On Welcoming Strangers

jordaens_podhorce good samaritan

Jacob Jordaens, The Good Samaritan (1616). Wikimedia.

Key verses:

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21; RSV)

“You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus: 23:9; RSV)

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19: 33-34)*

“you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18; RSV)

“‘And who is my neighbor?'” (Luke 10:29; RSV; opens the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:29-37)

My Reflections:

Why are we exhorted over and over, across the millenia, first by Moses and then by Jesus, to welcome strangers, treat them with compassion, even offer them healing, attending to their physical needs as well as their spirits? If this attitude were natural to human beings, we would not need so much exhortation!

On the contrary, as sinful humans, yet created by a merciful God we need to hear it. Moses taught the people God’s commandment about equal treatment of aliens many times, in the name of the Lord, during the people’s long sojourn in the wilderness. He reminded them what God sought to have them keep in mind: that they “were strangers in the land of Egypt” and God, in his mercy, had brought them out. He wished them to remember always and put themselves in the place of any strangers living in their midst, and treat them accordingly.  Continue reading

Advertisements

“So shall your God rejoice over you”: Isaiah 62 and Jesus the Bridegroom

wedding at cana icon

Wedding at Cana

“and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.”

Key Verses:

“You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My delight is in her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.”  (Isaiah 62:4-5; RSV)

 “On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 

Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:1-11; RSV)

“And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God.” (Revelation 21:2-3; DR)

My Reflection:

It is a recurring theme in the Bible that God will espouse his people. He desires a covenant relationship as close and as loving as a marriage, bound together by a pledge of mutual faithfulness. In the exquisite verses of the 62nd chapter of Isaiah, the prophecy of Zion’s vindication after long suffering is expressed in a strong renewal of the Lord’s promises.  Continue reading

The Voice of the Lord and Jesus’ Baptism

joachim_patinir_-_the_baptism_of_christ_-_google_art_project_2

Joachim Patinir, The Baptism of Christ (1510-20). Wikimedia.

Key Verses:

“The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, upon many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful,
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
    and Sir′ion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness,
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord makes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forests bare;
    and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29: 3-11; RSV)

“And as the people were of opinion, and all were thinking in their hearts of John, that perhaps he might be the Christ; John answered, saying unto all: I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also being baptized and praying, heaven was opened; And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22; Douay-Rheims)

My Reflections:

Today  we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus was 30 years of age, and his Baptism would begin his public ministry. His cousin John had been baptizing at the Jordan river for the forgiveness of sins, calling people, great and humble alike, to repent. Because of his personal holiness and uncompromising honesty, John attracted a large following as a teacher. Yet his humility was as great as his righteousness, and he deflected any suggestion that he was the one Israel had long awaited, whether Elijah, or the prophet Moses had foretold, or the Messiah himself. Instead, he said he was preparing the way for one far greater than himself, “the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose.”  When Jesus came to him at the river to be baptized, John was reluctant at first but consented as Jesus wished. Jesus was immersed in the Jordan and when he rose from the water, the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit settled on him in the form of a dove, and a voice from Heaven could be heard saying, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” For John this voice from Heaven confirmed what he had long suspected, that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and the “lamb of God” who “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Psalm 29 is often paired with the Gospel reading of Jesus’ baptism, because the power of the voice of the Lord has received no better description than its resounding verses. Continue reading

Thanksgiving Day

thanksgiv-day

©iStockphoto.com/Olga Lyubkina

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures for ever!” (Psalm 107:1; RSV)

“O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.  Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.  For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also.  The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.  O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.  For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart” (Psalm 95: 1-8a; KJV)

“Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord!  Lord, hear my voice! Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” (Psalm 130:1-6; RSV)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

The Bible offers so much ample food for Thanksgiving–prayers of thanksgiving, praise, and supplication–innumerable ways to confide in the Lord who loves us with such an abundant and overflowing love. Prayer helps us to receive this love and incorporate it as food for our famished spirits.

In her morning podcast, Food for the Journey, Sr. Ann Shields today urges that we make a practice of finding at least one thing each day for which we are thankful, and then consciously thanking God for it.  Even in times of trouble and struggle, it is possible to identify at least one thing for thanksgiving. This simple act helps us to notice the blessings He gives and the ways He is working in our lives that we might otherwise overlook. It is a source of hope.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate this holiday and happy thanksgiving to all!

 

 

Behold the Lamb of God

Grunewald, John the Baptist

Matthias Grunewald, John the Baptist, Isenheim altarpiece (detail). Source: Art and the Bible.

Key Verses:

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?  And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.”  (Genesis 22:7-8; KJV)

“Then Moshe [Moses] called for all the leaders of Isra’el and said, ‘Select and take lambs for your families, and slaughter the Pesach [Passover] lamb.” (Exodus 12:21; CJB*)

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:4-7; KJV)

“The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world.”  (John 1:29; DR)

“For our Pesach lamb, the Messiah, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7b; CJB*)

My Reflections:

Abraham, our father in faith, can be seen as the first prophet of the Paschal Lamb–the lamb without blemish who would take away the world’s burden of sin and fulfill the desire of God to reconcile fully with his people.  John the Baptist was the last such prophet when he saw Jesus and witnessed–twice for emphasis– “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).

