Elijah fed by Ravens / Paul travels to Athens: 26th June 2021

1 Kings 16:8-18:15

Today, we are back to a list of the successive kings of the Northern area of the Holy Land (Israel) as opposed to the kings in the South (Judah).

The son of Baasha, Ela, only reigned for two years before he was assassinated by Zimri, one of his officials, whilst he was getting drunk. Zimri killed off all Baasha’s family, in accordance with the prophecy of Jehu, as soon as he was seated on the throne.

Zimri only reigned for seven days in Tirzah. The Israelites rebelled against him, having heard about how he plotted against Ela and they proclaimed the commander of the army, Omri, king instead. The army laid siege to the palace and Zimri set the palace on fire around him.

Omni fought off a rival to the throne and then reigned for twelve years. ‘He sinned more than all those before him’ (1 Kings 16:25). His son, Ahab, succeeded him and was even more wicked. It was trivial for him to commit all the sins of his ancestor Jeroboam and he also married the evil Jezebel, daughter of the king of the Sidonians. He set up an altar and pole to worship the Canaanite fertility deities who had always been a trap for the Israelites ever since the Moabite women had first seduced them (Num.25:1-3). Ahab infuriated God more than any of the previous kings of Israel (1 Kings 16:33). It was time for someone to stand up against his abominable practices.

Jericho was rebuilt during the reign of Ahab by Hiel of Bethel. Both his first born and his youngest son died in the process in accordance with the curse imposed by Joshua 6:26. This demonstrates the wickedness of the time; people were prepared to go against ancient laws to rebuild cursed cities for political / commercial / reasons of pride despite it costing them their own children. Child sacrifice would also have been routinely practiced under the rule of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel.

Elijah the prophet stood up to Ahab. He said there would be no dew or rain for the next few years until he commanded it (1 Kings 17:1).  God told Elijah to flee and hide in a ravine. He was to drink from a brook and ravens had been ordered to feed him (doesn’t seem very hygienic). Ravens have a history of performing God’s work for him and must not be eaten (Lev.11:15 and Deut.14:14. Noah sent a raven out from the ark looking for dry land (Gen.8:6-7). I carry a blessed St. Benedict medal with me. This medal is often carried by exorcists. Picking it up in the morning and putting it in a pocket, calls down the protection of God through the intercession of Saint Benedict, the patron saint of Europe. On the front of the medal, are depicted some of the notable events of Saint Benedict’s life. Jealous monks tried to poison him several times but he was always protected supernaturally. Once, his goblet of wine was poisoned but it shattered when he made the sign of the cross over it. When his bread was poisoned, a raven flew down and snatched it away. It’s common to lose food to birds where I live. Voracious gulls are all too keen to snatch chips and sandwiches. Ravens seem to keep an eye on major saints, even after death. I went to visit the grave of Saint Patrick in Northern Ireland and a raven kept a very close eye on me from the top of the church tower. I feel he was checking me out, to ensure I was showing an appropriate level of respect for this great saint.

As there was no rain, the brook that Elijah was drinking from eventually dried up. God told Elijah to go to Zarephath because he had commanded a widow there to feed him. Elijah came to the town gate, saw a widow gathering sticks and correctly assumed that this was the one. Following God is not complicated. The poor widow and her son were starving and only had a tiny bit of flour and oil left. She and her son were planning to eat it before dying. Elijah told her not to be afraid. He proclaimed that by God’s power, if she had sufficient faith to make bread for Elijah first, then her jar of flour and her jug of oil would not run dry until God gave rain. This miraculously happened (1 Kings 17:15-16). They didn’t have excessive amounts of flour and oil to give away, they just miraculously received their needs each day because of their combined faith. God kept them alive and dependent on His daily providence, just as the Israelites had relied on His daily supply of manna in the desert.

Some time later the widow’s son died. Maybe it was all that gluten! Elijah prayed and stretched himself out on the boy three times. God heard Elijah’s cry and brought the boy back to life. This miracle again confirmed that Elijah represented God (1 Kings 17:24).

After three years of total drought, God told Elijah to go back to King Ahab. Ahab’s wife Jezebel was conducting a genocidal campaign against the Lord’s prophets but a righteous man called Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace, had hidden a hundred prophets in two caves and was feeding them. Obadiah met Elijah and recognised him. Ahab had been searching everywhere for Elijah for three years and now he was walking into the lion’s den facing almost certain execution. Obadiah did not want to go and announce Elijah’s appearance to Ahab, because, if Elijah made a run for it, Ahad would surely kill Obadiah out of disappointment. Elijah reassured Obadiah that he would not run away. (1 Kings 18:15). This passage shows that even in the middle of great evil, there are still some good people performing righteous acts. Obadiah had hidden the prophets, despite the personal risk to himself, just as brave people hid Jews during the Second World War. There is always a holy remnant left in the most evil of societies.

Acts 17:1-21

Paul had now travelled to Thessalonica. He went to the Jewish synagogue on three Sabbath days to prove, from the scriptures, that Jesus had to suffer and rise from the dead. Some of the Jews were persuaded in addition to a ‘large number’ of God-fearing Greeks‘ (Acts 17:4). It appeared easier to convert open-minded Gentiles than the Jews, who were more brainwashed in religious tradition. The remaining Jews were jealous. They formed a mob and started rioting.

