//X – EXILE

X – EXILE

EXILE

DAY 184: 2 Kings 18; 2 Chronicles 29; Psalm 141
CONTRASTS

As we enter a new period in our bible timeline, interestingly we don’t spend much time on the Northern Kingdom’s dismantling and scattering in 2 Kings. We move south to the Kingdom of Judah and meet King Hezekiah. Now at this point, Judah (led by Hezekiah’s father King Ahaz) had also been corrupted by the awful practices of the North. It’s amazing to see that at a time when the People of God (from the North) were at their lowest and Judah seemed hell-bent to follow that, this son Hezekiah proves to be the ultimate of reformers.

He abolishes all the pagan worship that had begun to corrupt the true worship of the Temple: fertility “shrines”; stone monuments for idol worship; eliminating these “Asherah poles” that were dedicated to a cannanite goddess. Curiously we read how the “serpent” that God had ordered Moses to fashion as a source of healing – an artifact that had such historic importance and religious significance to the people is destroyed. The people had corrupted that and began to make offerings to that serpent, so Hezekiah takes the bold step and destroys it.

As we have in the not so distant background of the depths to which the Northern Kingdom had fallen, coupled with the warnings of the prophets which were ignored – it’s a welcome relief to hear and see the faithful leadership, the restoration, and in fact transformation that Hezekiah begins to undertake here. While this chapter notes all that had led to exile for the North was because “they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God” (v 12) Hezekiah “did was right” “there was none like him” “for he held fast to the Lord.” That says it all. He was obedient and righteous, and in that time of great apostasy, the results couldn’t be more starkly different.
While we are in a different covenantal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, there are things that stand out for reflection. The United States and most of the “western world” is moving into a post-Christian/secular mindset (in other words, a return to paganism)

Unsurprisingly, the tension, division, seems to increase with each passing day. Simply not going along with what is popular or “mainstream” as we continue to open ourselves to God’s word in scripture, as we participate in the Sacramental life of the Church by going to Mass and confession makes us as radical and significant in many ways to those around us as Hezekiah was in that moment of history. It may seem like swimming against the current, but when we strive to remain faithful, obedient to the Lord, he strengthens our arms, he supplies the energy to keep pushing against that tide. Happy to be in the water with you all 🙂

DAY 185: 2 Kings 19; 2 Chronicles 30; Psalm 143

MOCKING GOD

As we read Chapter 19 today, it’s important to keep in mind that even though this is a battle between two earthly rulers at this particular historical point – Hezekiah, the King of Judah and Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, on another level it’s this ongoing spiritual battle with Satan trying to battle God. Unfortunately too often people mistakenly see this as a war of equals, which it’s not. God who is all-powerful, all-loving, creator of all things, has the ability to completely vanquish evil – which at the end of time, will occur. But in the interim, the only way for free will to ultimately exist is for humanity to have the ability to choose either to reject or accept God.

And that’s what is at the heart of this battle. Remember yesterday, Sennacherib mocking God: “Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this confidence of your?” as he mocks belief and confidence in the Lord, saying to the people “Did Hezekiah actually tell you that God would deliver you? Has any of the other gods of other nations ever delivered his land out of the king of Assyria?

Gotta give Assyria/Satan some credit here – that line has worked before. Remember back in the garden of Eden – the serpent “did God say you shall not eat of any tree of the garden?… you will not die, God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” That’s basically the same argument we see at work here. The devil is never creative, the same old lies, recycled over and over again.

What is new, what is unique is seeing Hezekiah’s reaction. He doesn’t give into the fears and anxieties of those around him. He doesn’t second guess his ending of all the apostasy, heresies and false worship to false gods cause him to lose faith. He doesn’t let whatever interior distress he’s experiencing cause him to waver.

Unlike our ancestors in the Garden, we see in Hezekiah what they should have done: He calls out to the Lord in prayer. He prays with praise, with confidence, with surrender. And with that the mighty Assyrians also learn the difference between false gods and the Lord God Almighty… and the people of God in the Kingdom of Judah recognize anew the importance of having faithful, God-loving, God-fearing leaders, and being such themselves.

Each of us is assaulted with worries, anxieties, and fears on a regular, even daily basis. Satan is going to continue to throw the kitchen sink at us hoping even for the slightest of cracks in our faithfulness and commitment. Hoping that his taunts “do you think listening to the bible is going to have any effect on you?” “Do you think saying a prayer is going to help with that illness, that difficulty, that obstacle?” May Hezekiah be another example to inspire us in those moments of trial – of the faithfulness of God when we remain faithful to Him.

DAY 186: 2 Kings 20; 2 Chronicles 31; Psalm 145

ANSWERED PRAYERS AND OUR RESPONSE

Today’s reading from 2 Kings ran the full emotional roller coaster. We start off with Hezekiah suffering from a deadly illness. So serious, that Isaiah the prophet basically warns him “get things in order.” When a prophet tells you that, you know it’s serious. We read of the effect that news has on the King, how he prays and weeps – and we encounter one of the most beautifully intimate, compassionate words in this book of Kings:
Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father:
I have herad your prayer,
I hae seen your tears;
behold I will heal you;
on the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord.
And I will add fifteen years to your life…(2 Kings 20: 5-6)

Again, when we’re tempted to think that God in the Old Testament is “mean” compared to Jesus, this is a good example to disabuse that notion. This faithful servant’s prayer is answered in a direct, personal way that is miraculous. The generosity and goodness of God are on display in such a dramatic way – which is what makes what happens next so disappointing.

No sooner is Hezekiah back in good health, than the King of Babylon comes to visit. The news that this little kingdom of Judah has humbled the mighty Kingdom of Assyria has most definitely spread. And what happens? Hezekiah goes around showing him all the trappings, the splendors, the riches of their kingdom. He’s bragging on – himself. He got lost in the adulation of this foreign king and rather than bragging on the true source of their victory – God – Hezekiah is seduced into becoming this pompous, arrogant tour guide. Imagine, had he taken the opportunity to praise and honor God before this king? Perhaps Judah would have been true people of God shining His light to the world and leading them to know and love Him – rather than becoming subject to Babylon themselves.

It’s great and important to pray for God in our need and to wait humbly, faithfully, and trusting in His goodness. But equally important is remembering His goodness after the trial has passed – remaining humble, faithful, and trusting in Him.

DAY 187: 2 Kings 21; 2 Chronicles 32; Psalm 145

NO GUARANTEES

The narrative thus far has been that Israel (the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom) had the terrible kings, turning away from God, losing His favor and blessing while the much smaller Southern Kingdom of Judah (with its two tribes) enjoyed somewhat miraculous successes in staving off enemies because they had (for the most part) faithful, God-fearing leaders and the people had remained faithful. But just because that had been their history for generations doesn’t mean that it was guaranteed to remain like that. We saw the cracks in Hezekiah in yesterday’s reading with his not only bragging to the Babylonians in his ego-driven vanity tour (not to mention kicking the can down the road when Isaiah warned him of the doom that this would lead to the kingdom) Now we see the full infestation of evil in the son of Hezekiah, Manasseh. Not only does he undo all the good that his father had done in restoring proper worship and expelling the false gods, idolatry, but he also goes a step further in his evil actions. Practicing fortune telling, horoscopes, black magic, holding seances – which opened him up to the ultimate of horrors, child sacrifice (killing his own son).

It was probably unthinkable to Hezekiah that Judah would fall so low, through the reign of his own son. Perhaps God answering his prayers to extend his life made him presumptuous of God’s favor – figuring “there’s no way He’d allow Judah to fall”– conveniently putting the responsibility on God rather than the King – and the people (lest we forget they’re not innocent in idly letting their leader lead them astray)

Which is where this gets uncomfortable. In recent years there’s been this general acceptance both in and outside of the Church that “the western world” which was founded on Judeo-Christian principles has moved into a post-Christian/Secular mindset. There are too many examples to mention, and this isn’t meant to start itemizing or listing them.

Instead, I offer this quote from Pope Benedict XVI from one of his talks given to World Youth Day for reflection.
“There are words which serve only to amuse, as fleeting as an empty breeze;
others to an extent, inform us;
those of Jesus, on the other hand, must reach our hearts, take root and bloom there all of our lives.
If not, they remain empty and become ephemeral. They do not bring us to Him and as a result, Christ stays remote, just one voice among many other around us are so familiar.
Furthermore, the Master who speaks teaches, not something learned from others, but that which He Himself is, the only one who truly knows the path of man to God, because He is the one who opened it up to us, He made it so that we might have authentic lives, lives which are always worth living, in every circumstance, and which not even death can destroy.”

The way we make sure not to allow modern-day Manasseh’s to “lead us astray” is by doing what we’re doing here – by allowing God’s word to recast our visions from what this world and its voices try to distort it in their broken, limited perspective, into the one that promises fullness of life – now and for eternity.

DAY 188: 2 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 33; Proverbs 7

THE LAST GOOD KING OF JUDAH

Imagine an 8 year old becoming king? On second thought, let’s not open this door as this could go off in all sorts of diversions 🙂

Most likely what helps Josiah to become a “good king” and doing what was right before the Lord without having even read the word of God, the law of the Lord (which seems to have been shoved on some shelf in the temple) is the fact that he had people around him who taught him what was right, what was required, what would make him an effective and righteous King. That’s how he is able to reign in such a stark contrast to his father Manasseh. Which is a good reminder to us of the importance of people we allow ourselves to be surrounded by… who it is we listen to and take their words to heart (and those we don’t). When we encounter selfish, self-centered individuals – when we are working with people who aren’t demonstrating any virtue or generosity – when we are hearing voices that are negative – we might not be able to completely separate ourselves from them (and perhaps shouldn’t) but we do need to be vigilant and cautious about how much influence we allow them to have on us.

The other thing that stands out with regards to Josiah is that, when he finally does hear and learn from God’s word directly: that what he had learned was in fact true, but even more, how woefully his father and the people had failed in following it, what he does in response. He responds with a genuine, sincere repentance that far surpassed the reaction of those who had known all along what was indeed right and just. If we wanted to be technical about it, what does he have to repent for? He didn’t do anything wrong. He’s not responsible for his father’s sins and the sins of his people.

But that’s what’s beautiful about this gesture. Josiah recognizes that this isn’t a legalistic accounting that he’s trying to make up for the sins in the ledger that the kingdom still needs to make restitution for. It’s almost a instinctual response, hearing the truth, recognizing how not only weren’t his father and the kingdom not doing what they were supposed to, but were actively doing what had been forbidden, there’s a shock at the lows they had fallen to. He’s ashamed as the King of Judah that his people had fallen so egregiously – and his goodness can’t help but mourn and grieve over those horrific errors.

DAY 189: 2 Kings 23; 2 Chronicles 34; Proverbs 8: 1-21

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

Josiah gets busy pretty quickly in Chapter 23 to clean house. We read that he assembles everyone, he does his own “Bible in a Year” – in a day – as he reads the “book of the covenant” and immediately orders the idols not only to be taken out of the temple, but destroyed; for all the “sex-and-religion” shrines that had been created in the towns to be smashed – and to try to erase every vestige of the false worship of baal, sun and moon.

While Josiah works double-over-time to accomplish all these reforms, while we can admire his passion for the Lord which had been so sorely lacking in his father and the people prior to his ascension, while its amazing to see the boldness in how God’s word had convicted the truth Josaih already knew in his heart before ever having had a chance to hear and read it for himself… what’s sad is reading a sense of doom in this chapter. After finally restoring the celebration of Passover, which had been missing for hundreds of years (which even to our modern day ears as Christians seems unthinkable), scripture records all of this as unmoving to the Lord “ still the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath…”(v 26)

Why is that? Quite simply, because while Josiah’s heart was convicted – he was committed to these reforms and wanted to lead his people back on the path of righteousness, the people were paying only lip service while Josiah was on the throne. In their hearts, the idol worship, the disgusting actions of the spilling of innocent blood had not repulsed the people. Which we will see evidenced in the coming days. When Josiah’s reign ends (somewhat abruptly because of his foolishness in engaging Egypt, which demonstrates that Josiah as great a King as he is, was not a perfect man, and prone to sinfulness like the rest of humanity)- the facade the people put on while Josiah was on the throne drops. And they revert back to their evil ways.

God is ready, able and more than willing to be lavishly generous with His love and mercy. And is patient in his dealings with His people. The fact that nearly 4 centuries passed by without proper celebration of the Passover – one of the central most important events for the People of God recalling the wonders of His rescuing and saving His people from slavery – demonstrates He isn’t looking for the slightest infraction on humanity’s part in order to smite us. The one thing that hurts Him the most is when the human heart has turned away from Him. Because that is in effect the “unforgivable sin” – it is a rejection of who God is – to the degree that even His wondrous acts, His amazing love aren’t welcome. It’s wrenching even to write that – but gives us the backdrop to the fall of Judah… and hopefully rekindles our urgency to pray for those who have grown lukewarm, or turned on the Lord God in our day and age. That perhaps through the prayer and care of this community, they will have a change of heart themselves.

DAY 190: 2 Kings 24; 2 Chronicles 35; Proverbs 8: 22-36

TO WHOM MUCH IS GIVEN…

It’s striking to think about how unstable things became for Judah. They have had 4 kings in almost 20 years – which had most definitely not been the experience in Judah. That political upheaval is just a symptom of the bigger problem of having abandoned God. In some ways it is worse than what we saw in the North. The Southern kingdom had the Holy City, Jerusalem. They had the temple. They had in their recent memory had the Word of God rediscovered and proclaimed to them.

All of that seemed eclipsed from their memories as king after king after king after king is installed. Its amazing that some of the people who had fallen away in favor of pagan gods, mediums, looking at the sun and moon for indications wouldn’t read the signs of something being “off” with all of that turnover. Perhaps it was just this kind of ingrained arrogance that deluded themselves – thinking if there is a Lord God – then he can’t/wont let His holy city, His temple be defeated. Think about it, every time up till now when God was put to the test before pagan gods, He was always triumphant and often in dramatic ways. So it’s almost worse than presumption of God’s mercy – it’s almost this lie they’ve convinced themselves of that God has no choice but to protect if not the southern Kingdom, at least the city or the temple.

Humanity still finds a way of ruining “Eden.”

How do we respond even when we see leaders leading people astray in our day and age St. Mother Teresa had some good advice:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish,
ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful
friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway

 

DAY 191: 2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36; Proverbs 9: 1-6

…THOUGH I SHOULD WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH

The fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, the famine, the deaths, the destruction, the exile – truly an inglorious end to a book named “Kings” and to God’s people’s homeland, Holy City. It’s a sad chapter, not just in this book, but in the history and the hearts of the Jewish people.

But there’s signs of hope even in the midst of this time of devastation. To the small remnant that remained in Judah, we hear an appointee from Babylon promise the people that they had nothing to fear moving forward. That if they lived peacefully in the land, they would be safe from all harm. Yes the kingdom of Judah was gone, yet God was providing a way for these exiles to maintain a Spiritual Kingdom. It would reign in their hearts if they would rely on Him for strength and comfort in time of need.

It’s a difficult thing to do for anyone going through a time of unbelievable trial. Human instinct is trying to make sense, trying to fix situations that might not make sense or be fixable. And in this instance, the people of God have the added layer of guilt knowing that they’ve caused this all to happen. Will they, and can we, humble ourselves in the face of a trial to look for those signs of God’s presence, His care and lean into them. To let Him shepherd through that dark valley? To lead His people out from exile?

DAY 192: Isaiah 1-2; Tobit 1-2; Proverbs 9: 7-12

THE MISSING PERSPECTIVE

One of the challenges many have had in navigating the Books of Kings and Chronicles – with a narrative basically categorizing the evil that was done – and then the results of that evil to the people – ultimately exile, loss of homeland and the destruction of the temple. In all of that, the constant refrain has been the people’s apostasy, rebellion against God, following false gods with momentary flashes of repentance and reform.

Just a reminder for us as Christians who tend to favor the New Testament – where Jesus, God incarnate is the central focus of the entirety of those books, chapters and verses; the Old Testament, while it is all God’s Word and His story, often features very broken people who fail in spectacular fashion. So as we navigated those books, it’s easy to feel the weight of that history.

Today, as Fr Mike had mentioned in his podcast yesterday, we now shift to hearing from a very human perspective to how God was not disinterested, uninvolved in all of those doings. How in fact He was constantly loving on His people. Either speaking a word through the Prophets to warn them of the consequences of their sinful choices – or speaking a word of comfort and consolation after that had occurred.