In obedience to the Lord, Abraham had taken his beloved son Isaac up the mountain, intending to offer him in sacrifice.  But, trusting in the Lord, he answered Isaac’s question and spoke prophetic words: that God would himself provide the lamb for the offering. Was the Lord providing Isaac as the lamb? Well did Abraham know that Isaac was purely and totally a gift from the Lord, the child of his old age and of Sarah’s. But perhaps God was planning another way. The Lord began to fulfill Abraham’s words straight away, staying Abraham’s hand by a word and providing a lamb who appeared in the thicket, thus ensuring that this loving father would not have to give up the life of his son.  Yet this was not the end of God’s provision. The full meaning of Abraham’s words would not become clear for centuries.  Continue reading

Daniel’s prayer: Repentance is ours, Mercy belongs to God

 

Daniel (Michelangelo)

Daniel (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel)

In exile, Daniel prayed a penitential prayer for his whole people, accepting the consequences of sin and rebellion against God, even though Daniel himself was holy, a prophet sent by God. Even though it comes from a very different crisis in the long history of God’s people, this prayer could well and profitably be prayed “in sackcloth and ashes” by all of us in the American Catholic Church, indeed the worldwide church, today, as it finally faces (we hope) and redresses the pattern of clergy sexual abuse that has been allowed to persist and poison the efforts of those clergy and laity who truly strive to honor God and his commandments, follow Christ, and spread his Gospel. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Exodus: How It Happened and Why It Matters” by Richard Elliott Friedman

 

The Exodus - Richard Elliott Friedman

Publisher: HarperOne, 2017

 

Distinguished Bible scholar Richard Elliott Friedman calls his book about the Exodus a work of “detective nonfiction.” In it, he presents the many strands of evidence that can be brought to bear to solve a series of related mysteries, the solution of which will crack the case of the historical Exodus and reveal its important legacy. It is highly readable and forthright, oftentimes witty, and admirably accessible to the unitiated in the complex byways of archaeology and textual criticism in ancient languages.

The overarching aim is to examine the historical basis for the events described in the book of Exodus. Did multitudes of foreign-born slaves, led by Moses, leave Egypt to wander in the wilderness and ultimately constitute the nation of Israel? Friedman notes that “there is an anti-historical wind blowing lately.” The trend among many Biblical scholars is to disbelieve that we can ever truly reconstruct the past–a propensity to say we have only stories, only narratives laced with myths, and maybe only tall tales. But gaps in historical evidence do not mean that nothing happened. Friedman emphasizes that careful reading of the text, combined with recent archaeology, genetic data, and linguistic evidence, strongly support the position that something momentous indeed happened! It is not out of thin air that this flight-migration of people from Egypt to Israel marks the watershed event for the Hebrew Bible. Moreover, the picture that emerges of how it all happened appears to be crucial for two major breakthroughs in human culture: (a) the development of monotheism, and (b) the ethic of caring for strangers–loving one’s neighbor as oneself.  But now let’s back up and look at some of the mysteries Friedman tackles.   Continue reading

The Faith of Abraham and His Seed, Numerous as the Stars

Rembrandt - Abraham Serving the Three Angels

Rembrandt – Abraham Serving the Three Angels. Wikimedia Commons.

Key Verses:

“And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:5-6; KJV)

“The apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. (Luke 17:5; KJV)

My Reflections:

At the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples, who were to be his apostles after his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, asked him to increase their faith. Even though he was soon to leave them, it was still early days in the development of their faith in him; they were still uncomprehending in large measure. The disciples needed further instruction, but even more than this they needed to believe what Jesus promised them would take place.

“Increase our faith!” is a plaintive cry we could all make at various points in our lives. Where do we find reliable models to inspire in us greater faith? The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews sets before us a list of faithful forebears, from Abel, Enoch, and Noah all the way to Moses. But the pivotal figure is Abraham, the first Patriarch.  God led Abram (as he was first known) through many stages of promise and obedient response, to build a Covenant relationship with him.  Continue reading

New Year’s Day: What is the Greatest Commandment?

Navarre Bible - Pentateuch

Key Verses:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; KJV)

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18; KJV)

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 

And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.(Mark 12:28-31; KJV)

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:40; KJV)

My Reflections:

As a rabbi, a teacher of the Torah, Jesus was asked many questions by his disciples, interested listeners, other teachers, and those who wished to test him.  In one encounter in Jerusalem, he was teaching in the Temple when a scribe approached and asked him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” In others words, which is the greatest? Jesus answered, quoting from Deuteronomy (6:4-5), that the first and greatest commandment is that which begins Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord” and commands that thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” He added a second, which he said was like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” quoted from the book of Leviticus (19:18). In the Gospel of Mark, he concludes by asserting that there are no other commandments greater than these, and in Matthew, he says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Continue reading

“A heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26) and the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Ezekiel_by_Michelangelo,_restored_-_large

Ezekiel by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel. Wikimedia.

Key Verses:

 And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26; Douay-Rheims)

And I will give them one heart, and will put a new spirit in their bowels: and I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh: That they may walk in my commandments, and keep my judgments, and do them: and that they may be my people, and I may be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20; DR)

“Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Matthew 11:29; DR)

My Reflections:

Ezekiel’s prophecy of God’s restoration of Israel reaches a pinnacle of love and hope in the image of the dramatic conversion of each human heart. Not only will the people as a whole be purified but each person will be sprinkled with clean water (prefiguring Baptism; see note in The Navarre Bible: Major Prophets, p. 740) and fully cleansed from all uncleanness and idolatry (36:25). Each one will receive a new heart and a new spirit in their innermost being, and “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.” (36:26). For me, these verses from Ezekiel are among the most moving in all of Sacred Scripture.  They call us to anticipate, and cooperate with, God’s merciful action deep within us, equipping us to walk in the His ways, follow his commandments, and learn to love as we have been loved.  Continue reading