Paul and Barnabas were sent to Berea by the other believers, for their own protection. The noble Bereans received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures to confirm Paul’s word (Acts 17:11). Unfortunately, the hostile Jews from Thessalonica went after them and Paul was then brought to Athens, where he had to wait for Silas and Timothy.

Of course, Paul could not be idle and so he reasoned in the synagogue and the marketplace about Jesus, having been greatly stressed by the city being full of idols. The Athenians were interested in philosophy and new ideas and brought Paul to a meeting of the aristocratic ruling council, the Areopagus, to find out more. This was a golden opportunity for Paul to spread the gospel to the most influential people in Athens. Tomorrow, we will reflect on the magnificent speech that he delivered to them.

Psalm 78:9-16

We should never forget the miracles and wonders that God performed to lead his people out of Egypt. That is why a reading is read out from Exodus at the Easter Vigil (Exodus 15:1-18).

God performed an even greater wonder to rescue us from our death sentence. Jesus is the new and infinitely greater Moses. He is our Good Shepherd, our precious Saviour.  

The Jews were saved by the blood of the Passover lamb and went through water to be saved from death. We are made anointed children of God by going through the waters of baptism.

We have been saved by the precious blood of God’s only son. We have been redeemed and given the priceless gift of eternal life. We have been given the Holy Spirit by baptism, who will lead and guide us with his fire twenty-four hours a day (Ps.78:14). Our hard hearts will be split open, so that abundant streams of living water and loving power can flow from them (Ps.78:15).  

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/32495192@N07/10807624504

David anointed King / Judas must be Replaced: June 3rd 2021

2 Samuel 3:22-5:5

Joab, one of David’s commanders, murdered Abner who David had told to go in peace. Joab killed Abner in revenge for the killing of one of his brothers in an earlier battle.

David declared himself innocent of Abner’s death and he cursed the house of Joab (2 Sam.3:28-29). David wept aloud and fasted at Abner’s funeral to demonstrate to his people that he had no part in the murder. Everything that David did pleased the people.

Even though David was the anointed king, he considered himself weak. He felt his kingship was in a precarious position and called on the Lord to repay evildoers for their deeds (2 Sam. 3:39).

Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth, was murdered on his bed by his own men. They took his severed head to David expecting a reward but David was furious and had the traitors killed.

All the tribes of Israel came to David. They knew that David had been the one to successfully lead their military commands while Saul was king. They knew that the Lord approved of him. David was anointed king over all Israel and he reigned for forty years. David was called on by God to ‘shepherd my people Israel’ (2 Sam. 5:2). His descendant, Jesus, was destined to be the good shepherd for all the world.

Acts 1:1-22

Saint Luke wrote ‘Acts’ as well as the Gospel that bears his name. He wrote more of the New Testament than any other single writer including Saint Paul. Luke was a Gentile not a Jew, a Syrian from Antioch. He was a well educated man – a doctor – and when writing his accounts of Jesus and the apostles seems to have had privileged access to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and her friends.

Luke states that after Jesus’ resurrection he gave many convincing proofs that he was alive over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3). Jesus had told the apostles not to leave Jerusalem until they had been baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). The gifts of power from the Holy Spirit are for all that have been called to be Christians. The Holy Spirit will sanctify us and work on changing us from within into Jesus. The more we hand over to him through praying in the Spirit, the more he will be able to mould and shape us so that we reflect Jesus to all we meet.

Jesus had told the apostles to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jesus ascended into heaven but will one day come back (Acts 1:11).

According to Acts, Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, had bought a field with the reward for his wickedness. However, in Matthew, Judas returned the money and hanged himself (Matt. 27:5). The Chief Priests then bought a field with the returned ‘blood money’ for burying foreigners. Luke wrote that Judas fell over in his new field with fatal consequences (Acts 1:18-19) and that is why it was called the ‘Field of Blood’. Either way, no-one lived in this field, as David had prophesied in Psalm 69:25.

Peter had already taken on the leadership of the fledgling church (one hundred and twenty believers) and announced that they must choose one person from the wider group of disciples, who had accompanied Jesus his whole ministry, and appoint them as an apostle to replace Judas. Peter was keen to maintain twelve apostles as there were twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the corner-stone of the Christian faith and must be defended at all times. Some people acknowledge Jesus as a wise teacher but think he sneaked off into obscurity and died a natural death. What would be the point of that? The whole reason Jesus appeared on earth was to defeat the works of the devil, wiping out sin and taking the sting out of death, opening up the way to eternal life for all those who are baptized and believe. Jesus had to die to make us righteous and justified with God through his precious blood being spilled for us all. If he didn’t die, we would still be in a state of eternal sin and not able to enter God’s presence. Only Jesus, the one mediator between humans and God, was able to make us right with the Father. We cannot earn a place in heaven through our good deeds and impeccable behaviour. When men and women refuse the gospel, it is because they have become hardened as a result of sin and their trust in their own works. The only way to the Father is through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 69:13-28

God will rescue us with his sure salvation when we cry out to him. He will deliver us from those who hate us.