We also will be jumping into Tobit which will be a welcome contrast from some of our ancestors we’ve been reading about for some time now. In Tobit, we find a family living in a pagan world – yet remaining faithful to God. This story of faithfulness will seem reminiscent of Job. He’s in the Northern Kingdom at the time that the ten tribes were split from the two Southern tribes. And Tobit doesn’t follow the (what turns out to be disastrous) idea the King of Israel had brought about of worshiping golden calves rather than traveling to Jerusalem to the Temple as they had been commanded. When they are exiled and can’t do that anymore, Tobit holds to kosher regulations, follows ordinances of care for the poor, burying the dead. In all of this, we see a shining example of someone striving to remain faithful to God’s Word against all odds. Fr. Mike in his homilies the last few sundays has been referencing Tobit with the line that just because he couldn’t do everything that God had commanded His people to do, that didn’t mean Tobit couldn’t do some of the things that were in his power to do.

Tobit helps us to see that God’s efforts of reaching out were not in vain. Not then. And not now.

DAY 193: Isaiah 3-4; Tobit 3-4; Proverbs 9: 13-18

CAN’T SAY IT ENOUGH

Isaiah and Tobit seem to have a parallel message today. They are both calling the people to righteousness. Isaiah in his prophetic words to the people “tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds” (3: 10). Tobit in the instructions to His Son: “Remember the Lord our God all your days my son, and refuse to sin or to transgress his commandments” (4: 5).

Interestingly though they are coming from completely different vantage points. Isaiah as a prophet has heard this message from the Lord and been sent to the people to share it. Tobit the chapter before, after enduring so much misery in rapid-fire-succession prayed for death. As disturbing as that is, recognizing how painful and sad this man was that he assumed death was the only answer notice what he does – he prays to God and is so faithful and trusting that God will answer him (and assumes that means his end) he is basically uttering his last will and testament to his son. In what he assumes will be his last words, he calls on his son to remain faithful to the Lord.

Being faithful and obedient to the Lord is rarely easy to accomplish or to proclaim. We’re encountering fewer people remotely open to hearing that message. And as we face trials, challenges, setbacks, and outright failures – it can be more than tempting to if not outright turn our backs on God, to at least temper our enthusiasm.

This is why I’ve often found Tobit a bit easier to digest compared to Job. Without the troublesome backstory of God and Satan’s discussion and debate which sets into motion the tale of misery, in Tobit, we see a righteous man whose misfortune is the result of others (which we’ve just finished, the kingdom is divided and then his being exiled coming as a result of the collective people’s unfaithfulness) or just random bad luck (bird poop blinding him). Which can be a bit more relatable to our daily lives and experiences.

For Tobit, he’s not being pollyannaish about anything. His prayer is from the deepest recesses of his gut. Which is beautiful. In the midst of this storm, he knows God hears him and listens to him and he entrusts his cries to him.

It reminds me of this Christian contemporary song from the group Casting Crowns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YUGwUgBvTU

DAY 194: Isaiah 5-6; Tobit 5-6 ; Proverbs 10: 1-4

TOBIT – AND US

This week I’m participating in a priest’s conference sponsored by the St. Paul’s Center for Biblical Theology (I’m attending it virtually) and between the talks I’ve already listened to, coupled with my viewing the Season Finale of The Chosen on Sunday (no worries, no spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet) a couple things come to my mind and heart today with that as the background and reading these readings.

First off – again – God Bless all of you who are on this biblical journey -wherever you are on it. Whatever the motivation – or whatever you think was the motivation for you to do it, it’s the Holy Spirit who guided you and is leading you on this pilgrimage. Because the Word of God – both in scripture and the Word of God who is Jesus Christ is urgently important for humanity. There’s been too many teachers, preachers, voices who have been – whether intentional or not – contributed to the ignorance of people’s exposure to scripture or understanding of it. This is what causes me to give thanks for Fr. Mike’s own prayerfulness in being led to spearheading this and leading us with Jeff Cavins through this biblical journey.

As we move deeper into the book of Tobit, we can probably sense some more parallels and relate-ability that are important to appreciate. We’ve already learned that Tobit is not living among God-fearing, God-loving people. Many of the People of God had become either lukewarm or apostates at this point and Tobit is living in exile as a result of that faithless generation’s actions which destroyed the promised land. Despite all of that, Tobit has remained fiercely faithful. That doesn’t mean things have gotten easier for him – not by a long shot. But we know God is a God who sees, who notices, who is moved by the faith of even just one of his beloved created men and women. Tobit’s unrelenting to the “peer pressure” around him to reject God’s commandments, his continuing to practice works of mercy God has put on his heart selfless service to others in burying the dead, caring for the poor.

This comes to the second point for all of us. God sees and notices you – and is moved by your faith and your pursuit of Him in all the ways that you do that, as well as in this bible study. As we live in very divisive, polarizing times – where corruption and infiltration of institutions that in the not so distant past we readily trusted have become more and more obvious – when even those in leadership in the Church seem to be sending confusing and sometimes contradictory messages, that we’re here today and continuing our pursuit of the Lord and His unfailing Word, we know that He will not be outdone in generosity. That’s what Tobit is testifying to us today. Whether He will send an “angel” in disguise to accompany us in our trying to navigate the various challenges in this broken world – or we have a deeper appreciation of how He’s already been doing that for quite some time – the “blindness” of our eyes (not coming from bird poop, but various other spiritual attacks) are being healed.

DAY 195: Isaiah 7-8; Tobit 7-9; Proverbs 10: 5-8

A WEDDING, NO FUNERAL

For many Jews reading this somewhat unique wedding story, they might focus on divine protection for righteous, faithful people whose prayers are answered. They could highlight how the couple put themselves, their marriage in God’s hands.

But as Catholics we see something a bit deeper. In television and movies sometimes you will see the creator adding an inside joke or a clue pointing to something else inconspicuously into their shows wondering if their fans will pick up on the reference. Those are referred to as an “Easter Egg.” This bizarre wedding story has one of the greatest of “Easter Eggs” from THE Creator of well everything.

We hear of this bride who has been unlucky (well, that’s an understatement 7 husbands dying on their wedding night is more than unlucky, in fact, we know it’s the work of the devil) that on wedding night #8, the father of the bride is outside digging a grave already figuring he might as well be prepared. But if we think about the entirety of the book of Tobit that we’ve read so far, let’s remember some details: Tobit has sent his son Tobias on this mission…. He has called him to marry one of his own… He has sent him with the archangel Raphael.

Or to put it a bit more plainly: A loving father sends his only beloved son, accompanied by a “holy spirit” to rescue a captive bride whose being tortured by this evil spirit bringing hopelessness and death.

We see in this narrative coming hundreds of years before Christ a prophetic metaphor of Jesus rescuing His “bride” – the Church. Just as Tobias defeats the demon, saves the bride and then takes her back to his Father’s house – that in a nutshell is the entire understanding of “the Incarnation” – the purpose of Jesus becoming man and what His mission is all about.

That is the fulfillment of our faith, hope and love: In the end – there will be just a wedding feast – no more funerals.

DAY 196: Isaiah 9-10; Tobit 10-12; Proverbs 10: 9-12

USELESS WORRYING

Not too long ago I saw a sign that said “Mother’s don’t sleep. They just worry with their eyes closed.” With apologies to my Mom, personal experience validates that there tends to be an element of truth to that Etsy-sign. Which came to mind as we picked up in Tobit after Tobias and Sarah’s wedding. Recognizing that there’s been an inexplicable reason for his son’s delay, Tobit starts going through a list of plausible reasons – while his wife, and more importantly, Tobias’ mother Anna immediately imagines another possible reason – he’s been killed. It seems even saying the words unleash grief and mourning for the poor mother.

But curiously, as we get to Chapter 11, what do we find? “Anna sat looking intently down the road for her son.” Even while she was in deep distress, she had not given up hope. The days of mourning and grief turn into the happiest of homecomings. Not only has Tobias returned, but he also brings home his wife, and is able to share the miraculous remedy to his father’s blindness.

In fairness to Mom – and Mother’s in general, worrying isn’t limited to just these beautiful women in this most sacred vocation. Speaking for myself, there’s been more times and experiences where “worry” has robbed my peace and caused undue stress and anxiety. Particularly as I overthink that worry.

In one of the Episodes of the Chosen this season, the writers had a storyline where the disciples are anxious about one of their own having gone missing. At the height of the drama, in the midst of a discussion about this, they had another Mom (in this case, the Blessed Virgin Mary) offering wise counsel saying “You can’t fix anything by worrying about it.” What faith is meant to do for us is to recognize God’s presence no matter what the situation, or the outcome. So whether one receives miraculous healing (or through the miracle of God’s given science); or doesn’t and that results in continued suffering, or even in the death of someone we love – Faith teaches us God is in the midst of all of that. Whether He brings about that healing or is able to use that suffering to transforms us and those around us; or ultimately, bringing us to Himself. He is with us – all that worry does is cause us to doubt and forget what scriptures continue to remind us over and over again: God loves us.

May that reminded cause us to join in Tobit’s praise this day:
Blessed be God,
and blessed be His great name,
and blessed be all His holy angels.
May His Holy Name be blessed throughout all the ages!” (Tobit 11: 14)

DAY 197: Isaiah 11-13; Tobit 13-14; Proverbs 10: 13-16

ANSWERED PRAYERS

Remember early in the book of Tobit, when all went badly for him. What was his prayer? He prayed for death. His faithfulness to God and His commandments had made him an enemy in the world to the point that he and his family were exiled. They couldn’t even continue the essential duty of going to Jerusalem to the temple. Yet Tobit continued to remain faithful and after an unfortunate bird-poop incident is left blind. Things were going bad to worse, it felt like evil was on the march, Tobit didn’t want to give in to the peer pressure and simply abandon God and His commands. Scripture doesn’t indicate that he was even tempted to consider that. And probably because Tobit knew how evil the hearts of the people had become which had resulted in a cycle of violence and further apostasy, and being a faithful Jew, he probably knew that things were going to get immensely worse before they would ever get better – most likely not in his lifetime. So it wasn’t a suicidal prayer. It was more a cry – a plea – that the God who remained faithful would hear the prayers of his faithful one – and spare him from any further sorrow or sadness.

It’s good to remember that as we read and hear these closing chapters of this book of Tobit. Because God said “No” to that prayer. And 50 some odd years later, while the world still is a mess – and are going to get worse – Tobit has experienced some miraculous wonders that he never anticipated or expected. Which causes him to spend these closing chapters exalting God – blessing His Holy Name – testifying to His faithfulness to those who remain faithful – is able to work wonders and shower down blessings unimaginable – even in the land of captivity (13: 6)

No doubt, Tobit can look in hindsight and “Thank God” for his “No” to that prayer 50 years earlier. Which is a great reflection as we end this time with him this week. What are the “No’s” we’re thankful for in hindsight – and can we let that lead us to greater faith and trust now to whatever intentions our on our heart?

 

DAY 198: Isaiah 14-15; Joel 1-2; Proverbs 10: 17-20

DAY OF THE LORD

Today, we begin a very short read – the Book of the prophet Joel. For Catholic ears, we might remember hearing the words in the second chapter that greet us every year on Ash Wednesday with the pronouncement to “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning” and the beautiful call to “tear your hearts and not your garments.” (2:11) Which seems perfectly suited for the start of the season of Lent. But in terms of the Bible, this short book is somewhat mysterious.

First of all, scholars can’t quite pin the time it was written. Some have it as long as 900 BC and others 500. To us all of that probably seems ancient history, but in biblical scholarship that’s a pretty wide window. The reason it’s hard to figure out is that Joel doesn’t really give a lot of specifics that tie a certain King’s reign or events that would give a narrower time frame.

Even more urgently there’s this prediction of the “Day of the Lord” coming – a day of judgment which seems devastating to the lands of Judah. In this it sounds more apocalyptic then some of the other prophets we’ve encountered so far. We hear of darkness covering Jerusalem with eart quakes and darkening of the sun. We can see this prophesying about the Babylonian exile… we can see it also as Jesus’ crucifixion which the Gospels recount Good Friday with similar imagery. But equally is the promise of “restoration” that will come. The Church has seen the Day of the Lord as the end of these earthly kingdoms and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God. St. Peter will cite Joel in the Acts of the Apostles as being fulfilled with Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The “restoration of Israel” and the “12 tribes” meaning the 12 apostles beginning their missionary activity to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world.

All of that is good background information about this “minor Prophet.” But as the Word of God is shared with us today, Joel’s voice calls out to us and our world. As chapter 2 is proclaimed, the prophet notes that sin (which has since Eden constantly caused havoc) has left the world longing for God. But similarly, when one turns away from sin and turns back to the Lord, that equally has an affect on the whole of creation.

As we await the day of the Lord, may we anticipate that by revisiting that constant need to “return… tear our hearts” away from the things of this world and more completely on Him.

DAY 199: Isaiah 16-17; Joel 3; Proverbs 10: 21-24

JUDGMENT

It’s amazing how popular “court” television shows remain. Growing up I remember “The People’s Court” with Judge Wapner with his bailiff Rusty being on every afternoon. Decades later there’s a new judge on that program, but kind of pales in comparison with shows even more popular like Judge Judy, who’s had her program for something like 25 years. People are drawn to see “judgment” where a victim has their wrongs somehow addressed. For their to be restitution or punishment. Yet despite Judge Judy’s over the top antics where she seems to take each offense as something that was personally done to her – in none of those cases, that is the reality. You don’t have a judge who is in authority over a case who is personally involved in any way. Legally, our system wouldn’t allow that noting it’s a “conflict of interest.”

That comes to mind reading the Prophet Joel today. Because as we read of the “Judgment of Nations” we have to recognize how God is personally involved. He is the ultimate authority. He is the one who has been wronged with every insult, injury, wrong that one person does to another. There is no “private” sin or personal sin. We can forget that with our perceptions of courts and judges. There are no arguments will be able to manipulate this judge. There’s no clever “if the gloves don’t fit you must acquit” defense. God who sees and knows all, knows the truth – and sees the heart. That can be terrifying or comforting – which all depends upon whether we will heed the prophets warnings and “rend our hearts” and will determine whether the “Day of the Lord” is an experience of final punishment or Divine Mercy.

DAY 200: Isaiah 18-19; Nahum 1-2; Proverbs10: 25-28

REAR-VIEW MIRROR

Today we begin another minor prophet, whose name Nahum means “comfort.” Which as we’ve seen, if you’re going to be hearing from a prophet, you’d most certainly want one speaking words of comfort. So in this short book, we’ll hear Nahum speaking less about the deserved chastisements Israel was suffering for their sinfulness and more about God’s affirmation and guidance throughout their history.

As Father Mike has pointed out, the prophets often are speaking words of an immediate importance and then it has a dual purpose that transcends those historic contexts to speak deeper truths. Nahum is interesting in that he’s taking a different approach. Rather than warning people about what they were doing wrong, predictions of punishment – Nahum uses the fall of one of Israel’s enemies, Nineveh, collapsing as a sign of God’s reward. He’s saying “we’re on the right path! God is blessing our good efforts – see our enemies are being vanquished.”

It’s a challenging read because if we’re not careful, then any bad thing happening to “our enemies” could be interpreted as God acting on our behalf. So the boss you hate who treats you and your coworkers terribly getting a divorce – people could mistakenly read that in a Nahum-like fashion as how God is getting even for us, and even celebrating this misfortune. That would be the wrong lesson to learn from this prophet.

Rather the focus should be on that verse we learn early on: “The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Nahum 1:3) Israel/Judah has experienced that in their own lives. As they see this mighty enemy fall whose evil had intensified since the last time we heard about them (remember the prophet Jonah!) They recognize that there is a time when God’s patience runs out and justice is necessary. Nahum hopes that his fellow Jews will remember that and not turn away from the Lord ever again.

DAY 201: Isaiah 21-22; Nahum 3; Proverbs 10: 29-32

NAHUM REVISITED

Reading the comments and some private messages about yesterday’s start to Nahum made me think that maybe I didn’t make things as clear as possible for everyone. For such a small book, it’s interesting how it definitely made a bigger ripple than I initially thought it would. So let me see if giving it a second shot helps explain things a bit better:

Assyria (with its capital Nineveh) was an empire that basically had the world terrorized. Think of it like China and ISIS combined… they were doing terrible things to their own people, they seemed unstoppable and dominating everywhere you looked. People, including God’s people, were in a sense immobilized in fear by this looming threat and could not imagine a world where this scourge would be no more. Nahum’s job was to point out to them with this “too big to fail” empire’s collapse, how God had done what seemed impossible.

