Have you read 1 Samuel 25 lately? Me neither, until someone suggested it this week. It is part of the saga of David before he becomes king. In this episode, David and his men have spent the winter near Carmel during which time they protected the sheepherders of a man named Nabal. When time came for shearing the sheep, a time of festival, David sent some of his men to Nabal to ask for hospitality for him and his men. But Nabal, a wicked and surly man, refuses.
David's men return to him and give him the message. David is incensed and determines to slaughter all of Nabal's men. Meanwhile, Nabal's shepherds go to his wife Abigail and report what has happened, urging her to do something to avoid war.
While David and his men are marching toward Carmel, here comes Abigail, riding on a donkey, bringing bread and wine, raisins and figs, along with lamb meat and grain. They meet in a valley and Abigail is able to turn aside David's wrath by apologizing and making reparation for the refusal of hospitality by her husband. Abigail's quick action averted war and saved the lives of many.
Abigail returned home to find her husband drunk from the party. So she waited until the next morning to tell him what she had done.
For Reflection: There are many things we can learn from this story, but let us begin with the first item: refusal of hospitality. Hospitality was extremely important in the Hebrew world. Particularly in a desert region, which this was, one was never to refuse the basics of food, drink and lodging. Yet Nabal did, even though he was rich and David and his men had been protecting Nabal's men all winter. Do we identify with Nabal or with David?
Is there anyone to whom we have refused hospitality? Why? Can this be remedied?
We may not want to welcome a stranger into our home today, but do we look out for the lost and the homeless? Are we kind to those who need to see a friendly, smiling face? Have we failed to return a favor or pay it forward? God calls us to peace and hospitality.
Let us pray. Jesus, sometimes I identify with Nabal. Why should I share more of my hard-earned resources with others? There have also been times when I've refused a family member entry to my home. I'd like to be more like Abigail and find a way to bring peace. I know you don't want me to be at odds with anyone. Show me a way through. Show me the way to stop the war, make amends and bring peace to the family. Help me to be hospitable.
Another gate into our lives is our eyes (for context see the previous two posts). This gate may be even more under attack than our ears. Images abound in our society. From TV, to YouTube, to movies, to billboards, to Facebook and Instagram, to everything and everyone we see in a day or a night, our eyes are constantly bombarded with pictures good and bad. Are not most of the reality TV shows nothing more than voyeurism? Once seen, an image cannot be unseen, so we need to guard this opening into our lives very carefully.
For Reflection: We can train ourselves to avert our eyes and even avoid the temptation altogether. If we think a TV show or movie is going to be excessively violent or sexually suggestive, we can avoid it. TV and movies now warn of sexual and violent content. Do we pay attention to the ratings or disregard them? Now that pornography is readily available over the internet, have we succumbed to watching it? When did voyeurism become acceptable in our lives? Have we been flooding our eye gate with harmful images?
Let us pray. Jesus, first I repent for looking at images I should not have. I ask you to forgive me for not being more careful with the eyes that you entrusted to me. Second, I ask you to remove from my memory the images that don't belong there, that tear people down, that tear me down, rather than lifting people up. I ask you to remove all images that don't give glory to you in some way. Help me to close my eyes to people and things around me that are not good for me to see and to concentrate on those images that are uplifting. Help me to see all people as you made them to be, in your image.
As we pray and fast today for persecuted Christians around the world, the song "O Holy Night" was going around in my mind. I thought that was really strange - a Christmas carol playing in my head while praying against persecution. So I looked up the words. The third verse and chorus, which I don't ever recall hearing, are as follows (according to Wikipedia).
Truly He taught us to love one another;
Today let us remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of evil and the ruling spirits of murder, hatred, slavery, persecution and oppression (Ephesians 6:12-13). We do not seek revenge or retribution.
Let us pray. Jesus, we place ourselves within your hedge of protection as a surrounding barrier and we put ourselves under your wing. We stand today with those who are too weak to stand, in too much pain or fear to utter a prayer. And we command the powers of darkness to be dispelled by the light of Christ. We tear down the strongholds of murder, hatred, slavery, and persecution. We break the chains of those who are enslaved. We declare for all the world to hear that "Jesus Christ is Lord."