As Jesus was on the cross, the floodwaters of our sins engulfed him. He was in terrible trouble as he became sin and God, the Father, temporarily turned his back on him. As Jesus died, the depths did swallow him up and the pit closed its mouth over him (Psalm 69:15). However, the same Holy Spirit, who is within every baptized Christian, raised and resurrected Jesus from hell. With his great mercy, the Spirit turned to him, rescued him and redeemed him. Jesus redeemed us from sin by the sacrifice of his perfect, holy blood.

The scorn of our friends and families for the gospel message we love can threaten to break our hearts (Psalm 69:19-20). We have to turn to our fellow believers to find comfort and sympathy. Jesus literally died from a broken heart as he was crucified due to the physiological changes in his body. He was disgraced and shamed in death but glorified by his triumphant resurrection.

While Jesus was dying on the cross, the prophecy in Psalm 69:21 was fulfilled. He was given vinegar for his thirst.

Jesus sets a banquet out before us. We just have to believe in him and be baptized to be given eternal life. The banquet table set before us is a trap for non-believers; when they die and are judged, they will have to explain how they consistently failed to believe despite the truthful witness of the disciples and billions of other Christians around the world. Their eyes are darkened so they cannot see but only because they chose not to believe, trusting proudly in their own intellect, which will only lead them to death.

We need to praise God that we are listed with the righteous and not blotted out from the book of life.

Image of Saint Mattias: By Workshop of Simone Martini – Public domain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Matthias#/media/File:Saint_Matthias.PNG

David anointed King / Jesus Appears to his Disciples: June 1st 2021

2 Samuel 1:1-2:7

A man escaped from the Israelite camp and told David that Saul and his son Jonathan were dead. The man brought Saul’s crown and his arm-band with him. David and his men mourned, wept and fasted (2 Sam. 1:12). However, David was not comfortable about some aspects of the man’s story. The messenger admitted he was an Amalekite and David had just come back from slaughtering the Amalekites. He also claimed to have finished off the mortally wounded Saul, which was a lie, presumably to win favour with David. Even though Saul had frequently tried to kill him, David still respected God’s anointed king and did not approve of anyone lifting a sword against him (2 Sam. 1:14). David ordered that the hapless messenger should be killed in punishment for allegedly killing Saul.

David lamented the death of Saul and Jonathan: ‘How the mighty have fallen!’ (2 Sam. 1:19). He especially grieved for Jonathan. They had a pure loving friendship, which is exceedingly rare these days (2 Sam. 1:26). Jonathan had loved David as himself (1 Sam. 18:3). Jesus told us that we were to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39) and he demonstrated how God extended this type of love to the whole world.

Eventually, David asked the Lord whether he should visit Judah. God told him to go to Hebron. David took his wives and his men there and settled in Hebron and its towns. He was anointed king of Judah (2 Sam.2:4).

David sent an encouraging message to the town of Jabesh Gilead to thank them for burying Saul (2 Sam. 2:6-7).

The king of Israel was dead, long live David the king – just of Judah so far but it was a good start.

John 20:10-31

Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb crying after Peter and John had gone back to their homes. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had delivered Mary from a terrible demonic oppression and, as a result, she loved Jesus tremendously and was one of his most devoted followers. She was the sister of Lazarus and Martha and had previously wet Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:38), drying them with her hair. She had recently anointed his feet again in preparation for his burial in her own house in Bethany (John 12:3). We should all have a tender love for Jesus like Mary Magdalene had, being forever grateful that he has wiped away our sins and longing to spend time with him.

Mary looked inside the tomb and saw two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had been. They did not understand why she was crying. The knew about Jesus’ resurrection and so expected the world to be rejoicing. Turning around, she thought the gardener was standing there but it was Jesus. Jesus’ first word after being resurrected was ‘Mary’ (John 20:16). Jesus knows us all as individuals and calls out our names so we can come to him and be saved.

Jesus reiterated that we can now call God our Father. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus, co-heirs with Christ (John 20:17). Mary joyfully took this good news back to the disciples. She had seen the resurrected living Lord.

The disciples had locked themselves in. They were quaking ‘for fear of the Jews’ (John 20:19). They weren’t going to get far in spreading the gospel with this attitude and so Jesus appeared to them and breathed on them to give them the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). The Holy Spirit at Pentecost would later empower them to become supercharged, powerful apostles. At our baptism, which might have happened to us as infants, we receive both the Holy Spirit and a supernatural seal on our hearts flagging that we belong to God. However, this small deposit of the Holy Spirit may not burst into flames and energise us until we experience our own personal Pentecost – the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’. We need to pray directly to the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus, on a daily basis and ask him to fire up all his gifts within us so we can be the best witness we can be to the Lord Jesus Christ for the glory of God.

The disciples were overjoyed to see Jesus again. Jesus took away their terror and gave them peace (John 20:19). He was sending them out into the world, once he had empowered them with the Holy Spirit. just as the Father had sent him (John 20:21).