One commentator (Eugene Patterson) was able to summarize things a bit more succinctly. He explained that it’s easy to read Nahum as this “Nineveh-hater” – but you can’t miss that he points out Israel’s sins and denounces them just as equally as those of Nineveh. “The effect of Nahum is not to foment religious hate against the enemy but to say, ‘don’t admire or be intimidated by this enemy. They are going to be judged by the very same standards that apply to us.”

DAY 202: Isaiah 23-24; Habakkuk 1-2; Proverbs 11: 1-4
FOR THOSE PUZZLED BY GOD
Have you ever wondered why things don’t go well when you’re being faithful to God? That you’re not somewhat or somehow protected from evildoers doing evil things? Most likely, we can all recognize times and seasons in our lives where that’s been the case (or perhaps is the case right now). To that, today we’re introduced to a prophet who might become a favorite for those who are plagued by those types of thoughts or questions.

Habakkuk is one of the most unique prophetic books in that we’re used to having prophets speaking God’s words to the people. What we see right from the outset, Habakkuk seems to be doing the reverse: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence” and you will not save? (1: 2) Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God? (1:12)

As the Great Adventure Bible commentary puts it: “Habakkuk…asks God to explain his thought: why does he punish his erring people by a nation more wicked than itself? Why does wickedness seem to triumph?”

But as he asks the question on everyone’s minds and hearts, what’s essential is that he waits and listens to God’s responses. So as you listen or read this book, you almost have to identify the back and forth. In chapter 1 you have
Habakkuk complaining from v 1-4; and then
God responding v5-11;
Habakkuk responding v12 – 2: 1; then
God’s response back the rest of Chapter 2.

Habakkuk is a welcome prophetic friend in speaking for us. May he be one we find worthy of imitating in waiting and listening to God’s responses.

DAY 203: Isaiah 25-27; Habakkuk 3; Proverbs 11: 5-8

BAD THINGS HAPPEN
MISERY IS A CHOICE

A few years ago I stumbled upon that “truism.” That bad breaks, painful experiences, hurtful situations are sadly a part of life – dwelling on them, constantly reliving them, being miserable – that’s a choice. It’s one of those sayings that I try to keep nearby, because no matter how many times we recognize the validity of the statement, it’s something we encounter over and over again and are confronted with that “choice.”

That came to mind as we close out this two day encounter with the Prophet Habakkuk. As we heard yesterday, quite astonishingly to the remnant of Jews in Judah (and the prophet himself) God was allowing the Babylonians to finish decimating what was left of their kingdom. After the protests that this wasn’t right, this wasn’t fair – God basically pointed out that He was respecting the people’s wants and decisions. It was they who had turned away from Him. The spiritual and moral decay was what caused God to remove his final hedge of protection. That is what is right and fair and in fact just.

As Habakkuk reflects on that and sees what’s about to befall, he itemizes a list that sounds like a bad country song
I hear and my body trembles
my lips quiver at the sound
rottenness enters into my bones
you can just hear the guitar riffs in the background, can’t you? But then at the end of this lengthy list of woes, there’s a key change: Yet – I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation…

Habakkuk reminds us that when bad things befall us – whether through our own fault, the faults of another, or even in those instances where we really have no idea why it’s happening – we face an important choice: To sink into further despair, or choose to lean into faith and say “Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord…”

 

 

DAY 204: Isaiah 28-29; Zephaniah 1-2; Proverbs 11: 9-12

COVER

When a musician sings a song that was made famous previously it’s often called a “cover.” The voice will be different, there might be a different instrumental background or orchestration – perhaps the speed is slowed down or increased… but the basic melody, the lyrics will all be the same.

We almost have to look at the prophets as “covering” a similar song. There are going to obviously be repetitions that we encounter. Zephaniah is speaking to the people of Judah around 640 – 610 BC. We hear him referencing the “Day of the Lord” which is a judgment on the people’s sinfulness – which will then be followed by a restoration. He is speaking to the Southern Kingdom of Judah (the two tribes) which had been the more faithful of the divided kingdoms. But now, after the reign of King Manasseh’s reign, there was godlessness, sinfulness to the core of the Kingdom. The people had turned their backs on God in their worship and in their daily personal lives. Zephaniah’s name itself means “the Lord hides.” Coming from a line of prophets, there was obvious intentionality in him being named that. Could it be that the righteous would be spared from the coming destruction or is it a faith-filled hope of his parents that as the world around them at the time was filled with darkness or sin that their son would be hidden from that?

While Zephaniah sings a sadly familiar song, he sings it with a unique intensity and hope. If we open ourselves to hearing this “prophetic cover”, we will encounter a God who does not want to hide from us at all, but rather desperately longs to meet us.

DAY 205: Isaiah 30-31; Zephaniah 3; Proverbs 11: 13-16\

AFTER THE STORM

One of the beautiful things that we’ve seen and unpacked together now for over 200 days (!!! Praise God for that everyone!!!) – is a better appreciation for the fullness of scripture. Case in point is today’s reading from Zephaniah. If you were to do a google search or look on etsy for something based on this book from scripture, most likely you’d find something citing Zephaniah 3: 17:

The Lord, your God is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will renew you in His love;
He will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.

It’s understandable that this is so popular – it is one of those precious and exquisitely beautiful verses that is incredibly comforting and assuring to great numbers of peoples. The verse itself as scripture can be used to speak God’s word to people going through a trial. That’s why we talk about scripture as being “the Word of God being alive and active” (Hebrews 4: 12). So it’s great that people can share that quote in itself to people and that it would speak to them on a personal level of comfort.

But for us who’ve been studying, praying and reflecting on all of this, we know the whole context of this passage. This comes after some really hard and difficult words that the prophet was speaking to the people. Calling for conversion of heart, calling for radical changes in their lives of worship and daily lives… pointing out the path of destruction they were on.

More than trying to end on a positive note, Zephaniah reveals that even when the Lord is angry at humanity – even at us – that doesn’t mean he ever ceases to love us. We need to remember that. Too often we think in very human terms and can imagine that if God is angry, He doesn’t want to see me – that I can’t go to Him. That’s a lie from the evil one. That’s something we learned back in January when we were dealing with Genesis and Adam and Eve. It was bad that they had eaten the fruit, it was worse that they tried to hide from God and didn’t take any responsibility for it. Because all of those things combined equaled a fundamental lack of trust in God and His goodness and His love for humanity.

If God were that easily worn out, He would have ceased to send prophets. He would have stopped offering second, third, 70 times 7 chances. Yes there’s truth, and judgment… but there’s mercy. Lean into that. Especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve made it to confession. Jesus is anxious for you to experience His loving embrace and freeing you of your sins. If you’re anxious, just pray with those words again imagining that the Lord is speaking them to you – “I’m in YOUR midst… a warrior who gives YOU victory….I will rejoice over YOU with Gladnesss. I will renew YOU in My Love.”

DAY 206: Isaiah 32-33; Baruch 1-2; Proverbs 11: 17-20

THE PEOPLE RESPOND

The Book of Baruch is unique in that we have an assortment of prayers, poems, letters – that had multiple authors pieced together in a single book. So it’s possible that Baruch was an honorary author attributed to this work since he was an assistant and close confidant of the prophet Jeremiah. The “editor(s)” who complied this book recognized the value of these fragments and decided to include it into a single book, realizing that if not, they might be lost forever.

Which is a true gift that helps add more colors and insights from this period of time of exile. After we’ve heard so much of the failings of the people, in Baruch (particularly as we start today) we will hear from the community – with prayers of penance, searching for God’s wisdom… laments about how they have fallen so far. Having heard solely from the prophets for a while, this is a welcome reminder that some of the people experienced feelings of remorse.

Baruch speaks not just of those failings though, but composes prayers that address their situation which are incredibly frank and honest – which is something we’ve probably not really encountered in the Old Testament so far. It’s a heartfelt confession, which the Lord had been desiring over and over through the prophets which we begin to finally see and hear “from Baruch.”

DAY 207: Isaiah 34-35; Baruch 3-4; Proverbs 11: 21-24

HANG IN THERE

Hopefully this second day travelling with Baruch, you’re like me, finding yourself grateful that these “left-overs” of poems, letters and words were compiled into a single book and not discarded.

In these two chapters today, the tone shifts from yesterday’s basically recounting why the people were suffering to these chapters that are mix of wisdom and prophecy. You can hear and see Messianic expectations which is one of the reasons Christians (up until 500 years ago) universally revered this as a part of Sacred Scripture. At the same time, you can imagine to people suffering in exile, filled with guilt and shame at their predicament how consoling some of these verses must have been:
Take courage and cry to God, for you will be remembered by Him who brought this upon you…
Take courage O Jerusalem, for He who named you will comfort you. (Baruch 4: 27, 30)

There’s a beauty and an intimacy about these words which for people feeling isolated and distant from God had to have been most welcome. There’s a recollection of who God is and a recognition that when the people take these words to heart, and return with their hearts, this impossibly dire situation will be redeemed – they will experience salvation.

Bookmark these chapters the next time you’re weighed down by sin and guilt and the devil tries to manipulate those things to make you feel defeatist. As Pope Franics so beautifully said, “God never tires of forgiving, it’s we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”

DAY 208: Isaiah 36-37; Baruch 5-6; Proverbs 11: 25-28

LETTER OF JEREMIAH

For those who are following along with different bible translations, it’s possible that you don’t have Chapter 6 of Baruch (well you might not have Baruch at all!) But in some cases, Chapter 6 is it’s own separate “book” and it’s listed as “The Letter of Jeremiah” (Kind of like the New Testament letters from the Saints that are included as separate “books”) Which goes back to what I explained on Day 206 about this being a bit of Baruch being a collection of “left overs.”

In any event, it does read as something that kind of stands alone in it’s own right. By now we’re well aware of how idols are evil, they are considered as hurtful to humanity’s relationship to God as adultery is to a husband and a wife. So when we hear that the subject of Jeremiah’s writing is on the topic of idolatry it might generate a “been there done that” kind of reaction.

But Jeremiah approaches this in almost a pastoral approach rather than a straight-out condemnation type of response we’re kind of used to from the prophets. He systematically takes idols apart using logic – showing the fact that these idols are creations themselves proves they hold no power or authority. There’s no reason to worship these things – nor to fear them.

We might kind of shake our heads thinking “yeah, we know all this” but think about how so many minor superstitions seep into our daily lives and actions: People who don’t step on cracks, walk under ladders, freak out at breaking a mirror. Silly kind of examples to be sure, but every time we give voice to that, we’re contributing to these idolatrous behaviors and attitudes – often without even thinking about it. Those examples came to mind in verse 17 when Jeremiah talks about a broken dish. Who knew that these types of supersitions have been going on for thousands of years… or that they could be considered idols… or evil themselves.

But now we can’t say we didn’t know 🙂

DAY 209: Isaiah 38-38; Ezekiel 1 Proverbs 11: 29-31

THE FINE PRINT

Today we begin our time with the Prophet Ezekiel, one of the Major Prophets from the Old Testament, writing starting around 600 BC. Ezekiel is writing from a place of Exile in Babylon. So the kingdom has “fallen” – but things are going to go from bad to worse.

The most sacred place on earth for the Jewish people was the Temple. Granted, they hadn’t been treating it with the awe and reverence they were supposed to have for the place in which God had promised to Solomon, His presence would remain their forever. The people heard that headline, but forgot the fine print. Well actually it wasn’t fine print. It was bold and italicized and underlined, but they treated it like fine print:

That they remain faithful.

Yet they not only had given into deep sin, false worship, and brought in idols into this most sacred of places. Even in the midst of their exile, they had not humbled themselves and turned back. Was it that they didn’t believe God would ever leave the temple? Or did they not care?

One things for sure, God still cares. Which is why He comes to Ezekiel and calls him into service. While the warnings through Ezekiel will go unheeded prior to the fall of the temple, his ministry will continue after that. In that we hear the first notes of God’s great victory of “resurrection” and restoration which will start with a New Temple, and find its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus’ Resurrection. But now I’m getting ahead of myself and we have a ways to go!

In the introductory chapter that we hear from today, we learn of Ezekiel’s call. A spectacular vision from the Lord. As we can imagine, this vision changes the entire trajectory of his life. Not unlike what the Lord is doing for us as we continue our biblical pilgrimage. DAY 210: Isaiah 41-42 ; Ezekiel 2-3; Proverbs 12: 1-4

STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

The other day I was catching up with a childhood friend who now has kids in college. As he was giving the updates, we got to the one son who has given my friend and his wife a run for their money (literally and figuratively) for their entire life. From smashing the neighbors inexplicably expensive glass window as a 7 year old practicing baseball(it was remarkable for demonstrating his strength as well as his ability to find the one place in the neighborhood that would be most costly to land) to a litany of costly mistakes (some accidental, others, not) through his 4, now turning into 5 years in college – he’s been, well, let’s say challenging to my friends. More so than their other kids. (I think the exact tally was something like “he’s cost triple what the others have combined).

But what I’ve always appreciated is that he might share some frustration or disappointment about the sons state of affairs – he always adds “what can I do he’s my son… he can look at me and I can’t stay angry at him, as much as I try.”

That came to mind not only with today’s readings but by divine providence, our Daily Mass readings this week has the first reading coming from Exodus. Either Monday or Tuesday featured Moses returning from Mt Sinai with the Ten Commandments only to find the people had gotten impatient waiting for his return and creating their own gods. In the chaos and sadness of the episode, God calls the people “stiff-necked.”

Fast forward some centuries to this chapter of Ezekiel. He’s just received his prophetic call and mandate. And in today’s reading from Chapter 2, we hear God referring to the people “imprudent and stubborn… rebellious” (v.4- 5)

While those aren’t the descriptors one would want to imagine a parent has for their children, my friend’s experience makes me think that there is something very Fatherly about it all. He sees and knows these different missteps, to outright turning their backs on Him, yet His love for His children, He can’t stay angry at them… Whether it was giving Moses another set of the commandments, or in Ezekiel’s case, seeing his people in exile and coming to Ezekiel and giving him a word of prophecy (that he knows they will reject) – He still sends these messengers to reach his children’s hearts, who are still crazy after all these years.

DAY 211: Isaiah 43-44; Ezekiel 4-5; Proverbs 12: 5- 8

GOT YOUR ATTENTION?

So Fr. Mike explained yesterday in his podcast that things are going to get interesting…very interesting in Ezekiel. This prophet is going to proclaim God’s word to them, not in words but as a mime for 430 days. He’s to draw a picture of Jerusalem and for 390 days lie next to it on his left side and then the last 40 days on the right (next Lent when we think those 40 days of fasting, prayer and almsgiving are tough, we might want to open up to this chapter again!) An iron plate was to be placed between the drawing and Ezekiel’s face. Each day was representative of a year of judgment on God’s people. The skillet symbolized the separation that existed between God and His people because they had turned away from Him by their sinfulness. (The 390 days on the left was to represent the guilt of the “Northern Kingdom” of Israel and the 40 days on the right to represent the guilt of the “Southern Kingdom of Judah)

You would think that for people living in exile, they might have surmised by now that God was serious about sins, especially those which broke the covenant… But it seems that even with repeated prophetic warnings and the reality of their daily lives and existence, that hasn’t been the case. Even more, you have to wonder what this experience had to have been for the prophet. For most prophets, they are charged with difficult words to proclaim to the people and have an immediate reaction. Maybe they repent… Maybe they ignore… Maybe they rebel even further. But we don’t really get a sense how they took this public display for a year and a couple of months. Nor how Ezekiel felt doing this day in and day out. But for sure, the Lord’s words to Ezekiel would ring true: “whether they hear or refuse to hear… they will know that there has been a prophet among them” (2: 5)

May we be attentive to the prophetic voices in our day and age that call us out of our comfort and to be counter-cultural in recognizing how are we responding to God’s Law in an increasingly secular world.

DAY 212: Isaiah 45-46; Ezekiel 6-7; Proverbs 12: 9-12

GOD’S HEART

Too often when we hear the scriptures proclaimed to us, the precise thing God doesn’t want to happen is what happens. That we distance ourselves. Treat these words as inspirational things or stories from the past to learn from. It’s the constant temptation that humanity succumbs to over and over from Genesis all the way to the present day.

It’s why we’ve seen how people have responded to the prophets. Treating them like the killjoy to the wild and reckless hearts wanderings. But reading chapters 6 & 7, the image of a prophet being like a good friend, an accountability partner, someone who loves you enough to tell you when you’ve become a screw-up, are surrounded by people who are happy to go along with that (because they are screw-ups themselves) and can sit you down and try to talk sense to you to say you’re going to lose your job, your spouse, your life because of your recklessness.

