Sublime Faith, Heroic LoveThe story of Judith is one that fascinated me as I lay under my covers at twilight with my mother reading, seated at the foot of my bed. She read so well that the figures of Holofernes and his men, the Medean king Arphaxad, Uzziah and the Jewish leaders, Judith and her maid moved about my room as evening shadows fell. I kept myself awake until the last word of the story . . . and slipped quickly into sleep. The interesting thing is that I had few nightmares when growing up . . . and these stories of severed heads and women running risk of death never frightened me. They gave me strength. And to this day, the story of Judith is one of my favorites. Actually, the only frightening line is one that leapt out at me a few years ago when I re-saw and re-heard the description of the lascivious and powerful Holofernes and his desire for Judith: The heart of Holofernes was in rapture over her, and his spirit was shaken. He was burning with the desire to possess her, for he was biding his time to seduce her from the day he saw her.
Holofernes allows his heart to become accustomed to the fleeting satisfaction of lust rather than bask in the vulnerability of deep and lasting love. His desire is to possess Judith, not to love her. He has all of the control . . . and nothing of God. He is an empty man. And for this he suffers an unhappy end. How does Judith survive the onslaught of this powerful and determined force?
Judith is prudent. Judith prays. Judith is steadfast and virtuous. Judith is brave and trusts God. Judith allows herself to act as the instrument of a God who wishes to deliver the faithful from crisis. Judith puts her life on the line. Judith is clever. Judith allows her fidelity to God to serve as her shield. Judith takes each thing as it comes to her. Judith rejoices in the wondrous love of her God.
How do we deal with the situations and people in our lives which are impossible, un-Godly, or disturbing? What do we do when we find ourselves alone in a sea of complacency, indifference or impiety?
We act with prudence. We pray. We remain steadfast and virtuous. We become brave. We maintain our trust in God. We stay out of God’s way and we allow him to deliver us. We put our life on the line. We use the brains God gave us. We step into the indifference and complacency with Christ as our armor. We take things one day at a time and we do not become anxious about the future or about the things over which we have no control. And we rejoice in the wonder of God’s love for us.
We see in this story the conflict between the Jewish community and the infiltrating influences of the Greek culture. The Jewish leaders and their hierarchy had no plan to combat this quiet attack other than to follow the Mosaic Law. Judith, a lone and beautiful widow, moves onto center stage with only her beauty, her little maid and her God as sword and shield. And these she uses well. This one woman turns the tide in the battle against the Hellenistic world which infiltrated the world of Yahweh. But she does it through and with and in God.
Good and giving God, help us to discern what is of your world and what is not. Remind us that Christ is our protection against all that does not come from you. Send us your Spirit to abide with us as we move out of Bethulia and into the valley of life. Amen.
For more reflections on the Book of Judith, enter her name in the blog search. For more information on Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652), the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, click on the image above and follow the hyperlink.
For A Historical Commentary on the Book of Judith and for a description of where the town of Bethulia might be located, go to: http://kinghezekiahofjudah2.blogspot.com/2008/06/location-of-judiths-town-of-bethulia.html