Jesus told them that if they forgave anyone their sins, they would be forgiven (John 20:23). From this comes the tradition of the Mother Church of believers confessing to a priest their sins so that he will grant them absolution on account of his spiritual authority handed down in an unbroken chain from the first apostles through the laying on of hands. It is wonderful to hear these holy words: ‘God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.‘ It is like receiving a loving embrace from our Father:

Other denominations teach that you can ask God the Father directly for absolution but that would be missing out the human mediation that Jesus stipulated in John 20:23, Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18. The Mother Church teaches that we can ask God directly for absolution in exceptional circumstances – immediate danger of death or a global pandemic – but we have to ask him with ‘perfect contrition’, rather than just a fear of hell, and promise to visit a priest as soon as circumstances allow. Perfect contrition is ‘sorrow for sin arising from perfect love. In perfect contrition the sinner detests sin more than any other evil, because it offends God, who is supremely good and deserving of all human lovehttps://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=35519

‘Doubting’ Thomas missed Jesus’ appearance and refused to believe it happened. A week later, though the doors were locked Jesus came again and stood among the disciples. He told Thomas to stop doubting and believe. As full recognition and faith dawned, Thomas uttered the beautiful phrase: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:27-28). We should be able to say this with heartfelt thanks when we consider how many times God has rescued us during our lives. Jesus will forgive us too for having doubts. He will demonstrate time and again in our lives that it is not fate, karma or good luck that steers our lives. Jesus is walking with us demonstrating his constant love for us.

We are particularly blessed when we believe based on hearing the gospel alone rather than having to see Jesus with our own eyes (John 20:29).

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples. John listed a sufficient number of major miracles in his gospel for us to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Belief is a simple choice. I can turn on the TV, watch the news and choose to believe the newscaster. Similarly, we can choose to believe the Bible and the two thousands years of Christian witness. martyrdom and teaching since it was written or think we know better through foolish pride. Belief leads to eternal life. Choosing not to believe leads to eternal separation from God. It really shouldn’t be a difficult decision but the spirit of unbelief is rampant in the world at the moment – just consider how fairly sensible people have refused to believe scientists about the Covid pandemic and made a fuss about social distancing and wearing masks. God solves problems these days through people. He inspired scientists to produce a miracle vaccine. We just have to choose to believe in his provenance.

By believing, we will have life in his name (John 20:31).

Proverbs 13:20-14:4

We should pick our company carefully (Prov.13:20).

Many of the great heroes in the Bible: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Daniel were wealthy men. The righteous will receive a reward (Prov. 13:21). We are all righteous in the sight of God due to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and so we can claim our reward of prosperity.

Poverty isn’t a blessing. We want to be able to help future generations of our family (Prov. 13:22).

Injustice in the world keeps people poor. We should fight for social justice to lift people out of poverty.

God loves us and so will discipline us and allow us to go through trials to refine us like silver, give us endurance, makes us stronger and build our character. No test, no worthwhile testimony.

Devious people despise the Lord (Prov. 14:2). Christians respect his awesome power and love.

Image: National Gallery of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus Anointed at Bethany: May 20th 2021

1 Samuel 5:1-7:17

The Philistines took the captured ark of the Covenant to the temple of their demonic deity, Dagon, in Ashdod. The next day, their statue of Dagon had fallen on its face. They put it back up, only for it to fall down the next night and smash into pieces. Dagon’s head and hands were broken off – showing the superiority of our one true God.

God brought devastation on the people of Ashdod and affected them with tumours. The Philistines moved the ark to Gath. Usually, people other than Levites are struck down dead for merely going near the ark and so God was allowing the Philistines to move it around, to fall into his trap and demonstrate his power. The city of Gath was thrown into panic and both young and old broke out in tumours (v.9). They then moved the ark to Ekron.

In Ekron, those who didn’t die were afflicted with tumours. All the Philistines wanted to send the ark back to Israel. After seven months with the ark they sent it back to Israel along with five gold tumours and five gold rats. This implies the tumours may have been a type of bubonic plague – spread by the fleas from an invasion of rats. There were five of them because five Philistine cities had been devastated by the presence of the ark.

The Philistines loaded the ark onto a new cart with two cows that had never been yoked. The Philistine diviners said that if the driverless cart went to the Israelite town of Beth Shemesh, this would confirm that the Lord had brought the disasters on them. The cows went straight for Beth Shemesh and the Israelites, harvesting wheat in their fields, were delighted to see the ark coming towards them. However, seventy of he villagers disrespected God by looking inside the ark and were struck down dead. They sent a message to the town of Kiriath Jearim and asked them to take it. The men of Kiriath Jearim finally gave the ark the respect it deserved, setting it up in the house of Abinadab and consecrating Eleazar his son to guard it (7:1).

These days, the ark of the Covenant is said to reside in a chapel in the Ethiopian city of Aksum, guarded by a single monk who, once appointed as the ark’s guardian, is never allowed to leave the chapel’s grounds. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/keepers-of-the-lost-ark-179998820/

The ark stayed at Kiriath Jearim for twenty years and the Israelites ‘mourned and sought after the Lord’ (7:2).

Samuel, the prophet, told them to rid themselves of all their demonic idols and commit themselves solely to the Lord. His prophesied with faith that the Lord would then deliver them from the Philistines. All of Israel assembled at Mizpah.