In chapter 6, God reveals what the sins of His people have done to Him: I have been broken by their wanton heart which has departed from me (v 9) Because God is all knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful – we kind of imagine he’s immune to those types of deep emotions. But in order for Him to be all-loving, that means He opens Himself and allows Himself to be vulnerable – to be hurt by us (and if we forget that, that’s why we have a crucifix in our churches). Too often the prophet’s words can sound like doom and gloom to us (which, to be fair, they oftentimes are!) But our friend Ezekiel kind of sobers us up as to why. God has remained faithful, and extravagantly generous in offering His precious heart to us. May we desire never to break it in being wanton, departing ourselves from Him

DAY 213: Isaiah 47-48; Ezekiel 8-9; Proverbs 12: 13-16

IDOLS AND WRATH

For most of our time through the Old Testament, when we’ve discussed and encountered the idea of “idols” we often heard them as an item, a thing that was tied to a false, pagan god… or something that was made into a god itself (like the golden calf back in Exodus). Ezekiel 8 and 9 are tough chapters to be sure as we hear of God’s punishment on seemingly everything but a small remnant.

What’s interesting though is that in Chapter 8 we hear of “idols” not simply of stone, items clearly labeled such or dedicated to a pagan that by its nature we would steer clear of (doubt anyone here would be checking out anything associated with “baal”)

Ezekiel has a vision where he sees 4 idols that God’s chosen people have fallen for though that resonate in our day and age: Jealousy, Self-indulgence, Self-sufficiency, and False Spirituality.
God shows Ezekiel that the people have fallen for Jealousy in 8:5. In chapter 8: 7-13 – as we hear of these images that are adorning the walls of the homes of Israel with people “incensing” them – meaning they were worshiping things that gave the people pleasure – taking something that was not necessarily bad or evil but creating an idol of “self-indulgence.” Self-sufficiency (might sound strange to find for people in exile!) But we find that in chapter 8: 14-15 as “women weeping for Tammuz” Tammuz was a Babylonian god that promised fertility. The people of God knew what they needed to do and where to go: rather than recognizing their sin which had brought them to exile, they doubled down in rejecting God and mourning a false god for not taking care of them at that moment. And finally, False spirituality is the final idol in 8:16. These individuals are clearly worshiping the sun. They are worshiping part of creation rather than the creator who made the sun, the moon, the stars, and everything else in this vast universe including those worshiping the sun and us.

The difference is that for God’s chosen people, they had convinced themselves that being in exile, they were so far removed from the Lord that it didn’t matter what they did or didn’t do. So it wasn’t just the sins in themselves but that hardness of heart that emboldened them to become comfortable and embrace Jealousy, Self-indulgence, Self-sufficiency, and false spirituality.

It’s good to remember that in Jesus Christ, God has come to seek the lost. In His new covenant, we have received forgiveness for our sins. That doesn’t make these (or any other) sins any less “sinful” than they were in Ezekiel’s time. But hopefully, we’re more mindful of the need for constant conversion, to heed the calls of repentance, and to trust in God’s and His great mercy alone.

 

DAY 214: Isaiah 49-50; Ezekiel 10-11; Proverbs 12: 17-20

GOD HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

Of all the disturbing things that we’ve encountered in our travels so far in our Bible in a Year Pilgrimage – and there’s been a lot of them – this passage from Ezekiel strikes me as some of the hardest to encounter. Ezekiel’s vision in chapter 11 vs. 18- 20 where we read this vision of God’s leaving the temple. What had been the holiest place on earth, that the 12 tribes at one time had made pilgrimage to every year had become empty. Simply because the people had abandoned the Lord. He had made himself that available to them, accessible and close to them that had distinguished them as “a Chosen People.” Yet whether it was their lukewarmness and indifference, or there wanting to fit in with everyone else, abandoning the Lord God of all creation for the idols and false gods of other nations – this attitude and reaction had defiled this holy place. So we read God leaving the temple.

It’s devastating to read that. And that is a good thing. The fact that we recognize the emptiness and the tragic consequences of this demonstrates our reverence, our reliance, our love for God. The “good news” is that God will abandon this building, but not His people. He will search out the faithful remnant and find new ways to dwell among them. Another holy man, St. John, some centuries later, from a vision will hear the Lord say “Behold I make all things new” (the Book of Revelation 21: 5). As Catholic Christians, we not only encounter God’s presence in every tabernacle that reserves Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist – we are invited, strike that, we are commanded to take and eat it… God will make His home not just in physical spaces but within the “temples” that we were dedicated as in our Baptisms. And Jesus tells us not just to recognize the importance of these “places” – but then to have an even more radical vision and to see His presence in the poor, the sick, the homeless, the imprisoned… to look for the vulnerable, to care for them – and there we encounter God.

God has left the building… but hasn’t left humanity. Which we give thanks for… while recognizing how the stakes have vastly increased as so much has been entrusted to us.

DAY 215: Isaiah 51-52; Ezekiel 12-13; Proverbs 12: 21-24

TOO BAD TO BE TRUE

During the summer months with our students not on campus, I’m usually able to get a chance to do more reading than during the semester, so on our livestream the other night I went through a list of books that I’ve been reading through the summer. One that I’m reading through right now is offering some constructive criticism of the Catholic Church that’s giving a lot of food for thought. (because I’m early into it, I’m reticent to recommend, so I’ll refrain from sharing the title for now)

Navigating these 215 days with all of you, I’m mindful of how some of these books, passages and verses have come across as surprising, shocking at times. And part of the reason? Is because so many of us have failed to accurately teach and preach the truth of scripture. The author makes this point as he shares that far too many edit the Word of God on the basis of “psychological difficulty” of the congregations, the people, especially as it conflicts with current modern mentality or cultural presuppositions. He argues that leads many to treat scriptures as: food for thought; meditation material; an opinion among many; outdated myths; can’t take it literally; needs to be adjusted to fit the times, boring, not applicable in light of modern knowledge…

That chapter came to mind as we hear Ezekiel’s prophecy today. Chapter 12 has the word of the Lord saying to him: you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear but hear not.

God was speaking over and over and over to His people who were ignoring and ignoring and ignoring Him. There kingdom had already been attack… thousands had already been exiled and enslaved (once again). In spite of that, Jerusalem had remained somewhat unharmed. The people simply believed that everything would work out, that Jerusalem would never fall and that they would be returning at some point soon. Despite the fact that Ezekiel (along with Jeremiah) had been warning and warning and warning them that they had not repented, had not turned back to the Lord and instead were growing more and more hardened, obstinate – choosing to believe false prophets telling them what they wanted to hear rather than the truth.

The Good News? – Praise God you’re here. You’re opening yourself to some of these challenging chapters and encountering scripture in a way that few in our day and age have. Too many will dismiss this as “fire and brimstone” as they argue away from different vantage points the difficult passages and try to skip ahead to the more pleasant verses. But when we do that, we undermine the beauty of the message of scripture. How can words like God desperately wanting to save His people resonate if we have this false sense of security that we don’t have anything to be saved from?

God’s greatest risk was and is free will. He has equipped humanity with brains, with opportunities to encounter Him and invites us to choose – either Him or something else. As a loving Father, He urgently wants us to believe, repent and to be saved.

May you and I who are continuing this pilgrimage continue to keep eyes and ears open.

DAY 216: Isaiah 53-54; Ezekiel 14-15; Proverbs 12: 25-28

BARRENNESS AND FRUITFULNESS

A commentator made this observation – God was willing to spare Sodom if they found 10 righteous people there, but when a group of elders approach the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 14 asking if the same would be true here, 4 times God says “no” – with the remarkable line “even if these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job were in it.” What made this so much worse?

I think the root of the problem with these elders is the phoniness of their hearts. They weren’t there with remorse or shame or guilt. They weren’t looking to repent and to beg God for mercy. How many times have we encountered people repenting which while still may have resulted in punishment, but God was merciful. There three seem content with the idols in their hearts. They just didn’t like this “bad news” from Ezekiel. It was kind of like he was a “wet blanket.” Which is funny in itself. Lest we forget they were living in exile!

But the idols in their hearts, the phoniness on their lips reveals how God’s beloved vine had become completely barren. There were no signs of life. Imagery aside, they had gotten so comfortable with the sin in their heart, practicing those sinful ways in their lives that there was not even an inkling of conversion. It’s somewhat breathtaking to see these “elders” actually going to God’s prophet – meaning there was some element of recognition, but not the slightest humility in thinking “We have to change… I have to change…” In a sense they validated God’s judgment.

God is always ready, willing and able to forgive. But that at a minimum requires the acknowledgment of the need for it.

DAY 217: Isaiah 55-56; Ezekiel 16; Proverbs 13: 1-4
DEAR JERUSALEM
A “Dear John” or “Dear Jane” letter is where the man or woman writes their romantic partner to tell them the relationship is over. “Dear John – by the time you read this letter I’ll be gone…” As we’ve found Ezekiel is one of the more dramatic prophets we’ve encountered in the Old Testament (which is saying a lot!) And in today’s reading of Chapter 16, we encounter the longest chapter of this book which brought that “Dear John” idiom to mind.
The language and imagery are heartbreakingly beautiful where you have this picture and image of a woman being pursued by a man – who longed for her with the purest and noblest of intentions, desired only the best for her, and entered into marriage, into covenant with her. But sadly the bride has been unfaithful. That one line just crushed me: “how lovesick is your heart, says the Lord God, seeing you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot.” (16:30)
As we hear the sadness of a spouse betrayed, while we would expect to hear the scorned one saying goodbye for good reason, this “Dear John” letter takes an unexpected turn. God can’t give up on His beloved. Despite having all the reasons to do so, the history repeating itself of infidelity upon infidelity, His hope remains that somehow there will be a reconciliation, a renewal of the covenant. Such that even painful chapters from the past aren’t just dismissed and forgotten about as the couple starts “fresh”, God wants even those failures can be redeemed: “I will restore their fortunes, both the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters…” That’s how unbreakable the covenant is to God. Despite how it has been broken, despite how broken we are – the Lord God will remain faithful: “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that Ia m the Lord that you may remember and be confounded and never open your mouth again because of your shame when I forgive you all that you have done…” (16: 62-63)
That is indeed very good news.

DAY 218: Isaiah 57-58; Ezekiel 17-18; Proverbs 13: 5-8

YOU’RE NOT MADE FOR EXILE

Hearing these somewhat ominous prophecies can sometimes have the opposite of their intended effect. We hear what some describe as a riddle or a parable about eagles and vines. The first eagle breaks off a shoot of an enormous cedar tree to a “land of trade and city of merchants. ” That eagle then takes a seed and plants it in fertile soil where it sprouts as a “low-spreading vine,” rooted and fixed in that soil (Ezekiel 17:3-6). Then another eagle sees that the spreading vine of the first eagle has turned toward him. It has, in fact, been transplanted into “good soil by abundant waters,” where the second eagle hopes it becomes a “noble vine,” bearing much fruit (Ezekiel 17:7-8). God then asks a devastating question: Will the vine thrive? (V. 9) The answer is equally devastating – No… The vine will be pulled by its roots, the fruits will rot and whither, the transplanted vine is doomed.

The Lord is dramatically assessing the state of affairs. The people in exile had entered into promises, made oaths with these members of false religions. But the exiled made that promise by the Lord God. By their swearing to God, they were invoking His reality to a pagan world, so by being unfaithful to them, they not just lied to the pagan peoples, but testified against God himself. They were saying to these people they were not worried about dishonoring the Lord, that there wouldn’t be any consequences to it.

Was that because the people thought things were so bad, how could they get worse? Had the lukewarmness in their hearts grown to just coldness? Disbelief? Has all of God’s warning had the opposite effect – that the people are just feeling they’re so far gone, there’s no hope.

It’s obviously a dire situation that God takes seriously in having his prophet speak in such dramatic illustrations meant to engage their minds and hearts. Withered vines, cut off roots, rotten fruit – there’s not much hope for that. In the natural order of things.

But God meets them in that desolation reminding them “I the Lord bring low the high tree and make high the low tree… dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.” (V. 17: 22-24) He’s trying to break through there thick heads and stubborn spirits: You were not made for exile. This isn’t where you’re intended to be. As chosen people, you have a greater destiny than this. And he tells them the remedy is not impossible or surprising: “Repent and turn from all your transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (18: 31)

No one has to remain in exile, if they choose to listen to God’s voice and respond.

DAY 219: Isaiah 59-60; Ezekiel 19; Proverbs 13: 9-12

WHERE DOES OUR HELP COME FROM?

Ezekiel has some new parables from the Lord to deliver to His people that were directly related to their present trials. It starts with a Mamma lion who has cubs. The first baby lion grew to be a bad, ferocious lion that went on a murderous rampage until he was captured and taken to Egypt. Fearing he was lost forever, she makes another of her cubs into a violent and destructive lion, who is also captured and brought to Babylon.

Curiously, then we shift from animals to gardens. We hear of a flourishing grapevine with strong branches that suddenly is transplanted into the wilderness. The strong branches are broken off and destroyed. These images in short represent Jerusalem and the great grandsons of King David who became the various kings in Jerusalem.

It might seem like res-stating the obvious to the captives in Babylon. But God is trying to break through to the people who kept pinning their hopes on human leaders, temporal powers. They kept looking to different individuals as their hope to return to the glory they once knew.

But the point that transcends this particular historical moment any leader, nation, government, whatever human enterprise, without God, will always fail. Hard stop. And when the people make leaders their idols, when they are more focused on the things of this earth rather than eternity, they will find similar results to the cubs and vines.

Here in the US in recent decades, anytime someone mentions God it’s not long before someone else mistakenly cites “SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE” to shut down any conversation. Our founders had advocated for that to make sure that there was not an establishment of a particular Church, not to remove God, who they invoked in all of the essential documents of our independence and freedoms. They, as Christians who had deep appreciation for the Judeo-Christian traditions and were trying to form a nation in response to God’s Word understood this message from Ezekiel. To quote what we read earlier this week – may we have “eyes to see and ears to hear” this as well.

DAY 220: Isaiah 61-62; Ezekiel 20 ; Proverbs 13: 13-16

WHO’S PUTTING WHO TO THE TEST?

Buckle up before you open up Ezekiel today because God is running a little hot for sure!

The elders of Israel come to Ezekiel and say that they wanted to ask for guidance from God. God sees the hypocrisy in their hearts that they are not inquiring of the Lord, but trying to put Him to the test. So it’s like God is saying, you have some questions? Well, I have some questions first:

Was it not God who made a covenant with them in Egypt? Had He not saved them from Egypt? Didn’t God bring them into a promised land? Was it not the people who had not honored their part of the covenant by getting rid of the vile things they had become addicted to? Who was it that rebelled and wouldn’t listen to His word? Who held on to false gods despite having been chosen by the only true God? Who ignored the laws that were given to show how to live well, how to live in obedience and experience abundance? Who desecrated the Sabbath – and even when His anger was relented, still did not refrain from blaspheming against the Lord?

It’s a pretty devastating recounting of an abysmal record. Yet it’s necessary as we see that the elders are still self-blinding themselves and delusional. They continue to look at the other nations of the world and want to be like everyone else, putting their status as “chosen people” up for negotiation with the one who had called and chose them in the first place. It’s shocking how far the people had fallen.

It’s obvious they will need a savior to rescue them from the depths that they had sunken. As do all of us. One somewhat easy way for us to respond? Maybe we can honor the Sabbath today – try to resist the impulse to work and/or shop (even online). Aside from getting to Mass and making space for prayer, whenever that urge to “do something productive” pops up, reach out to a friend or family member – do something restful and nourishing to your soul and recognize how God wants to save us – even from ourselves.

DAY 221: Isaiah 63-64; Ezekiel 21-22 ; Proverbs 13: 17-20

GOD MAKES A WAY

As I mentioned in our monthly Facebook live discussion, because I’m writing these the day before, I try to anticipate what Fr Mike will cover in the podcast and try to cover something he might not have time for. So I know that he’s been doing a deep dive into Isaiah. But after so many days of heaviness from Ezekiel, I was tempted to shift to Isaiah for my daily reflection today. But I’m glad I didn’t give in to that temptation:

Just to remember the five tips Fr Mike gave us for this Bible in a Year Journey – #5 was to persevere through the rough patches… there will be rough patches but if we persevere, we will get to a place of clarity.

And that is borne out in today’s chapters. We continue to navigate dramatic imagery as we recount sinfulness and disobedience on the part of God’s people. Yet for the faithful remnant, and for us who are opening ourselves to God’s word, asking for His Holy Spirit to refashion us to have a biblical vision, there is a nugget of hope and beauty that we need to underline.