(In honor of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria and their mothers.)
Korea, early 1800s
Cecilia's husband was killed by the authorities because he was Christian. Eventually she went to live with her son who was involved in dangerous missions work. Cecilia prayed for the success of her son's work and practiced a life of sacrifice so that others might eat.
At the age of 79 Cecilia was arrested. The authorities demanded that she renounce her faith and tell them where her son was. She refused and was whipped repeatedly until she died with the names of Jesus and his mother Mary on her lips.
(This account is taken from the May issue of Magnificat, an excellent resource for daily prayer and Scripture reading. http://www.Magnificat.com )
For reflection: Christians have been persecuted since the time of Jesus. Several times per hour, somewhere in the world, another Christian dies.
Let us pray. Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. (Psalm 35:1) We ask you, Lord, to deliver the girls in Nigeria from their abductors without further harm and to release from prison all who are persecuted for their faith.
Often when I pray with people it seems that they think God has "put them through tough times" deliberately in order to develop their character, help them grow, or whatever.
Let's take a look at this concept through the lens of Joseph's story. If this concept is true, then God meant for Joseph to be sold into slavery in order to punish him for sin, or develop his character and turn him into a great leader, or even just to get him to Egypt from his homeland.
First, if all God wanted was to get Joseph from Canaan to Egypt, God could have done that any number of ways without putting Joseph through turmoil and suffering.
Second, Joseph's suffering helped to develop his character and abilities as a leader, but God is not the one who sold him into slavery, or falsely accused him, or put him in prison. People did that, not God.
Third, clearly God was with Joseph throughout this time. Genesis 39:2-3 tell us that God was with Joseph in Potiphar's house and that Potiphar recognized this fact and that Joseph was a blessing to him. In Genesis 39:21, it clearly says that God was with Joseph in prison where he rose to a leadership position and he had favor with the warden. When Joseph went to work for Pharaoh, it became obvious that God had raised him to that position to save Egypt from the famine. God was continually blessing Joseph, not punishing him.
Finally, Joseph himself recognized that what his brothers had done to him was not the work of God. "You meant evil against me; but God has used it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive," Joseph tells his brothers after they are reconciled (Genesis 50:20). The evil, the slavery, the imprisonment were not God's doing. As with Joseph, God is with us in our trials, with us in our suffering.
For reflection: How has God been with me in my trials? For what problems am I blaming God?
Let us pray. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness
Today in the United States we have the 40th annual mourning of the babies aborted since abortion became legal in the U.S. Thousands of people will march in Washington to say that life is sacred. Not only should babies not be aborted, but our schools should not become shooting galleries, teens should not be killed on the streets, and adults on death row should not be executed.
Children are both a parent's blessing and an obligation. They provide both joy and frustration. Parents are both a child's blessing and an obligation. They provide both joy and frustration.
Let us pray today for our children and our parents. Eternal Father, I ask you to bless my children as you blessed your Son. Bless them with a right relationship with you, a long and healthy life, and eternal happiness in your kingdom.
Jesus, I ask you to bless my parents. May they have a long and healthy life and walk in your ways all their days. May your face ever shine upon them.
"O Flower of Jesse's Stem" is the next title in the O Antiphons. Surely it is one of the more obscure titles of the Messiah.
Who was Jesse? Jesse was the father of King David. It was prophesied by Isaiah that the Messiah would come from the lineage of King David. "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit" (Isaiah 11:1) and "In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious" (11:10). It was also foretold by Micah that the Messiah would hail from Bethlehem. "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:2).
Because of these prophecies concerning the Messiah, Matthew gives us the lineage of Jesus (Matthew 1) and Luke provides the story of how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, the City of David (Luke 2). Thus they help to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus, of the tribe of Jesse, of the town of Bethlehem, is the full flowering of the Messianic promises made through the ages.
For Reflection: Christians were persecuted around the world this year. Some had their churches bombed. Some were not allowed to worship openly. Some were not allowed to visit Bethlehem for Christmas.
Let us pray. O Wisdom, O Lord, O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
So the temple courts is where the guards found the apostles preaching. The guards brought them back to the Jewish leaders without the use of force. The apostles did not resist. The full Sanhedrin was gathered (70 men) ready to pass judgment on the apostles. (The apostles in this account remain unnumbered and unnamed except for Peter.)