They ‘poured water before the Lord’, fasted and confessed they had sinned. Samuel was their leader (v.6). The Philistines came to attack them but Samuel told them not to stop praying to God while he offered a suckling lamb as a burnt sacrifice to God. As the Philistines drew near, the Lord threw them into panic with loud thunder and the Israelites were able to slaughter them (v.11). Samuel set up a stone as a memorial.

We have in this story familiar elements of communing with God. They used water as a symbol of washing away sin / rebirth. Samuel sacrificed a lamb – similar to the Passover lambs that had saved the Israelites in Egypt and prefigured Jesus, the holy lamb of God. Samuel set up a memorial stone and an altar in Ramah – the Israelites had set up stones and altars during their Exodus years to remember and worship the saving deeds of God.

Samuel was judge over Israel all the days of their life and during this time, the Israelites recaptured their towns from the Philistines.

John 11:45-12:11

‘Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him’ (v.45). If Mary (of Bethany) was indeed Mary Magdalene and also the sinful woman mentioned in Luke – these men may well have been ‘interesting’ characters. Converting a sinner, who has a lot of intimate connections to other sinners, can reap a great harvest.

The high priest, Caiaphas, prophesied that Jesus would die as one man to save the entire Jewish nation. So even someone plotting evil can be a mouthpiece for God. Thanks to the mercy of God, sacraments from priests who may be themselves living in grave sin are still valid. From that day, the chief priests and the Pharisees plotted to arrest and kill Jesus. They did not want to lose their power and control and be further subdued by the Romans. If Jesus went around raising everybody from the dead, people would have no choice but to believe in him. It is amazing that religious leaders can feel so envious and threatened by witnessing the truth and power of God. God can use evil people to bring about a greater good in the end. By allowing the Sanhedrin to arrest and kill Jesus, God would allow us into heaven because of the sacrifice of his precious son.

Jesus visited Bethany again – where Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived. Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair (12:3), just as she may have done in the house of Simon the Pharisee in Luke (7:37-38). At that earlier encounter, she had been weeping because of her many sins. This time, she anointed Jesus in anticipation of his burial. She would later accompany the other women to Jesus’ tomb expecting to anoint his dead body – only to experience the joy of his resurrection.

Judas was annoyed at this use of expensive perfume. He was a thief, like his father the devil. If they had sold the perfume, he would have helped himself to some of the proceeds. Jesus predicted that we would always have the poor among us, ‘but you will not always have me’ (v.8). We do still have the poor among us, principally because of greed and exploitation. There is no shortage of food and other resources, we just need to stop selfishly hoarding and share equitably. Jesus gave us permission to hold the occasional guilt-free party. Life is for joyous living as well as helping the needy.

The dramatic testimony of Lazarus, having been raised from the dead, was converting many people to Jesus and so, the chief priests made plans to kill him too. There are many legends about what might have subsequently happened to Lazarus. As Lazarus had died once and already seen life after death, he wouldn’t have been frightened by his second death. He would have known Jesus, his friend and saviour, would be there to rescue him from death once again and this time give him eternal life. One legend is that Lazarus, Martha and Mary were put into a leaking boat by the Jews at Jaffa but still miraculously landed safely in Cyprus. There Lazarus died peacefully after serving as bishop for 30 years. Later, his relics were transferred to Constantinople. https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/lazarus

Proverbs 12:18-27

The Lord delights in the truthful (v.22). God doesn’t like lying, foolishness or laziness.

He wants us to bring healing with our words, to be prudent, diligent, righteous and joyfully promote peace.

We can be weighed down with anxiety but kind support from others can cheer us up. Jesus will take away our burdens. One of my favourite passages is Matthew (11:28-30): ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.

A yoke is a wooden beam that joins two oxen side by side when working in a field. Jesus is saying he will walk step by step with us throughout our life, teaching us, connected to us and doing the heavy lifting to give us rest.

Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus raises Lazarus from the Dead: May 19th 2021

1 Samuel 2:27-4:22

A prophet came to the priest, Eli, and delivered a devastating prophecy against him and his descendants because they had taken liberties during their priestly office and dishonoured the Lord. The Lord declared: ‘Those who honour me I will honour but those who despise me will be distained’ (v.30). This counters some people’s ‘once saved, always saved’ philosophy. If we start dishonouring the Lord and turn our back on him, he can take back his promises.

The prophet predicted that Eli’s two unfaithful sons would die on the same day. God would instead ‘raise up for him a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind’ (v.35).

A prophecy like this was a rare occurrence in those days: ‘the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions’ (v.1). Many people still think this is the case today. They mistakenly think that miracles, works of healing and speaking in tongues were just for the early church at Pentecost and no-one exhibits supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit these days. They are attending the wrong church. They need to find one where the gifts of the Spirit are demonstrated at every public gathering and bring the gifts the Spirit has blessed them with to bear fruit.