And you, o unhallowed wicked one, prince of Israel, whose day has come, the ime of your final punishment, thus says the Lord God: Remove the turban, and take off the crown; things shall not remain as they are; exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high. A ruin, ruin, ruin I will make it; there shall not be even a trace of it
— and wait for it, here’s the punch line:
until he comes whose right it is; and to him I will give it. – Ezekiel 21: 25-27

The People of Israel had wanted to be like every other kingdom on earth. Despite God’s warnings, they demanded a king. We who’ve journeyed now over 220 days know that story all too well. Despite the best efforts of the most righteous and the worst of examples from the most corrupt – they all had something in common: these men were weak, broken, and sinful. They all to various degrees had led the people into sin, into idolatry, into apostasy. God has decided that the throne of David will remain empty… until God Himself takes it. And rules it in the way that He has intended it to be ruled. In a way that will make the Chosen People, the “nation” the true light to all the nations – opening up His Kingdom for the peoples of all the world. That is fulfilled in Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.

So in the midst of this dire situation, God is reminding His people, He will continue to make a way to redeem, to save His people. That remains our hope – God promises to continue to in the midst of our brokenness and sinfulness make a way to redeem and save His people. That doesn’t mean we should keep making it a challenge for Him! But we can rejoice that despite how we sin and fall, He’s never done and finished with us.

We on the other side of this, who are incorporated into the Body of Christ,

DAY 222: Isaiah 65; Ezekiel 23-24 ; Proverbs 13: 21-25

INCREMENTAL STEPS

In some of the comments from the reflections for Sunday, it was moving to see and read how many people were taking to heart the idea of “Sabbath.” Recognizing how easy it’s been for so many to violate that commandment and somehow telling ourselves it’s not that big a deal. I’ll speak for myself on this. Being a priest, obviously offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (anywhere from 2 to 3 times on a Sunday and another time on Saturday Evening) it’s often a “busy” time. Because of that busyness, it’s been just as easy for me to run in real quick to a store on my way home from one Mass; or in between those Masses to take care of some chores I need to take care of, or before that last Mass to take care of some emails I didn’t get to all week. The more I recognized the more I was doing on Sundays, the more I was convicted that I was not honoring the Sabbath – and started to realize I had to bring that to confession and to start to change that. So I’ve been trying to be a bit more thoughtful and intentional on those things. Making sure I have meals planned out so I don’t have to run to the store; answering and attending to things that need to be done recognizing I won’t be able to do that on a Sunday. Even something simple like making sure the gas tank is above 1/4 of a tank on Saturday. I’m far from perfect, but it’s been amazingly helpful in recapturing the sense of Sabbath for me personally and just highlighted the difference for me of how I was treating the Sabbath before.

That came to mind in encountering Chapter 23 of Ezekiel where we hear the kingdoms of Judah and Israel described as adulterous sisters “lusting” after lovers. He’s describing how the people of Judah would be somewhat mesmerized by the Chaldeans, their warriors, their history, and the people of Israel were similarly enamored with the Babylonians.

The reality was their full-blown going into apostasy where they abandoned God for the worship of foreign false-gods didn’t just happen one day. It was incremental. A matter of degrees. Maybe there was admiration for someone or something that turned into envy and jealousy… Interest and curiosity into fascination and obsession. Before they knew it, they had just as easily abandoned another of the ten commandments as easily as I had in terms of “keeping the Sabbath.”

May each of us continue to let the Lord Jesus meet us wherever we are in our faith journeys. Maybe right now, you haven’t been to Sunday Mass in a long time and this is nudging on your heart to make that change. Maybe it’s been a really long time since you’ve made it to confession and there are some other commandments that you’re feeling anxious and guilty about. The Lord doesn’t want any of us to be far from Him. His loving mercy is pointing at these things because He loves us – and wants us to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors so we can experience the true interior freedom we’ve been given in being Baptized into Christ and becoming God’s beloved sons and daughters.

DAY 223: Isaiah 66; Ezekiel 25-26 ; Proverbs 14: 1-4:

NEVER-ENDING ENMITY

Chapter 25, we see the Lord giving Ezekiel prophecies against many of Israel’s enemies. Despite the fact that the people of God have invited the trouble in on themselves by their sinfulness, the image of God as a protective Father emerges. Yes He is upset with His children, but He’s not blind to the bullies taking advantage of His children in their fallen state – and these enemies will know that these are God’s people.

Interestingly though, God, who sees – who reads -who knows hearts, makes a distinction in vs. 15 when judging the Philistines. While all these different peoples have had different offenses and grievous acts against His people, the Philistines do so “with malice of heart to destroy in never-ending enmity.” There’s this perpetual hatred which they are hell-bent on continuing from one generation to the next which the Lord sees as a particularly troubling distortion. This animosity looked and exploited any opportunity that presented itself to cause further harm to God’s people.

There’s sadly no shortage of examples we can point to of “never-ending enmity” in our day and age. Whether on an international level between nations; domestically between political groups and alliances; even locally over an ever growing list of decisions that a couple of years ago would never have been thought of as controversial. We see the viciousness and havoc that arises from prejudices – whether they are racist or the result of more recent “wokeness.” On a more personal level, if we’re willing to probe our own hearts and be vulnerable, we know the damage this can do in our own hearts, our lives and relationships (The brother and sister who haven’t spoken in 2 decades, along with their kids and grandkids)

Whether it’s external or internal: we can feel hopeless in the face of never-ending enmity. Yet, the fact that the Lord specifically calls this out demands our attention. We know that nothing is impossible for Him – so the hopelessness we surrender to is tied to either a lack of faith or lack of surrendering these things to the Lord.

As we continue to open ourselves to being transformed by God’s word, having a biblical vision – may we take that next step and lean into His power and presence in bringing forgiveness and healing into those seemingly bleak and unmoving animosities we see, we experience, we harbor ourselves.

DAY 224: Jeremiah 1; Ezekiel 27; Proverbs 14: 5-8

DIFFERENT MESSENGERS, SAME MESSAGE:

Today we begin a new book of the Old Testament as we begin our walk with the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah comes on the scene almost a hundred years after Isaiah in the 7th Century before Christ. You’ll notice as we go through the book that we have these lengthy prophecies against a lot of prophecies followed by these narratives of those prophecies being fulfilled. So that’s what makes this book different than our walk with Isaiah. And unlike Ezekiel, Jeremiah is a very shy and sensitive man. He had desires for a quiet, simple life – wife, house with a picket fence 2.5 kids – but this call from the Lord God to serve as His prophet consumes Jeremiah. He remains faithful to his vocation and embraces celibacy so that he can stay single-minded and focused on all that the Lord is asking Him to do in His name.

Isn’t it kind of striking how different these prophets are from one another? The beauty of that should hopefully underline for us how God, who is unchanging, utilizes a wide assortment of characters to share His timeless eternal message to speak to every age and people. Through their quirks, language, style – listeners will react differently. You might have a preference for one prophet over another. Yet we will find God’s love for His creation and desire for relationship as the unifying message animating all of them.

We see that in a dramatic way in Ezekiel 27 today. Written as a lament, we hear the coming destruction of the city of Tyre. This was a major, fortified city – “too big too fail” of its time and era. That pride and arrogance is what leads to this downfall. It’s written in such mournful tones that we can hear God’s heaviness of heart that this city, this people have refused to listen to any warning. “For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God: so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18: 32)

Whichever prophets we might have a personal preference for, may we be humble and receptive to hear from each of them, recognizing how ultimately it is God’s word.

DAY 225: Jeremiah 2; Ezekiel 28; Proverbs 14: 9-12

PRIDE GOETH BEFORE A FALL

Excuse my jumping ahead in proverbs for today’s title (which comes from Proverbs 16: 18) – but it’s what comes to mind in this fascinating chapter of Ezekiel. The word of God coming through the prophet directed towards the King of Tyre seems to be speaking on two levels. Namely that you can see how the King parallels with Lucifer who became Satan in the verses of lamentation (one for example that seems more directed towards Satan than the King of Tyre – “you were in Eden” for the King of Tyre that was probably meant in a symbolic way or on a spiritual level)

There’s a lot of deep theological discussion on this chapter because of the dual meanings, but for our purposes, we see the root of the fall for the King of Tyre is the same as it was for Lucifer and results in both of them being “Satanic.” Their pride. We see them claiming their beauty as something of their own rather than a gift of God (your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor (v 17) We can read the arrogance and corruption that ensues from that turning of their hearts with “multitudes of iniquities” (v 18)

Why is pride so dangerous, the “first” sin – the root of all evil? Because it exalts oneself, above everyone else, above every authority, even above God Himself. We saw that in the Garden of Eden (Did God really tell you that??? You shall not die for eating that fruit, you shall become like God) and here again for the King of Tyre “because your heart is proud and you have said ‘I am a god.’

The antidote is humility. Where we are thankful for being God’s creatures – fearfully and wonderfully made in His own image…. Where we give Him praise (which is what Worship – Going to Mass is all about) Where we call out to Him in our need (including St. Michael the Archangel who we see references too in this chapter ‘the guardian chrub drove you out’ v 16) and where we rejoice with the Blessed Virgin Mary, a human being conceived without sin and choosing to remain sinless (becoming the new “Eve”) who’s example is one of heartfelt, perfect humility.

DAY 226: Jeremiah 3; Ezekiel 29-30; Proverbs 14: 13-16

A VERY STIFF NECKED PEOPLE

Egypt – again… As often as we’ve kind of lamented in our thoughts, reflections and comments about how do the People of God keep screwing up – it’s interesting to ask the same question about Egypt. Aside from the time when Joseph, the son of Jacob had risen to a position of authority, prominence and admiration (by God’s hand and direction), Egypt has been on the receiving end of a lot of, shall we say, negative attention from the Lord God. Not without just cause, for sure. But after all this time and history, hearing a prophecy against Egypt is frustrating just as an outsider.

They’ve seemingly never learned anything from the plagues, the red sea… There is still an overriding arrogance amongst themselves “the Nile is my own, I made it…” (29: 3) Yet that God cares about this arrogance shows that He desires their salvation as well. His hope that there arrogance would’ve yielded to awe and wonder seeing how the Israelites, their slaves had once leveled them through God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm.

While another episode of devastation is coming upon them, this time at the hands of the Babylonians, it’s not being done out of revenge or malice, but that “all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord.” (29:6)

If the people of God were once described by the Lord as a “stiff necked people” – would the Egyptians be “very stiff necked”? Yet God desires their salvation – as He desires each and every one of us. As we hear and read these words, who are the “stiff necked” or very stiff necked people who we know who are far from the Lord? Indifferent to a relationship with Him? Maybe we’re being invited to take some time to ask God how we can help loosen those necks, soften those hearts to come to know and love Him as we are striving to do in our daily biblical journey.

DAY 227: Jeremiah 4; Ezekiel 31-32; Proverbs 14: 17-20

TERRIFYING JUDGMENT

One of the things that Fr. Mike discussed in his talk at the Virtual Catholic Conference that was held this past weekend regarding the Impact and Implications of the Bible in a Year podcast has been the challenge that people have had when encountering passages regarding God’s judgment. It causes people to misunderstand scripture, seeing God in the Old Testament as “mean” compared to in the New Testament in Jesus being “love.” In one sense, it’s an understandable difficulty when we hear verses like todays directed towards Egypt from the prophet Ezekiel:

I will trouble the hearts of many peoples… they shall tremble every moment, every one for his own life (Ezekiel 31:9)

One of the points that Fr. Mike made is that while these passages are challenging, even unpleasant at times – it’s a good thing that we’re unsettled by this and causing us to question and re-evaluate things. Because that means we’re taking scripture seriously. Which in our day and age is something that less and less people are doing.

As Catholic Christians, we bring to all this is the knowledge that Jesus has saved us from our sins – bridged that gulf and remains that bridge when we find ourselves distant from God. That is the “good news” that is the Gospel. But the only way for that to resonate – for us to appreciate what a gift of love, the tremendous sacrifice and cost Jesus took on Himself, is for us to be clear about what is at stake. That God is not disinterested by our actions. That things like turning away from Him, making false gods and worshiping them, usurping His authority are serious and there are real consequences to that. If these chapters find you feeling troubled, I simply invite you to recognize Jesus’ invitation into deeper relationship with Him. That as we conform ourselves to Him – seeing Him as “the way, the truth and the life,” we rejoice at the reality of salvation that is offered with a deeper reverence recognizing what a gift that truly is.

DAY 228: Jeremiah 5; Ezekiel 33; Proverbs 14: 21-24

THE IMPORTANCE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

As difficult as some of these pronouncements have been, there’s an important thing to remember. It’s difficult for Ezekiel or any prophet for that matter to say these things. But Ezekiel has a sacred duty to fulfill. He has been called and chosen by God to deliver these warnings. That doesn’t often make him popular or well-received, and the temptation exists, (because even though he’s been called to this sacred vocation, that doesn’t remove his humanity or weaknesses any more than it does for the rest of us)

Today’s chapter seems directed to him personally and directly to remind him of the importance of his faithfulness, his righteousness. But its inclusion as a chapter in this book re-iterates the importance of us praying for those in leadership today – both in the secular world and especially in the Church. Knowing how hard it is for us how clearly and often God reveals Himself and His will to us and how easy it is for us to forget, to diminish those words, and fall back into our human and sinful ways.

As a priest that is something that comes to mind often and is one of the reasons that Fr. Mike ends each podcast with a request for prayers. Because of God’s expectations and the importance especially as priests to remain steadfast, faithful, and righteous. It brought to mind a saying that has both haunted and inspired me throughout my priesthood:

If the priest is a saint, the people will be fervent;
if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious;
if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent;
if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless.
The spiritual generation is always one-degree less intense in its life than the one who begets it in Christ.

My brothers and sisters – May all of us strive and help one another strive to be saints!

DAY 229: Jeremiah 6; Ezekiel 34-35; Proverbs 14: 25-28

LIKE A SHEPHERD

Having been born in 1973, my earliest memories of Mass was in a quintessential post Vatican II parish. Our parish was founded right when Vatican II was beginning, so with so much change in the air, it was understandable that the Church was designed as a temporary Church that would eventually be converted into a gymnasium (it was attached to the auditorium with a retractable wall that during it’s peak, we filled both spaces for Sunday Mass – well over 1,000 people… I remember sitting on folding chairs that came equipped with kneelers)

Yes, we had the felt banners and guitar and piano masses that characterize (for better and for worse) that period of time. While people can rightly lampoon some of those things, coming to this chapter of Ezekiel what struck me was how familiar it was.

It was probably right around my first communion that I learned that song and can remember the words without the help of google – Like a Shepherd He feeds His flock, and gathers the lambs in His arms. Holding them carefully, close to His heart. Leading them home. I don’t know how many times it might have come to mind – moments of sadness where it was a comfort or even just in an ordinary, mundane moment when for some reason the memory of that song was triggered that brought a smile to my heart. Growing up I had no idea of who Ezekiel was, what the situation he was dealing with that God called him to speak these words to them.

It strikes me that having learned that song as a 7 year old, suburban kid from Northern New Jersey who had next to no knowledge or experience of shepherding or sheep – that if it could have that impact on me navigating the ups and downs in the relative safety and comfort of our first-world nation – how much greater and deeper the words which that song was based spoke to it’s original listeners? In a sense, it makes these words that I’ve known for well over 40 years even more powerful when I think about that.

Yes, Ezekiel has been prophesying some difficult words about a whole host of people, nations, leaders – for good reason. Things are far from being rectified and things are going from bad to worse. Yet in the midst of that difficult chapter in their history, God reveals His deepest desire and the tenderness of His heart for His people. He is longing to comfort, protect, guide them. Leading them home.

May those words take root in our hearts as well… and in case you need the ear worm yourself 🙂

DAY 230: Jeremiah 7; Ezekiel 36; Proverbs 14: 29-32

A NEW HEART

One of the greatest celebrations of the Catholic Church takes place every year on Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil. When done correctly (and well) it is a night where we spend an extended period of time hearing God’s word, experiencing silence, praying with the psalms. The full vigil includes 9 scriptures which is meant to take us from Creation through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then, to highlight the reality that this isn’t just a historical recounting or “remember when” of salvation history, we welcome new members into the Church with the Sacraments of Initiation of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist while the entire congregation then follows with Renewing our Baptismal Promises.

In the Easter Vigil, one of the key readings includes this chapter of Ezekiel. The prophet probably could not have imagined how these words would one day be fulfilled. “A new heart” might have struck some people as confusing as Nicodemus asking Jesus “What does it mean to be born again… you can’t mean an old man entering his mother’s womb again?” And most likely his first listeners probably focused on God’s promise to gather them… bring you home as hopeful signs that things would go back to things before the exile.

