Friday, July 20, 2018

Hebrew Testament text for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene observed 22 July 2018

Judith 9:1,11-14        Judith prostrated herself, put ashes on her head, and uncovered the sackcloth she was wearing. At the very time when the evening incense was being offered in the house of God in Jerusalem, Judith cried out to the Lord with a loud voice, and said, “Your strength does not depend on numbers, nor your might on the powerful. But you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forsaken, savior of those without hope. Please, please, God of my father, God of the heritage of Israel, Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of the waters, King of all your creation, hear my prayer! Make my deceitful words bring wound and bruise on those who have planned cruel things against your covenant, and against your sacred house, and against Mount Zion, and against the house your children possess. Let your whole nation and every tribe know and understand that you are God, the God of all power and might, and that there is no other who protects the people of Israel but you alone!”

Reflection        When facing a foreign power that is bent on conquering the people, sometimes we hear a Biblical prophet instruct the people of God to await the intrusion of a supernatural savior. This is not the message Judith is delivering. Judith is calling the people to put their faith in God and join her in taking decisive action against their oppressors. 

“There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.” (Eccl 3.1-8)

In other words, sometimes we are called to be still and sometimes we are called to action. Judith rises from the ashes of mourning the death of her husband to beguile the would be oppressor King Holofernes with her  beauty and“deceitful words” and then, chop off his head. This terrifies Holofernes Assyrian army that immediately beats a hasty retreat and ”No one ever again spread terror among the Israelites during the lifetime of Judith.” (Jth 16.25) 

Judith's faith is audacious, devoted to her God and to her people. She uses her particular gifts of beauty and wit to defeat the king and army who would oppress the people, destroy their temple and demand they give up their religion. 

What does this ancient story have to say to us today? There is a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to be still and a time to act. I believe it is time to join the ranks of Judith,  first raising our voices in devotion to God with us and then acting with audacious faith to use whatever gifts, charms or wit we each have to disarm anyone who would oppress, disrespect or deny the dignity of any human being.  

Deliverance is the purview of God working in ways that never cease to ignite our wonder, love and praise. And, each and every one of us can participate in God’s deliverance through our audacious faith and uncanny wit. In the words Rabbi Sachs, "If the people keep faith with God and one another, no force on earth can defeat them. If they do not, no force can save them."

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