The Lord called Samuel at night, while he was lying down in the temple of the Lord at Shiloh, where the ark of the Covenant was. Sometimes we don’t recognise the voice of God. He can try to get his message across to us via multiple channels such as dreams, visions, other people, the internet or books. Sometimes, we need to go to our quiet place of prayer and say: ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening’ (v.10). I often pray to God that he makes it clearly obvious what I should do as I might not notice subtle hints. The Lord told Samuel what he was about to do to Eli’s family – because Eli had failed to restrain his contemptible sons. Samuel was reluctant to relay the message about God’s upcoming wrath to Eli but the old priest insisted on hearing it. Eli had already come to terms with his fate: ‘He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes’ (v.18). Eli could have tried to change God’s mind, as the people of Nineveh did in the book of Jonah by wearing sackcloth and repenting, but he probably couldn’t have persuaded his sons to change from their evil ways.

The Lord stayed with Samuel as he grew up and all Israel recognised him as a prophet of the Lord (v.20).

The Philistines fought against the Israelites and defeated them. Israel’s tribes were being run by ‘elders’ and they decided to bring the ark of the Covenant from Shiloh and take it into battle with them. (4:3). Eli’s two sons accompanied it. At first, the Philistine army was intimidated by the great shout from the Israelites that shook the ground as the ark entered the camp. However, the Philistines were determined not to be slaves of the Israelites and they girded their loins and fought. They thoroughly defeated Israel, killed Eli’s two sons and captured the ark of God. For the Israelites, this was a total disaster. God can sometimes give ‘ungodly people’ victories to teach his people a lesson.

When the ninety-eight-year-old, blind Eli was told about the loss of the ark, he fell backwards off his chair and died. His pregnant daughter-in-law then heard about Eli’s death and the death of her husband, went into premature labour, gave birth, and also died. The baby boy was called ‘Ichabod’ meaning ‘where is the glory?’ for ‘the Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured’ (v.22).

What a mess. All due to priests and their families not giving sufficient honour to God.

John 11:1-44

Lazarus was terminally ill. He was the brother of Mary and Martha. They were all beloved friends of Jesus. This Mary ‘was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair’ (v.2). John may have been referring to the event in Luke (7:36-38) when a woman ‘who lived a sinful life’ poured perfume on Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair, in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Mary (of Bethany) appears to do the same thing later in John’s gospel (John 12:3). Was Mary (of Bethany) the same sinful woman mentioned in Luke and she wiped Jesus’ feet on two separate occasions with her hair? According to Pope St. Gregory this lady may also be none other than Mary Magdalene: “She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary [of Bethany], we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark” (Homilies on the Gospels).

I like to believe in this connection: ‘St. Mary Magdalene, the repentant sinner, who found both forgiveness and friendship with our Lord, who stood faithfully at the foot of the cross, and who saw the risen Lord, is a powerful example for each believerhttps://catholicstraightanswers.com/who-was-mary-magdalene-was-she-a-prostitute-who-repented/

In the Eastern Orthodox church, Mary of Bethany is considered to be a different person from Mary Magdalene so you can take your pick as to which theory to believe. Jesus prophesied that Lazarus’s sickness would be for God’s glory (v.5). He did not rush off to heal Lazarus. He stayed where we was for two more days. Jesus finally headed off to see him despite the risk to his personal safety (the Jews had previously tried to stone him in Judea). Jesus knew he would be safe from all attacks and was determined to carry on working until the end (the ‘twelfth hour of daylight’ (11:9)) i.e. until the designated time and place for him to die.

Thomas bravely rallied the other disciples to travel with Jesus even though he thought it was a suicide mission (v.16).

By the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead in the tomb for four days.

Jesus told Martha that he was ‘the resurrection and the life’ and ‘whoever lives and believes in me will never die’ (v.26).

Martha declared her belief and faith in Jesus, that he was ‘the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world’ (v.27). Her sister, Mary, was called to join them and Jesus wept when he saw her and her friends weeping.

Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb even though he would have been badly decomposing after four days. God loves a challenge. It would have been too easy to resurrect Lazarus immediately after he died. It was an even more spectacular miracle to reverse the process of decomposition, resurrect him and allow him to walk out of his own tomb.

Jesus said: ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go’ (v.44). We can walk out of our own tomb when we die with Jesus through our baptism. He resurrects us as a new creation, an adopted child of God clad in a spotless white robe, shining with eternal life. As baptized Christians we have all shed our grave clothes and been set free. We need not fear death as we have been granted eternal life. Through speaking in tongues, we demonstrate that the Holy Spirit, who raised both Lazarus and Jesus from the dead, lives within us and he will also give eternal life to our mortal bodies.

Psalm 64:1-10

King David asked God to hear him, to protect his life from threats and hide him from the wicked.

Evildoers conspired against him, shooting at him from ambush and hiding their cunning traps.

However, God will come to the rescue when we cry out to him. He will strike down the evildoers with arrows and bring them to ruin by turning their own tongues against them.

When the wicked are publicly humiliated and defeated, all mankind will fear the Lord and proclaim his works. We should all praise and rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in the shelter of his mighty wings.

Image: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro

Boaz Marries Ruth / Jesus is ‘The Good Shepherd’: May 17th 2021

Ruth 3:1-4:22

Naomi advised her daughter-in-law, Ruth, that Boaz would be a suitable husband. He was from the same clan as Naomi’s deceased husband. Ruth was told to find out where he lay down to go to sleep – at the far end of his grain pile – uncover his feet and lie down there (v.4).