But God is not interested in simply bringing us back to where we once were. He doesn’t want us focused on the here and now and measuring His action by our returning to a comfortable, familiar existence. That’s why those words of “pouring of water” bringing cleansing and transformation, which brings about this “new heart” pre-figure the Sacrament of Baptism. The Lord is making a “new way” for His fallen and broken people. He will come to be one of us and one with us… remaining with us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and His word so that we not only can receive these “new hearts” but have him as the divine physician to keep checking to make sure they’re working correctly (if we’re faithful in keeping our appointments 🙂 )

 

 

DAY 231: Jeremiah 8; Ezekiel 37-38; Proverbs 14: 33-35

STICKS AND BONES

Today’s one of those days where your perseverance in following the Bible in a Year comes together in a meaningful way. Chapter 37 contains a scriptural episode that is probably one of the most familiar to us being such a dramatic reading that comes up in the Catholic lectionary. But having traveled through all these days with the prophet we have a much better picture of all that led up to this moment. We’ve heard chapters of very colorful and unforgettable experiences with the prophet Ezekiel kind of building up to this climactic scene: the image of Ezekiel being ordered to prophesy to dry bones is incredibly unique and hard to forget once we’ve heard it.

Where could you find a more desolate place than a valley of bones? Everything in the setting evokes lifelessness. For the prophet who has been speaking to people in exile, coupled with having something unimaginable to the people occur – the fall of Jerusalem – only this valley could be worse than what the people had experienced.

In the face of such finality and hopelessness though God is calling forth new life. God will bring about an unimaginable revival… These“sticks” representing the kingdom being forged together bringing a reunification of the Kingdom not as it was before but also a new and everlasting Kingdom. To the people, to Ezekiel even, these words must’ve been mysterious and confusing. How would that be possible? When will this happen?

In short, it would be possible when the people receive the love of God and respond in kind. When the idols are gone, when faith and trust in Him is restored, God will bring about a revival. We see how this will be fulfilled beyond the first listener’s expectations in the Life, Death, and Resurrection of God’s Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. But that this prophecy still resonates in our day and era. Being gifted with the Sacraments, we have been incorporated into and fed with the Body of Christ. We are equipped and anointed to speak life into the dry bones, the “dead” of our day and time. Every time we feed the hungry. give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, the imprisoned, or ransom the captive – we are speaking new life into dry bones – and encountering (and serving) Him who rose from the dead.

DAY 232: Jeremiah 9: Ezekiel 39; Proverbs 15: 1-4

UNSTOPPABLE

As Fr. Mike mentioned in yesterday’s podcast the identity of Gog and Magog has been a source of scholarly debate and speculation that can go off in a variety of directions. Curiosity had me googling it and I saw a variety of wild theories, including Christian preachers using this to say Russia launching a nuclear attack on Israel at the end of time. Yet by now we’ve come to know that prophets are sent by the Lord to convey His message in a variety of ways that are meant to speak on multiple levels. So putting our human curiosity aside, let’s focus on the main point:

Dry bones. Mighty armies. Forces of Evil. None of those things can stop God or prevent His plans. Even when it’s the result of our self-inflicted wounds, that brings about utter destruction that leaves things in ruins and seemingly hopeless, nothing is at an “end” unless and until God says so. And if need be, he will breath life into dead bones – or He might go in a different way completely bringing about something new and unprecedented.

That’s the good news we hear from Ezekiel today. Another foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus but speaking to the realities of a broken people in Exile who will hang on these promises recognizing that God allowed them into captivity (because that was what the people had wanted) but that He wants to bring them back and protect them. If they are willing to believe, and trust in God’s unstoppable power – then even a forces far surpassing them in might and strength would be leveled.

For us – what is it that we’re facing right now that seems has the potential to crush us? Is it a sin we’ve struggle with – or perhaps not struggled with, we’ve surrendered to it thinking we can never stop falling in this area? Is it anxiety that makes the most ordinary and routine things seem impossible to accomplish? Is it an illness that someone you love or you yourself are suffering from that is a constant source of worry? Is it grief, mourning the death of a loved one that just comes in waves and washes over you to the point you feel emotionally you could drown in them?
Whatever it is we’re facing – the God who breathed life into bones, crushed Gog and the enemies of Israel is a God promising reconciliation, redemption, restoration, resurrection. He’s calling us not just to turn away from the things that diminish our devotion to Him, but to bring those enemies, those threatening realities and trust in His power, in His desire to crush them – so that we shall know and declare “I am the Lord their God…” (Ezekiel 39: 28)

DAY 233: Jeremiah 10-11; Ezekiel 40; Proverbs 15: 5-8

EXILE IS NOT FOREVER

As we hear and read about cubits and thickness and a litany of things that can sound as exciting as a genealogy. But for those who have been listening and receiving Ezekiel’s words – who’ve been exiled, seen their land conquered and the temple destroyed – things which a few generations earlier had been unimaginable to any Jews, despite their lukewarm (and at times, completely absent) faith and devotion to the Lord God – chapter 40 marks a shift for the prophetic word.

The main underlying message in all of these details is that God cannot, will not leave them. Their exile will not last forever. And probably equally unimaginable to losing the Temple in the first place is this awesome, exciting promise: there will be a new temple. Which we hear about in specific detail that is reminiscent of the commands we heard so many weeks ago about the building of the temple or the construct of the Ark. But unlike the plans for those constructs, this is coming from a prophet – so there’s a sense of something abstract going on here. The actual rebuilding of a temple will not follow these passages as a literal guide to how it was to be constructed… and in other ways, we will hear and see beyond that historic moment, there’s a bigger and deeper messianic prophecy that is fulfilled in Jesus.

All of that has it’s place for reflection and consideration – as well as our taking a moment to reflect on God’s blessings, promises in our lives. The things we can take stock of here and now, the things yet to be fully revealed but that we hold onto with sincere, deep and genuine faith. What are some of God’s promises that we are most grateful for today?

DAY 234: Jeremiah 12-13; Ezekiel 41-42; Proverbs 15: 9-12

BEYOND TIME AND SPACE

One commentator emphasizing how extraordinary these plans being laid out estimated that the new temple would be one square mile, over 4,500 feet long (for contrast, the Vatican – St. Peter’s Basilica is just about 750 feet long) and Vatican City is 1/4 of a square mile. Such an edifice being built in Ancient Jerusalem would be impossible.

But God is speaking to and through Ezekiel, who wasn’t just a prophet, but a priest. The devastation of the temple wasn’t something that was easy for him to experience because the Lord was speaking to him and through him. In many ways it had to have been even harder. He knew what was coming. He knew why it was happening. He saw the indifference and lukewarmness of the people. There was nothing more that he as one person could do. After seeing and hearing so many negative things, I wonder if the Lord gave him this vision of an even more glorious temple as a consolation? For him not to be discouraged or disheartened by what was happening here on earth. But to have this vision, to be renewed in his faith that the Lord God was still calling Israel to an even more glorious future. That the holiness of God, the holiness He calls us to is not inhibited to the brokenness we experience in our lives, in our world. When His people can remember all that the Lord God has done for them, and be faithful to Him in the midst of that brokenness, it’s then that they begin to approach the Holy of Holies beyond time and space.

DAY 235: Jeremiah 14-15; Ezekiel 43-44; Proverbs 15: 13-16

GOD RETURNS

One of the most devastating parts of Ezekiel’s prophecy came about 30 chapters ago. When he told the people of God leaving the temple. We recognize that God has not left or abandoned His people – by the very fact that He has kept talking to them through Ezekiel! But at the same time that was an incredibly bleak moment in their history to recognize the precious gift that had been taken advantage of and squandered for so long. The vision today continues with these lofty, out of worldly descriptions of the new temple to come with what was of most importance: “the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” (Exekiel 43: 6)

For the people being exiled, there had already been a sense of separation being so far removed from that physical structure where God had chosen to dwell. With God “leaving the temple” – and that structure having been destroyed – even with Ezekiel speaking to them, it had to have been hard for them not to have felt abandoned. Now they hear this good news – God’s loving kindness is without end. He would return from the East (by the way He had left) – He will do so cleansing and purifying the nation once again.

For us as Catholic Christians, we celebrate how God in His son Jesus Christ not only has never abandoned us, remains with us but even more astonishingly chooses to make himself humble under the modest appearances of bread and wine in the Eucharist. The same God that our ancestors mourned and longed for just to be near them again makes Himself that accessible and vulnerable that we are to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord”(Psalm 34) ourselves. May we never take for granted how awesome the gift of the Eucharist. Maybe the next time we receive the Eucharist at Mass we can reflect on how in utter shock our ancestors would have been to see what we see, to hear what we hear, to receive what we receive. How God has returned for us.

DAY 236: Jeremiah 16-17; Ezekiel 45-46; Proverbs 15: 17-20

CAN’T LEAVE THE SAME WAY

We’re coming to the end of our time with Ezekiel – almost a month-long journey with this Prophet will wrap up tomorrow. We’ve gone from hearing these elaborate plans for a New Temple and now have shifted to elaborate descriptions of right worship, roles and duties for the people, etc.

It’s good to remember that for the people of Israel, the Temple was the place of encounter for them with the eternal, living Lord God. It is where they were made “whole” – being His people and in reverence and awe worshiping Him as their God. This is why as we read through chapter 46 concerning all the ordinances of the New Temple, verse 9 stood out: …no one shall return by way of the gate by which he entered.

While some biblical commentaries try to keep it on a more logical/visionary level- imagining this massive edifice drawing thousands for worship. So it could be simply good pedestrian traffic management.

I couldn’t help but have my mind wander to a similar passage in the Gospel of Matthew. One of my favorite points of reflection during the Christmas season is how the wise-men (“we three kings…”) when they follow the star leading them to the newborn King of the Jews, they are warned in a dream to depart for their country “by another way.”

Again, there are practical reasons the Magi are given these specific directions, but there’s a spiritual message that comes to mind with these passages. Whenever we’ve come face to face with God, we should never leave the same way we came to that encounter. Perhaps the Lord is trying to get people to start anticipating this type of transformation by envisioning this prohibition on entrances and exits to the temple?

It’s not uncommon for those of us who go to Mass on a regular basis can get used to the “routine.” We get used to going to a particular Church, often at a set time each week – some are fond of a particular spot they like to sit. That’s great – (it’s most important that we make that commitment to get there on a weekly basis) – but maybe this point will stick in your mind the next time you go to Mass and you’ll feel compelled to do something out of the ordinary… or just stop out of the blue at a church or chapel today. Doing so in faith that our encounters with the Living God is meant to affect us, even in seemingly small ways that we can’t fully appreciate in the day-to-day. But leaning into our faith in Him to ever draw us into a deeper relationship with Him and as that happens – we can never be the same – nor would we want to be… we want to leave differently

DAY 237: Jeremiah 18-19; Ezekiel 47-48; Proverbs 15: 21-24

THE LORD IS THERE

With the extravagant imagery of the “New Temple” as we come to the end of our time with the prophet Ezekiel, there are hints at something bigger. In chapter 47 there’s this water that begins to flow from the right side of the temple. It grows from being ankle-deep, knee-deep, till a mighty river that could not be passed through. It’s described as “life-giving” water – where we hear of growth, flourishing, healing… Ezekiel’s vision then continues with these geography lessons of boundaries and apportionments which seem kind of odd. But what’s being conveyed here to people who are exiled – who have seen the “promised land” captured and decimated? The Lord God is describing restoration of the ancient territories we read about months ago in the book of Numbers! The message would’ve been clear to the listeners, that just as God had saved His chosen people from their enemies, He would do it again. They have an inheritance – harkening to the promises of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even more, those who weren’t Jewish by ethnicity, by family heritage (Gentiles) are also given a home a place (Ezekiel 47: 21-23).

The book of Ezekiel then closes with a pretty awesome final word – the name of this future city: The Lord is there (Ezekiel 48: 35).

These final chapters perfectly depict the multi-layers of meaning behind the prophets words. For the initial listeners they heard fantastical images that captured the ambitions visions of the end of exile and what the restoration of there returning home would look like. For Early Christians they saw Jesus, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, eternal High Priest being at the center of this kingdom where we experience the mystery of it’s arrival and coming about at the same time. That we feel that tension of the perfection of that ideal while restoration continues to purify all the grossness of the sins that first lead to exile for our ancestors and entraps people into a spiritual slavery, exile today.

The good news is that unlike our ancestors who were awaiting the day they would return home looking for signs of this kingdom emerging – we know it already exists. By our Baptisms and Confirmations, this Holy Spirit who only spoke to Ezekiel dwells in you. THE LORD IS THERE – within you. And whenever we align ourselves to God’s power and authority, when we as individuals repent, turn away from sin and return to the Lord, when we put ourselves at the service of the Lord, we are participating in helping this new city of God to emerge.

 

 

DAY 238: Jeremiah 20-21; Daniel 1-2; Proverbs 15: 25-28

THREE IN ONE

Today we start the Old Testament book of Daniel – which in some ways could be described as three books in one. Chapters 1-6 are a “narrative” written during the time of the Babylonian exile. They tell stories of Daniel and some of his contemporaries. Chapters 7-12 are prophetic visions of Daniel that are apocalyptic in nature similar to what we just heard from Ezekiel. Chapters 13-14 are three more stories of the Jews in exile.

The unifying message though of the entire book is reminiscent of Moses demonstrating the Lord God is the only God as he went toe-to-toe with the Egyptians and their pagan gods. But for Daniel coming almost a millennium later, after the Jews had entered the Promised Land and now been exiled though, this message seemed even more urgent for both the Chosen People and the world who grew more arrogant with that conquest.

There’s some fantastical stories and images that we’re going to be encountering as we enter into this Old Testament scripture. Today we set the stage with meeting Daniel. A man who has remained faithful and righteous to the Lord in the midst of the exile and hearing his devotion to the Lord God. Boldly testifying “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings…” (Daniel 2: 21) Daniel is steadfast in his belief that the Lord God is ultimately in control even as they are subject to the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar.

In a day and age where we find “secularism” a modern form of paganism to be sure – where we are troubled and rightfully unnerved by events we see on our news feeds, Daniel is a welcome voice – demonstrating shrewdness in remaining faithful to God and obeying the king… and when it’s time that there can not be any compromise and there’s a call to be courageous in fidelity to the Lord God. Never dishonoring the God who “changes times and seasons.” May Daniel help renew our hearts and strengthen our resolve to be shrewd and courageous in our day and age.

DAY 239: Jeremiah 22; Daniel 3; Proverbs 15: 29-33

SO MUCH FOR WISDOM

I have to admit, I forgot how Daniel had just interpreted the dream for King Nebuchadnezzar, been promoted with his friends as “chief prefect” of all the wise people of Babylon when we encounter probably the most well known parts of the Book of Daniel: Chapter 3 – “The Fiery Furnace” episode. The same king who was humbled to his face at the gift of insight, interpretation the Lord God had bestowed on Daniel – far surpassing any of the wisdom of his nation, his people – is enraged that they won’t worship a pagan idol. He sentences them to what was a sure, certain and torturous death.

You would think that if the Lord God just wowwed you through His people like that, you might have a little more reverence, respect, awe for Him and His people.

But it just reveals the fickle nature of the human heart. Even for those of us who do believe. The day after the prayer has been answered, the miracle did take place, are we still moved to “fear of the Lord” – gratitude at His mighty hand at work in our lives, in our midst? Or do we return to life before the crisis – before the prayer was asked/answered?

The three young men show us the depth not only of wisdom, but faithfulness. They remain single minded in their conviction that the Lord God was in control… to the point of saying – even if they aren’t saved from the flames, they might not know how the Lord God would take care of them.

He does. He walks with them in the flames… enabling them to do so as well, completely unharmed.

He still does… In the “furnaces” of life that we face – that terrify us, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had a mysterious figure described as like a son of the gods. We have the Son of God in our midsts, dwelling among us and within us in Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit continue to purify and strengthen our hearts of faith to grow in confidence of this even greater gift we’ve been blessed with, far surpassing what our three ancestors received in their furnace.

DAY 240: Jeremiah 23; Daniel 4-5; Proverbs 16: 1-4

ONLY ONE WAY

King Nebuchadnezzar is a bit of an enigma. We heard in Chapter 3 he made this decree (after the whole furnace thing kind of shocked him) that no people, nation, or language should say anything against “the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” Yet in the next instant calls Daniel “Belteshazzar” which Fr. Mike pointed out in the podcast yesterday was in itself dishonoring both to God and Daniel by renaming this faithful Jew as the false, pagan god “bel” protecting his life – rather than the Lord God. He calls him this while he’s asking Daniel to interpret a second dream. Which predicts the King going mad – which he does immediately after the interpretation. Upon regaining his senses, the King “praises God.”