The trial is going against the apostles (the majority wanted to put the apostles to death) when Gamaliel urges caution. "In the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts 5:38-39).
His speech was persuasive and the apostles were only flogged, not executed. And, of course, the Sanhedrin told them again to stop speaking in the name of Jesus.
The apostles' response? "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ" (for the whole story see Acts 5:17-42).
Telling the disciples to stop preaching about Jesus had no effect. Throwing them in prison had no effect. Flogging them had no effect.
For reflection: Am I as determined as they were? Would what they went through stop me? Have I ever invited someone to my home to talk about Jesus?
Let us pray. Holy Spirit, I'm afraid these things would stop me. I need more of your strength to stand up to threats, imprisonment and violence. Also, help me to open my home and my heart to others who need to hear about you.
Recently I was reading a novel called The Known World by Edward P. Jones. The main character is Henry Townsend who was born into slavery and bought out of slavery by his father. However, when Henry grows up, he himself owns over 30 slaves. It is a very disturbing book.
What reminded me of it was Psalm 49:7-9 - "No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him -- the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough -- that he should live on forever and not see decay." How much is a life worth in monetary terms? Yes, prices were determined for slaves dependent upon sex, age and health because they were seen as a commodity based upon their projected value in labor. Life insurance policies put a value on a person's life too. But how much is the life of a child (who has no labor value) worth to a parent? For all the parents who have lost a child to school violence in our country, what would they give to have their children back?
I have asked you before, now I invite you again, to pray for those people in our society who may be prone to violence either to themselves or to others. (I heard this week that a suicide occurs about every 15 minutes in the U.S.) You will find a suggested prayer on this website under Prayer Resources.
"The ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough."
A week ago we in the U.S. experienced another shooting in a school. Unfortunately it was not the first, and may not be the last. Many people are again raising the issue of gun control as a way of
decreasing or eliminating these random acts of violence.
I am not against gun control, but I don’t see it as the sole answer, or even the primary answer, to the problem that has been manifested. It could reasonably be argued that if people did not have access to guns they would still find a way to act out their aggression. There are other ways to kill people, individually or in groups. We cannot control all the means available.
The people responsible for killings of this type have been disturbed individuals, obviously. Some were known to the local mental health professionals; others were not receiving any kind of treatment. I applaud the mental health practitioners and the parents and other loved ones who made every attempt to help these disturbed individuals. I’m sure they are heartbroken about the death and destruction of lives. But people who need help can’t be watched 24 hours a day or locked away on the possibility that they might commit a crime. There is no known cure for many mental illnesses, depression, anger or other factors that lead people to commit such atrocities. So, unfortunately, better mental health care is not the answer either.
Since gun control and better mental health care are not the answer, what is? I would like to challenge Christians to unite against violence. How? Through prayer. Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.” Why don’t we take him at his word? I propose that we each choose one person to pray for daily who might be at risk for violence. But we must do so out of love, without passing judgment on them. If you don’t know of anyone personally, ask a teacher which one of their students they would most like prayer for – perhaps a bully or the victim of a bully, a child with a learning disability, or an unstable home life. Are all of these people prone to violence later in life?
Of course not. But we can still do incalculable good to those for whom we pray (Eph 3:20).
How ought we to pray for these people we have chosen? Pray blessings on them (Rom 15:13, Eph 1:16-20, Eph 5:1-2, Philippians 1:9-11). Pray that they choose life ( Dt 30: 15-16, 19-20); pray that they have life to the full (John 10:10), pray that they know God as their refuge and help in times of trouble (Dt 33:27, Ps 2:12, Ps 9:9, Ps 18:2, Ps 36:7, Ps 46:1, Ps 91:2). Pray for an increase of the fruit of the Spirit in their life (Gal 5:22-26). Pray for peace in their life (John 14:27, Luke 24:36). And pray above all that they be healed in body, mind and spirit. For after all, we are one body in Christ. What we pray for them, we also pray for ourselves.
There is a way to overcome violence because with God all things are possible. Let us unite in prayer.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.