Ruth carried out these instructions and Boaz was delighted to find this young woman at his feet. She had showed her kindness to him by not chasing after young men. Boaz was very keen in the morning to sort everything out legally. He was a model of integrity and was obliged to ask another man, who was a closer relative to Naomi than him (a kinsman-redeemer), if he wanted to exercise his inherited rights and marry her instead.

Boaz formally asked the kinsmen-redeemer if he would buy Naomi’s land from her but reminded him that if he did he would also have to marry the elderly Naomi. The man refused and so Boaz was able to buy the land and acquire Ruth, the Moabitess, as his wife.

The elders blessed Boaz and prayed that the Lord would ‘make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel’ (v.11).

Boaz and Ruth had a son, Obed (meaning ‘Servant of God’), and Naomi cared for him. Even though Ruth had been a foreigner before marrying Boaz she now entered into the most important genealogy in the history of the world. Her son was the father of Jesse, who would be the father of King David.

Jesus’ father, Joseph, came from the line of David. Jesus would be born in Bethlehem in accordance with prophecy. It is wonderful that Ruth and Boaz, both shining lights of kindness, loyalty and integrity are ancestors of Saint Joseph, the kinsman / redeemer of Mary and Jesus; the Holy Family.

John 9:35-10:21

The blind man, who Jesus had healed, believed in Jesus and worshipped him.

Jesus came into the world ‘so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind’ (v.39). The self-righteous religious Pharisees would not acknowledge that they were spiritually blind. Even when the Son of God carried out healing miracles in their own town, they refused to believe and thus their guilt remained.

Jesus came that we ‘may have life, and have it to the full’ (v.10).

Jesus came to defend us from the thieving wolf – the devil. He did not run away from the devil, he engaged in spiritual combat using the word of God as a double-edged sword. We can only enter into the kingdom of God through our faith in Jesus.

Jesus is the ‘Good Shepherd’ and laid down his life for us. He knows us and we know him and the sound of his voice. Jesus wanted the Church to be one – not split into different factions – so ‘there shall be one flock and one shepherd’ (v.16). Jesus came to us Gentiles – sheep from a different sheep pen – to round us up and lead us to evergreen pasture.

No-one took Jesus’ life from him. He could have called for a legion of mighty angels to prevent him from being captured. Jesus volunteered to die as he knew that was his Father’s plan for him. Jesus knew at this stage that he also had been given authority from God to be resurrected.

Good people produce good fruit. Jesus proved by his wonderful healing miracles that he came from God.

Psalm 62:1-12

We will never be at rest until our soul finds rest in God. He will be our mighty rock, our fortress and our salvation (v.2) forever. We will never be shaken when we have full faith in God. Our hope comes from him (v.5).

God will prosper us and give us what we need but we need to love him alone and not become obsessed with his financial blessings and our bank accounts.

Our bodies will crumble to dust, all we have is our eternal spirit. We are all just a breath of God, so insubstantial it cannot be weighed on a scale but it is the very essence of our immortal soul.

Our God is strong and loving. We will be rewarded for what we have done.

The Resurrection / The Road to Emmaus: April 27th 2021

Joshua 11:1-12:24

All the Northern kings came together to fight the invading Israelites. They joined forces at Merom (v.5).

God told Joshua not to be afraid because, by the next day, they would all be handed over to Israel, slain (v.6). Joshua was instructed to burn their chariots and hamstring their horses after their defeat. This meant cutting the large tendon on the back of the horses’ knees, which made them unusable for warfare. Sounds horrible but this is a fight for survival. This may have been a test from God because horses and chariots would have been very useful when invading the promised land. Perhaps, the Israelites had no experience of chariot warfare or God still wanted them to walk into battle, completely dependent on him.

Joshua obeyed God completely and none of his enemies survived. ‘He hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots’ (v.9). God hardened the hearts of the enemies of Israel to keep waging war against Israel so that they might be eliminated completely (v.20). Only the sneaky Gibeonites had managed to make a peace treaty through their subterfuge. Joshua wiped out the enemies of God as Jesus wiped out the demons that he encountered. Both sets of enemies would have quaked at their names. Joshua means exactly the same as the name Jesus: ‘the Lord saves’. Joshua worked with God to conquer all the Israelites’ enemies during the time that he led them. Jesus conquered all of humankind’s past, present and future enemies through his death on the cross.

Joshua destroyed the race of giants from the hill country, the Anakites (v.21). The Anakites were descendants of the mysterious Nephilim. The Nephilim may have been genetically engineered as part of a demonic plan. It has long been debated as to whether demons can have sex with people. Traditionally, a ‘male’ demon, an incubus, develops an obsession with a young woman and oppresses her, visiting her in the night to rape her and jealously attacking any male human who tries to have a relationship with her (see the book of Tobit). Meanwhile, the ‘female’ equivalent, the succubus, visits men at night to have sex with them. Demons can’t create new life / eggs or sperm themselves so what is the point? Many people think this was the first attempt at IVF and that the incubus and succubus are the same creature and can morph from one to another. The ‘female’ succubus harvests sperm from men, the sperm then has it’s DNA manipulated before it is used to inseminate a human woman, by the same demon changing into an incubus. The result is a human woman becoming pregnant with demonically manipulated sperm. The resultant child has strange powers and is loyal to and controlled by the fallen angels. These progeny were of great height and strength – the Nephilim. This is why God wanted them wiped out as they were demon-worshipping abominations. They were present both before and after the flood, because the demons simply engineered more of them after the first generation were drowned.