Here’s the thing – he’s still trying to assimilate “God” into one of the many pagan, false gods he and his kingdom followed. He’s impressed with the Lord God and the mighty things he has witnessed as done through the Lord God and this group of misfits who were exiled into his kingdom. But King Nebuchadnezzar still thinks he’s in charge. That he can decide who is worthy of worship – and who isn’t. This is what continues in Daniel 5. The sacred vessels from the temple are being used for pagan worship. This sacrilege causes God to write on the walls that their reign will be coming to an end.

In the midst of their “accommodation” of the Lord God, Nebuchadnezzar and his family appreciated Daniel’s abilities to interpret and clarify the Lord God’s messages to them. But they ignored the call he issued: “O King, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your tranquility.”

God is not interested in being “tolerated.” He won’t compromise with human rulers and false gods. He desires conversion of heart and offers many messages and opportunities (especially through the seemingly meek and powerless) to call the “mighty” to recognize who is ultimately in charge. Eventually, the Babylonians will learn this truth. Hopefully, humanity in our day and age would do so without the Lord having to “humble the proud.”

DAY 241: Jeremiah 24-25; Daniel 6-7; Proverbs 16: 5-8

DREAMS, FIRES AND LIONS, OH MY

I responded to someone yesterday that reading through the book of Daniel is a fun read. Indeed we see constantly where this “underdog” who is facing seemingly impossible odds and perilous threats navigating them with relative ease. After different trials and vindications that the Lord God was with Daniel and that the Lord God is the only true God worthy of honor (even in this pagan territory), once again there are some in positions of authority who doubt, deny and want to test that theory – which we find in another of the “famous stories” from Daniel. Daniel being thrown into the Lion’s den, with the king saying “Your God, whom you serve so constantly, must save you.” In other words – good luck… (A.D.D. moment, I have the image of Bugs Bunny being thrown into the Lions Den by Yosemite Sam and remaining – Sorry, had to share 🙂 )

The challenge for us believers so many thousands of years removed from this incredible moment of God’s providential hand protecting his servant is not to be inspired but to question, to doubt, to envy. We might have people conspiring, lying about us. We might have been trying to remain faithful, steadfast, trusting in God. We might find ourselves in our own Lion’s dens and there mouths don’t seem to be shut at all.

It’s then that we have to listen to those words of that king who probably said them without much hope – “Your God, whom you serve so constantly, must save you.” He probably had no idea how, or if God would save Daniel – and Daniel when he had entered the furnace had done so seemingly at peace with whatever might happen – whether he somehow be saved or incinerated – knowing that ultimately God would save him. That’s what’s key – not anticipating how God will show up, show out and protect those who call out to Him – but remaining steadfast in trust that He does, He will.

DAY 242: Jeremiah 26-27; Daniel 8-9; Proverbs 16: 9-12

A FAMILIAR FRIEND

In Daniel chapter 8 we encounter a familiar friend from the Gospel of Luke. The Archangel Gabriel – the same Gabriel who brings the news of the coming birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth… the same Gabriel who greets Blessed Virgin Mary as “full of grace” as she learns she has been chosen by God to be the Mother of Jesus. Here he, whose name means “God has shown Might” comes to Daniel to help him understand the visions he has been receiving.

Which is a good thing, since this is considered one of the most challenging of chapters in scripture. Particularly with prophetic texts like these, it’s tempting (and happens a lot) for these verses to be taken out of context and applied to modern day events or occurrences.

The Angel Gabriel directly explains the meanings of the Ram with the horns and the goat referring to kingdoms that will rise and fall some 200 years later. Chapter 8 ends with Daniel being worn out from being overwhelmed by the visions (not to mention this heavenly visitor). That leads into Daniel’s heartfelt and beautiful prayer asking for God’s mercy for the many sins of His people.

That leads to this prophecy entitled “the Seventy Weeks.” This is where it can get confusing – which, if it’s of any comfort, even scholards find it difficult to interpret – with the prophetic language and the references to the restoration of Jerusalem, the coming of the Messiah, end times, there’s a lot here. (In fact I found myself reading through the Jerome Biblical Commentary and Scott Hahan’s Ignatius Bible study, which truth be told didn’t help clarify things)

Suffice it to say, what’s notable? Daniel’s mindful of the sins of the nation. What does he do? He offers heartfelt prayer, fasts. In response this heavenly visitor and the message from God points to the promise that the exile will indeed end, but sadly sin will continue to afflict people. But the good news is that God is unveiling His ultimate plan to deal with sin once and for all – and His Name is Jesus.

DAY 243: Jeremiah 28-29; Daniel 10-11; Proverbs 16: 13-16

REMINDERS

In the last few days, there have been a few more questions and comments that people have asked with regard to biblical passages we’ve been hearing or reading and how they could possibly correspond to today. No doubt with horrific stories out of Afghanistan of terrorist attacks killing our military and innocent civilians, historic hurricanes, and earthquakes, there’s no shortage of things that point to “end times.” And I’m not dismissing the importance of self-reflection for each of us individually as well as collectively as a people asking how are we living – or not – in relationship with the Lord and His commandments? The reality is that God’s commandments are commands meant for our happiness, our flourishing. So living in opposition to them, well, as they say, do the math.

But we have to be cautious in assigning current events to biblical verses taken out of context. That’s one of the benefits of traveling together on this is that we’re aware of the historic significance of what was happening during the times of Jeremiah and Daniel. How there were specific things that they were speaking to and prophesying about – but also how their words and messages can still resonate to us thousands of years later.

One of which beautifully comes through Daniel 10. More than likely, everyone of us has had an experience when we’ve prayed for something and felt unsure whether that prayer was heard, acknowledged since there was no apparent answer (or more than likely, we didn’t see or receive the answer we had in mind).

Daniel has been praying and fasting for weeks after the visions and interpretations from Gabriel about the end times, the exile, the devastation that had befallen God’s people. (It’s good to recall that even prophets, the faithful and righteous ones feel these things, sometimes even more deeply than many others – because they are confident in God’s love, mercy, and presence – and feel the effects of people’s turning away even more acutely)

The next time we find ourselves in similar circumstances, underline these words: “Fear not… from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard….” (Daniel 10: 12). God is always listening… is always attentive. For Daniel, we learn that there was an answer right away, but that between the answer and Daniel’s receiving it – there was a delay. But in God’s timing, it was right on target. For Daniel, it meant the angelic assistance of another familiar friend – St. Michael the Archangel (v. 13) (on another one of these days, I’ll talk more about our need to be mindful of angelic assistance)

God is still listening to our cries, our pleas, our prayers. So let’s not try to assign any of the awful things that we see and hear on the news – or the difficulties and struggles in our own lives that don’t make headlines but are just as devastating on a personal level – as somehow a fulfillment of a verse or two of scripture we’re reading out of context. But rather focus on the bigger and consistent messages – of our need to be faithful, humble, and prayerful.

DAY 244: Jeremiah 30; Daniel 12-13; Proverbs 16: 17-20

TURNING AWAY THEIR EYES

Chapter 13 (and Chapter 14) has become an area of dispute between Catholic and Protestants, with the latter removing these chapters from their bibles. The short-answer is that the earliest manuscripts of these chapters are found in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic – which caused some to argue this was a latter addition. Suffice it to say from the earliest of centuries when the Catholic Church convened to determine what composed the entirety of the Old and New Testament (particularly the New Testament and rejecting some “gnostic gospels”) these two chapters were included – and universally that was accepted among all Christians until the 16th Century.

It’s unfortunate that our separated brothers and sisters in Christ don’t encounter this story of Susanna. For us Catholics, the lengthy proclamation opens up the last two weeks of Lent – traditionally called “Passiontide” – where the focus on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ comes into full focus. One of our scripture scholars preaching on this on the Monday of the 5th week of Lent in seminary noted that there’s 30 similarities between the story of the accusation and trial Susanna and the Passion of Jesus Christ…. They’re both arrested in a garden, they’re both falsely accused, they’re both put on trial, neither offer any defense for themselves but rather trust in God as their source of vindication – to name a few.

Those curiosities – which biblical scholars love to reflect on and which are interesting – aside, the importance of this story and why it figures so prominently as we enter the holiest part of the year for us – is how it pits the colossal fight between good and evil front and center. Early into chapter 13, the two elders who lust after Susanna, how they succumbed to that temptation is stated so brilliantly and succinctly: “they perverted their minds and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering righteous judgments.” (Daniel 13:9) In that, we hear where that line from evil thought to action is crossed. They turned away from the source of goodness and light while Susanna’s (and Jesus) gaze is never taken off of God.

The purity in Daniel’s heart enables him to see that light radiating in Susanna and is able to cut through the false testimony of these scoundrels not to mention the hasty judgment of a crowd so willing to believe them.

The reality of darkness afflicting humanity is all too real. We can write our own chapters and verses of mixed motives, hasty accusations, reluctance to stand up and defend the innocent, and justice without mercy (as well as mercy without justice as Fr. Mike makes reference to) can be found anywhere – including within hearts that reside within Christian men and women. It’s easy for us to fall, or conform ourselves with the powers at work in the world. Susanna reminds us of the opposite course of her accusers as a guide for us- never turning our eyes from looking to Heaven.

DAY 245: Jeremiah 31; Daniel 14; Proverbs 16: 21-24

SLAYING DRAGONS & HUNGRY LIONS (again)

Our time with Daniel concludes in a way that seems in keeping with our entire time with him. In dramatic fashion. We have him “slaying a dragon” and once again being thrown into a hungry lion’s den – this time instead of for an overnight, for six days.

Just to clarify a few things. By “dragon” most scholars describe it as a large crocodile or snake. I do like that Daniel slays whatever it is in the most unlikely of ways – by giving him indigestion after feeding him “pitch, hair and fat” made into cakes. I’m imagining Pepto-Bismol commercials right now. The point of this episode though undermines the Babylonian’s “worship” of this creature. Because a “god” would not be so easily destroyed by elements from a mere mortal. Then this return to the lions’ den is demanded by the people who didn’t take kindly to their “god” being dismissed and dispatched as he was. The result is miraculous once again. The lion’s mouths are shut, and just for good measure, God sends his own door dash to Daniel through a prophet…

The fantastical story comes full circle. The King of Babylon is heard closing out this chapter and this book shouting in a loud voice “You are great, O Lord God of Daniel, and there is no other besides you.” (verse 41) Just a little more than 20 verses earlier he had said the same thing about the false god “bel.”

As people living in a “post-Christian” world where “secularism” or outright atheism has become a religion to greater numbers of people, Daniel’s faithfulness, dedication, and perseverance is probably a more needed example than ever. He never compromises in order to “fit in.” He’s willing to suffer insult, injury, and attempts on his life as a testimony to anyone and everyone that there is only one true God worthy of any worship. May Daniel pray for us as disciples of Jesus Christ that we too will find ways of testifying and witnessing to this same truth.

DAY 246: Jeremiah 32; Judith 1-2; Proverbs 16: 25-28

ENTER A WOMAN OF VALOR

Today we begin the book of Judith, which is one of the books that has proved to be most controversial of scholars. Protestants removed the book because there was questions about there being Greek and Latin translations of it (as well as two versions in Hebrew, one being significantly shorter than the other). There’s been some who have pointed out that the history gets muddy (the example I read said it would be similar to an author beginning a book, “In 1776, when Abraham Lincoln was the president of Canada…”) So they treat it more as a piece of literature from the 2 century before Christ – perhaps written “inspired by true events.” Others argue that the errors were mistakes made by translators over time and point to some strong historical facts that can be gleamed in studying the book and the period it’s from.

I share that not to add to more confusion, but knowing some do further reading and research, you can find a variety of opinions – and biblical scholars can sound incredibly definitive when they’re arguing their perspective.

For the Catholic Church, when we approach biblical scholarship, we are not blind to differing academic arguments pointing to one way or the other. At the same time, we also have appropriate reverence for tradition, noting that when the bible was compiled into a more “authoritative” collection until the late 4th Century that was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and serious discernment and dialogue, especially in determining which books belonged to the New Testament as inspired Word of God and which didn’t for a variety of reasons. For the Old Testament the Catholic Church (which was the only Church for centuries) accepted the “Greek” version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint which was translated into Greek appx. 285 B.C. This collection was widely used from that point on, including during the life of Christ. Jews started questioning this “version” around the 2-3rd century A.D. Mostly to distinguish itself from Christianity which had by now become more separated from Judaism.

OK – so that’s the cliffs notes to a bit of biblical history which is probably more information than any of you wanted or needed 🙂 But it’s important to have some of this to at least understand why unfortunately some bibles don’t include this.

Because putting all of those questions and confusion aside, Judith is an incredibly powerful woman for us to encounter – one sent by God to deliver the Jewish people from (yet another) time of despair and trial.

But we’re not going to get to her for a few days! The first chapters are going to give us a bit of the backstory: God’s absolute sovereignty over all things coming into conflict with Nebuchadnezzar’s earthly power and rule -which starts today with him raging against the whole region (in chapter 1) and destroying all the nations under the leadership of Holofernes (chapter 2).

Hopefully you can sit back and enjoy this next week that we spend with this book as we learn of and from this true Jewish heroine.

DAY 247: Jeremiah 33-34; Judith 3-5; Proverbs 16: 29-33

ANOTHER GOLIATH

As we pick up in Judith Chapter 3, we hear how all the nations that had ignored Nebuchadnezzer’s command would be destroyed. Seeing the tens of thousands of troops they were terrified, so these peoples send representatives to basically surrender and seek a peace treaty. General Holofernes devastates them anyway. For the people of Israel, as word got around them, they fear what awaits them.

But what is notable is that we see Israel calling out to God with prayer, penance, fasting… een their cattle are wearing sackcloth! Unlike so many times and in so many ways we’ve encountered in the last 247 days – they are like the people of Nineveh that Jonah preached to. They humble themselves, and unlike those other nations, surrender themselves to God.

One verse says all we need to hear: “So the Lord heard their prayers and looked upon their affliction.” (Judith 4: 13) Yes Nebuchadnezzer was mighty, was powerful, was – kinda like a Giant. Too bad he doesn’t realize, our God loves confronting arrogant giants who threaten His people.

Hopefully, each of us, with whatever “giants” we’re facing do know that and can trust the Lord hears our prayers

DAY 248: Jeremiah 35-36; Judith 6-7; Proverbs 17: 1-4

WHO IS GOD?

There’s a quote that goes “A man who won’t believe in God, doesn’t then believe in nothing, but in anything.” That came to mind reading Holofernes in today’s readings asking “Who is God except Nebuchadnezzar??” As he launches into his arrogance and claims of being able to annihilate people, what’s curious is how he notes “this race came out of Egypt.” So Holofernes can’t claim to be ignorant of the Lord God and what He has done for His people – even Holofernes has heard of the plagues that befell Egypt when they refused to free His people – has heard of the parting of the Red Sea as His people were being chased down by Pharaoh’s forces. He’s not ignorant of these things – he’s allowed his arrogance to dismiss this warning from Achior and threaten God’s people but is actually calling out God. Holofernes then basically hands over Achior to the Israelites – imaging that for disrespecting Nebuchadnezzar, was akin to blasphemy and handing him over to the “enemy” the Jews would result in his death.

But what happens? God’s people treat Achior with dignity and respect. As he shares his report of what Holofernes has said, the threats he has made, the people turn to God in prayer. The battle drums are getting louder and louder. Holofernes has now close to 180,000 troops against tiny Israel. Yet as they’re about to attack, Holofernes all of a sudden has some doubt enter in. They’ve devastated 10 larger, more mighty foes yet something causes him to pause and instead surround the Israelites.

For their part, they’ve been steadfast in their faith – as they’re surrounded by these foes for 34 days, but at that point they start to waver and consider “maybe it’s better that we be slaves then get attacked?” Uzziah calls out to them to “have courage” – remember who their God is, and who they are.

Hopefully you’re beginning to see what a treasure the tension and drama of this narrative is for people of every time and age. Holofernes and his “god” Nebuchadnezzar are long gone, but there are threats of those who believe in “anything” other than the Lord God and continue to threaten His people. The response will always be the same: never losing sight of Who is God – and Who He has called us to be – His very sons and daughters.

DAY 249: Jeremiah 37-38; Judith 8-9; Proverbs 17: 5-8

MEET JUDITH

Seven chapters is quite a prologue till we meet the namesake of a particular book. Yet it’s good to remember that ultimately, the main character is the Lord God. And in His timing, in His way – often ways that confuse and confound humanity – He reveals His presence and activity. As He does here in bringing Judith front and center.