‘Joshua took the whole land’. ‘Then the land had rest from war’ (v.23).

Luke 24:1-35

The women visited the tomb on the first day of the week (our Sunday) to anoint Jesus’ body. This is why Christians rest and worship on Sunday (and not on the Old Testament Sabbath / Saturday). The stone was rolled away from the tomb and the body had gone. Two angels ‘in clothes that gleamed like lightning’ (v.4) reminded the shocked women that Jesus had said he would rise on the third day.

‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ (v.5). Jesus had achieved the greatest ever victory over the devil when his death on the cross wiped out our sin, making us righteous before God and opening the gates of heaven so we may have eternal life. Now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he had been raised from the dead and death had been defeated forever.

The apostles did not believe them. Not because they were women but ‘because their words seemed to them like nonsense’ (v.11). Here we can clearly see that James is not Jesus’s actual brother. Mary, the mother of James in verse 10 is ‘Mary of Clopas’. Mary was an extremely common name. Mary, the Mother of Jesus / God, remained a virgin for her entire life. She had been dedicated to the temple as a vocational virgin at a very young age. Being a virgin was her job.

It was wonderful that Peter, the human leader of the church, should be so excited by the women’s reports that he alone got up and ran to the tomb (v.12). He saw the strips of linen lying by themselves – which may, according to legend, be still with us today as the Turin shroud. Jesus’ image was burnt onto them by intense UV as he was resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit. ‘The only known explanation for the formation of the image is an intense burst of vacuum ultraviolet radiation (equivalent to the output of 14,000 excimer lasers) emitted from every three-dimensional point of the body in the Shroud’ https://www.simplycatholic.com/shroud-of-turin-evidence-of-jesus-resurrection/.

Jesus joined two disciples on the road to Emmaus but ‘they were kept from recognising him’ (v.16). God can prevent people from recognising Jesus and his works and he can also harden people’s hearts so they choose not to come to him. This is a mystery. If we have not been given the gift of faith we should pray to receive it after first making a decision to ‘believe’ the gospel. Belief comes first and then we tell people about it – stepping out in faith. Then our faith will grow. ‘Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.’ The spirit of unbelief is rife at the moment. Look at how people have denied Covid. We should bind this spirit, in the name of Jesus, and pray that our ugly, hardened, unbelieving heart can transfigure into a beautiful, childlike, trusting one. ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’ (Psalm 51:10).

The two disciples were treated to the greatest scripture lesson of all time as Jesus, ‘explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself’ (v.27). It caused their hearts to burn within them as he ‘opened the scriptures to them’ (v.32). We should get just as excited at reading our Bibles on a daily basis as the word of God cuts into our life like a double-edged sword. I got so excited recently when I realised that Jesus himself frequently appeared in the Old Testament (these appearances are called Christophanies). Jesus not only created Adam and Eve in his image, giving them life by breathing into Adam’s nostrils, he loved to spend time with them and walk with them in the cool of the evening. He lovingly clothed them with garments of skin after their fall. The first animals to die in Eden had to shed their blood to cover man’s sins. Now, with his own death, Jesus restored Adam and Eve back to their right relationship with God by washing away their sin with his precious blood.

The Emmaus disciples still did not recognise Jesus until ‘he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them’ (v.30). They got up and rushed back to tell the disciples. When we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we encounter Jesus in the breaking of bread. We should rush to tell others when we have finally recognised Jesus and our eyes have been opened.

Psalm 51:10-19

This is King David’s penitential prayer after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. David was truly penitent for this terrible sins. He acknowledged his iniquity and so still qualified as a man who pleased God. We too can be forgiven, no matter what sins we have committed, if we humbly renounce them and repent.

We should pray that God should purify our heart and renew our spirit (v.10). By praying in tongues on a daily basis, the Holy Spirit will edify us. He will build us up, strengthen us and make us steadfast (resolutely firm and unwavering).

It would be disastrous if God were to cast us from our presence or take his Holy Spirit from us. God can restore to us the joy of his salvation and will sustain us, through our willing spirit (v.12). When we visit a Pentecostal church we can witness to the joy of salvation. It is fitting for us to praise God joyfully ever day of our lives.

In return for all that God has done for us, we need to teach people who do not yet know him his ways. Sinners will turn back to him (v.13). Our songs will sing of his righteousness because Jesus bought our salvation, he paid for our guilt, through the sacrifice of his perfect and holy blood.

When we pray in the Spirit, we can more effectively declare our praise for God. God is close to the broken hearted. He sometimes lets our spirit become broken, humble and contrite so that we will turn to him and become stronger and more effective at being his witnesses throughout society. God works for the good for all that love him.

Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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