And who is Judith? She is a widow, who despite losing her husband (which for many in that day and age could have made her vulnerable) is wealthy so could have easily put her reliance and trust in her riches. Yet we hear how she remains steadfast in her faith. She is committed to fasting and prayer. We read how she makes a “tent” upon the roof of the house. That calls to mind the Jewish feast of Sukkoth – where for 7-8 days the people would live in tents to recall their 40 years of living in tents in the wilderness where God had supplied for their needs and led them to the promised land. In short, Judith is the real deal – believing and putting into practice her belief that God is with her – providing for her, just as He did for His people in the wilderness.
If there was ever a moment that needed such a woman to enter the narrative it’s now – just as the elders are buckling in the face of their enemies. Uzziah had been able to postpone their surrender for a few days, but his “have courage’ speech was lacking in that it gave a 5 day expiration date. This woman of faith doesn’t mince words:
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who is putting us to the test as he did our forefathers.”

In the face of their lack of faith, their lack of courage, Judith gives them the smack in the head they deserve and needed. And then shows she’s not just someone who talks a good game, the entire Chapter 9 demonstrates her prayerfulness and faithfulness.

I can’t help but think of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta (who’s feast day was yesterday, September 5th) that little, seemingly frail lady who was able to level any rich, powerful leader she encountered by her faithfulness, her prayerfulness, her humility – who even though she passed away 24 years ago still inspires and confronts us. Judith does the same for the people of her age and time. And once again we will see how God will use the lowly ones to confound the proud.

DAY 250: Jeremiah 39-40; Judith 10-11; Proverbs 17: 9-12

SHES NO WALLFLOWER

No sooner have we met Judith, this righteous, faithful and wise woman – who has called out the Jewish elders for their lack of faith/putting God to the test, we see her as a woman of action -PRAYER and action. She had poured out her heart to God praising Him and asking Him to use her to “crush their arrogance” (9:13). She plans on using her God given gifts of beauty and intellect to her advantage: “make my deceitful words to be their wound and stripe, for they have planned cruel things against your covenant, and against your consecrated house, and against the top of Zion…” (9:13)

We see all of that begin to play out in these two chapters today. Judith gets decked out, marches right into the enemy camp (allowing herself to be “captured”) and infiltrates them with her scheme – telling them she knows that her people are about to be devoured. Being brought to Holofernes she tells them that the Jews are not just in trouble with him, but that they are abou to sin against God, eating food that is unlawful for them to eat. God will tell Judith when that has happened, so they will be delivered into Holofernes hands.

The ruse works. But it’s important to remember this is more than some clever scheme on the part of a clever woman. Judith’s whole existence has the Lord God at the core of her being. And arrogant Holofernes doesn’t even realize that. The same one who just a few days earlier we read “Who is god except Nebuchadnezzar??” Responds to Judith (not quite realizing the truth of what he’s about to say): “you are not only beautiful in appearance, but wise in speech; and if you do as you have said, your God shall be my God…” (11:23)

Judith reminds us of the power of our God given abilities, when they are utilized for His glory. Most of us are not dealing with threats of an evil empire or one of its leaders like Holofernes, yet the reality of spiritual warfare is very real in every one of our lives. May we reflect on how the Lord wants to utilize and use us to advance His kingdom, in no less significant ways then he did with the heroine Judith.

DAY 251: Jeremiah 41-42; Judith 12-14; Proverbs 17: 13-16

FEARLESS

So many people reading the book of Judith for the first time describe it as a thriller or a screenplay for a movie that has you almost on the edge of your seat as you’re reading it. We’ve had some unexpected things that we’ve encountered in 251 days, but how many of you saw this one coming

(SPOILER ALERT- if you haven’t listened or read the text yet and don’t want me to ruin it for you, go do that and then come back… we’ll wait for you 🙂 )

I mean, just the title to chapter 13: Judith beheads Holofernes – just seeing or hearing that you know what’s coming, yet it’s still told in such a heart-pounding manner, you can see why this is treasured just as a literary piece.

We know it’s more than that. We’re encountering this heroine who in her day and age was unexpected. The reason Holofernes let his guard down was that she was (sorry for how sexist it reads) an attractive woman, and – (sorry for how ageist it sounds) elderly. He also is arrogant and believes his own lies that tell him that Nebuchadnezzar is a god, blaspheming and ignoring how the true Lord God had already accomplished many historic and legendary things for the Israelites.

But Judith knew the Lord God. And what animates her strength, her plotting, and her, literal execution of this plan was Him. She lets God work through her and He is glorified in saving His people (once again) in an unexpected (once again) way: THE LORD GOD HAS STRUCK HIM DOWN BY THE HAND OF A WOMAN (13: 15)

The takeaway for me is to see how creatively awesome our God is. Whatever the obstacle, He has a way. Whatever the threat, He has someone waiting in the wings to help overcome it… Mighty Egyptian forces, the raging Red sea, a Giant named Goliath, and now these threatening forces.

All of this helps animate our understanding of how that story continues in new and definitive ways in the New Testament. There will be another woman who will be faithful and righteous before the Lord God who will be a pivotal, central figure in the final showdown between evil, sin, and death (whose birthday, providentially, we celebrate today!) God, when she consents to His call, will overshadow the Blessed Virgin Mary – who among many things is an example of how God “raises up the lowly” and because of what God is able to work through her, “all generations call her Blessed.” May all His Holy Women, pray for us that we too will be fearless in listening and responding to His will.

DAY 252: Jeremiah 43-44; Judith 15-16; Proverbs 17: 17-20

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED

As we come to the end of our time with Judith, like I mentioned when we began, there’s a lot of dispute as to whether this is historical in nature – or if it should be considered as more of a parable/story meant to convey moral lessons to the listeners/readers – similar to some scholars theories of the book of Job. If that’s the case, I’m sure Judith’s story is more appealing then Job. For one thing, it’s shorter! For the other, who doesn’t love a story where the bad guy loses and the good guy wins – or rather, the good lady wins.

But we know it’s much more than that.

For a people who were struggling with a complicated and changing world, where the following of God’s law and Jewish tradition was increasingly difficult (if not at times impossible) the temptation to succumb to the conventional wisdom of the day was growing intense for the people and harder to resist. That was why the whole lengthy introduction was important to set the stage. We heard of the dastardly deeds of the ogre Holofernes serving the king (and false god) Nebuchadnezzar. The peoples of the world were enamored and falling into disbelief, fear and surrender to a mere earthly power, a very mortal king. The faithful remnant was surrounded and their prospects were indeed bleak. There only source of safety and protection had sustained them, but as that flicker of light faded, they were buckling and preparing to cave if God didn’t show up.

But He did… through Judith. Who while she’s an Old Testament warrior-heroine and brave, wise, scheming in her own right -her secret wasn’t anything new or extraordinary. It was being faithful in every sense of the word. By following the law, the commandments, the traditions that had been passed down. By doing those things with sincerity and fervor. By her unwavering belief that God would provide the relief necessary as long as they remained single-minded and with conviction from their hearts. Which she demonstrates for the people in dramatic fashion.

With that, for those of us who feel overwhelmed by the seemingly whack-a-mole deluge of examples of evil we see in the world (one gets knocked down and three new things pop up), Judith leaves us with her song of triumph… in which she praises God: he who fears the Lord shall be great for ever.

DAY 253: Jeremiah 45-46; Lamentations 1; Proverbs 17: 21-28

SUFFERING

As Fr Mike had indicated in one of his podcasts, we are going to be entering into the Book of Lamentations today. It’s an intense book focused on the tremendous suffering of the Jewish people first in being exiled, and then in the devastation of Jerusalem. Again we need to try to understand why this was such an ordeal. Imagine that the only Catholic Church in the entire world – which had Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist reserved – was at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. There might be schools and “holy places” but that was the only church, the only place where Mass, true worship took place, and now imagine hearing it was desecrated, and demolished in truly horrific fashion… including just vile and evil things being done to people and children.

Now you get the idea of why this was such a traumatic experience for the Jewish people. With the additional reality that this was the result of their unfaithfulness. We will see and hear now why Jeremiah is known as the “weepy prophet” – for good reason.

There’s a temptation to want to “skip” this book (among a few others I would imagine), but it’s important to not look away. Suffering is something that is unavoidable in this life. And everyone of us can recall times, seasons that testifies to the truth of that. And so this scripture opens us to that reality once again. But not to commiserate in misery. Lamentations reminds us that suffering is a book in the Bible but will not be the final word for the Lord God. It’s our decision whether that’s true for us as well.

DAY 254: Jeremiah 47-48; Lamentations 2; Proverbs 18: 1-4

WORKING THROUGH GRIEF

Chapter 2 of lamentations is disconcerting to read. Right out of the gate we hear “the Lord in his anger” and then proceed to hear verses of devastation that has befallen the people. “The Lord has become like an enemy, he has destroyed Israel…” (Lamentations 2: 5) It seems so opposite of the image of God that many want to focus and emphasize “God is love” (1 John 4: 7)

Reading this chapter simply on its own would be problematic for sure, but for those of us on this biblical journey together, we recognize there’s not a contradiction here. Any of us who have loved another know that. Loving another person sometimes is precisely why we get angry – angry when they are hurt at the cause of their pain… angry when they are not living up to their potential… angry when they do not seem caring or responsive to the love being so generously offered.

Jeremiah is attributing all the awful things that are happening as God’s vengeance coming down upon them. And indeed, God has been warning and warning and warning His people not to listen to false prophets, to repent, to return to Him. Seeing the indifference, the hardened hearts, the turning away…. Seeing their choosing to go it alone, basically putting their identity, their heritage up for grabs – all of that hurts God. Being done by ones He loved, how could God not be angry?

But again, it’s a good reminder that we’re not reading this chapter simply on its own. Lamentations is important for us to read as if we were walking through stages of grief. Processing through this time of destruction, guilt, shame, suffering of people through the eyes of the righteous one, Jeremiah. Here he’s at one of his lowest points seeing all that’s taking place. But he does so with a conviction of faith, that allows his tears to continue to flow, trusting that the one who loved first, who is love, will not forget them, or ignore them when they cry.

DAY 255: Jeremiah 49-50; Lamentations 3; Proverbs 18: 5-8

NEW EVERY MORNING

As the 20th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks were commemorated yesterday, the weight of grief and emotion was especially palpable from where I’m sitting and writing. Looking out the window, is a clear view of the skyline of New York City which is only about 15 miles away. Watching the memorial from my living room yesterday morning, with the solemnity that has marked this day each year – the reading of the almost 3,000 names of loved ones who perished that day by family members affected me more than I anticipated. One of the most haunting and moving tributes is the “towers of light” – these twin beams that pierce the night sky starting at sunset on September 11th each year.

I’m grateful that they’ve kept this jarring tradition each year. The way those beams of light demand attention, the way they disorient the “new normal” of the NYC skyline. It’s important to remember those who died – those who suffered – those still suffering – at the hands of cowardly, evil men. It’s important to recall the affects that hatred and sin can visit upon innocent people. They’re painful to look at remembering all of that – and it brings back a lot of emotions and memories that 20 years has not erased. But there’s something even more beautiful is that we don’t ever see them “go off.” They fade into the dawning of the new day ever September 12th.

That’s what came to mind in reading Chapter 3 of Lamentations. While the book is a poetic expression of when our ancestors in faith because of evil, sin, had left them to face devastation, loss of life and inexpressible horrors – Jeremiah remains rooted in confidence in God’s providential care. Right there in the midst of those realities, He shares that faith to the people of his time – and to us, thousands of years later. And whenever we’re going through our own times of grief and sadness I hope his words are a comfort to you as the morning sky wipes the towers of light away for me today:
The steadfast love of the Lord, never ceases,
his mercies never end:
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 22-23)

DAY 256: Jeremiah 51; Lamentations 4-5; Proverbs 18: 9-12

BABYLONIAN ARROGANCE

As believers we know that everything is a gift from God. Everything – From the roof that covers us, the chair we’re sitting in, to the clothes we’re wearing… yes we work, we’re paid and we can purchase those things. So there’s more of a collaborative aspect to those gifts/possessions that makes it a bit removed sometimes from our sense of awareness of God’s providence and our need for gratitude.

But what about the very breath we breathe? The life we live? The very basics that are essential to our existence of which is purely a gift? That’s why this line stood out in the final chapter of Lamentations: “we must pay for the water we drink…” (Lamentations 5:4) I’m imagining how this could have been the line that pulled on God’s heartstrings – seeing how the arrogance of the captors of the Chosen People are now commandeering something so essential to creation, water, and now are charging His people for it.

While God ultimately respects the gift of freedom He’s given us, and the effects of our choices, being the ultimate of Good Fathers, there’s a moment when Dad steps in and says “that’s enough.” The time for lamenting will end, the people’s cries and repentance will be heard and the Babylonian’s who have had no care or concern for the Lord God will discover they’ve gone too far.

DAY 257: Jeremiah 52; Obidiah; Proverbs 18: 13-16

SHORT, AND IN THE END, SWEET…

One of the shortest of prophecies (especially compared to Jeremiah who we finish today), Obidiah gets one day with basically one chapter. Coming from the 6th Century Before Christ, Obidiah might be called the most minor or minor prophets… few would have ever recognized his name. In fact he’s one of the few who didn’t even make it into the Roman Catholic Lectionary.

Not to get too lost into the Scriptural theological weeds here, but Obadiah is unique in a few areas. He’s a prophet who doesn’t have any prophetic words for the God’s Chosen People specifically – but for one of Israel’s “enemies” – their neighbors the Edomites. There’s a sense of long-sibling rivalry (thousands of years actually, since this is traced back to Genesis) – where the twins Jacob and Esau were fighting from birth (Genesis 25) – Jacob is the family lineage of Israel while Esau is the lineage of the Edomites. The Edomites have been fierce rivals to the Jewish people throughout the history, and when the kingdoms of Israel and then Judah ends up taken into exile, suffice it to say, the Edomites were a little too celebratory – hence this prophetic judgment against them.

The key though is found in the very last line. After 20 verses basically taking them to task and telling them that “their worlds will collapse” – a world which based on that type of malevolence needed to collapse – the final verse talks about how eventually, the Chosen People will rule the people of Edom. Yet they will not be getting even, returning evil for evil. The chosen people, humbled and chastened by their own failures will be united with the Edomites as “the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” Again, foreshadowings of the day of the Lord which the people cannot comprehend or even conceive of yet. This singular verse is the perfect transition to tomorrow, our next Messianic Checkpoint with the Gospel of Matthew.

MESSIANIC CHECKPOINT #3
DAY 259: Matthew 1-4; Proverbs 18: 17-20

FULFILLED

Don’t know how everyone else feels, but to me, these Messianic Checkpoints come at the perfect time! Nothing against Jeremiah, our (understandably) weepy prophet – but 52 chapters of that over the last month or so – I’m ready for a break! And jumping back into the New Testament with our week with the Gospel of St. Matthew seems a great way to do that.

You might remember that for St. Mark, we had discussed if you wanted to reduce the Gospel he authored to a word it would have been “immediately.” For St. Matthew, the word could be “fulfilled.” Matthew is writing from the vantage point of explaining how Jesus fulfills the entirety of the Old Testament. You get that from the opening words of it which greets us with one of our favorite things we’ve encountered in our biblical journey another genealogy! But thankfully having encountered them several times so far, we’re aware of their importance. How they connect all humanity into God’s very story of creation and in His story of re-creation: salvation. Even more, in this genealogy – we recognize one of the beautiful aspects of the mystery of the incarnation, God becoming Man, through a human family. And not just in the Holy Family of Joseph and Mary, but a dysfunctional, broken family of King David. As we hear all those different names (which hopefully are ringing some bells for us) we know all too well how broken and dysfunctional this truly is!

But in the “fullness of time” – God enters into that mess, that brokenness, that dysfunction. And initially, some might have been scandalized that His very presence doesn’t immediately “fix” everything. His birth (which might have surprised you, is covered very quickly here as we move from Christmas right to Epiphany in one verse!) Is immediately seen as a threat to the world and its worldly powers and influences – whether it’s in the threats of Herod, or the devil himself attempting to tempt Jesus as He prepares to begin His mission.

From the beginning, Matthew is making it clear, Jesus intends on confronting every element of evil that we encounter by experiencing it Himself: Whether it’s the fears of responding to God’s call (like we see St. Joseph contending with) – the governmental powers being so threatened by the very thought of this infant king that they respond with murderous, genocidal rage – the internal temptations every human being faces for power, authority and fame – God doesn’t just know it all, in Jesus, He enters into it… and conquers them, face to face. He will fulfill all God’s promises and show us how to experience the triumph that comes from that ourselves – by our following Him.