Friday, September 7, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Judith 12-13 and Hebrews 12

Judith 12 – Holofernes invites Judith to have dinner with him. She says she cannot eat his food – she might “incur some fault” if the food involves anything the Law considers unclean. She has brought her own food. Holofernes asks how they could get more of the foods she can eat if she runs out. She says, “Never fear, my lord, the Lord will have used me to accomplish his plan before your servant has finished these provisions” (12:4).

She goes out each night to pray. After four days Holofernes gives a banquet for his staff. He asks a eunuch “in charge of his personal affairs (12:11) to go and ask Judith if she would join them. He is attracted to Judith and thinks others will consider him a wimp if he doesn’t figure out how to seduce her.

Judith responds to the eunuch’s invitation with very encouraging words: “’Who am I . . . to resist my lord? I will not hesitate to do whatever he wishes, and doing this will be my joy to my dying day.’” (12:14). It’s important to remember the Judith is telling the truth here – she just means by “lord” her Lord, not Holofernes.

Holofernes’ heart is “ravished at the sight” of Judith – “his very soul was stirred. He was seized with a violent desire to sleep with her; and indeed since the first day he saw her, he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her” (12:16)

He encourages Judith to drink and enjoy herself; and Holofernes also goes and drinks “far more wine than he had drunk on any other day in his life” (12:20).

Judith 13 – It gets late and Holofernes’ staff leaves to go to bed. Holofernes is alone with Judith at last. He is very drunk and Judith prays, “’Lord God, to whom all strength belongs, prosper what my hands are now to do for the greater glory of Jerusalem, now is the time to recover your heritage and further my designs to crush the enemies arrayed against us’. (13:4-5).

She takes Holofernes’ scimitar, which is hanging next to his bedpost and cuts his head off. She places the head in the food bag she has brought with her as usual. Then she and her attendant go out as they have every night for her to do her prayers. But this night, they slip out of the camp and returns to Bethulia, where her people are.
Judith shows them the head and praises God for having saved them. Their leader Uzziah praises Judith: “The trust you have shown shall not pass from the memories of men, but shall ever remind them of the power of God” (13:19). And the people shout, “Amen.” 

Hebrews 12 – These are the “cloud of witnesses” (12:1). We should be inspired by them to keep persevering. “Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from no on has taken his place at the right of God’s throne” (12:2).

“Suffering is part of [our] training”(12:7). Remember those though Old Testament verses about how a father should train his sons; they may not appeal to the modern mind, but they spoke to the people of Jesus’ time. We must not be discouraged if it seems God is punishing us or making us suffer. It might be necessary for us to learn how we must walk in faith.

The Cross as a Path to Perfection and "Joy" - For early Friends, it was what they called the “motions,” and inward “operations” of God’s Spirit that led them to the crosses they bore to attain what they saw as “perfection” and which also was associated with "joy" - not the joy we sometimes see as associated only with earthly things, but the spiritual joy that comes from being truly what God wants us to be. Here is the testimony of 17th c Friend Stephen Crisp:

.  .  . the cross of Christ was laid upon me, and I bore it..  And as I came willingly to take it up, I found it to be to me, that thing which I had fought from my childhood, even the power of God; for by it I was crucified to the world, and it to me, which nothing else could ever do.  But oh, the secret joy that was in me in the midst of all my conflicts and combats.
       I had this confidence, if I take but up the cross, I shall obtain victory, for that’s the power of God through faith to salvation, and as I have found it so in some things, so I shall do in all in due time . . .And that was my great care night and day, to keep so low and out of the workings of my own will, that I might discern the mind of God, and do it, though in never so great a cross to my own.
     So the more I came to feel and perceive the love of God and his goodness to flow forth upon me, the more was I humbled and bowed in my mind to serve him, and to serve the least of his people among whom I walked. (Stephen Crisp, Early Quaker Writings, 204-205)

Seek to be faithful: seek peace with all people and holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord (12:14).  Do not permit any “root of bitterness” to grow and poison the community (12:15) and be careful that no immorality or degrading of the faith.

The knowledge we have in the Gospel here explained is not anything that can be “known to the senses” (12:18). We have been invited to the “city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival” with the Church “in which everyone is a “’first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s. Make sure that you never refuse to listen when he speaks” (12:23-25).

It’s so interesting that the Jerusalem Bible note for the end of chapter 12 says that the Eucharistic liturgy is key to this new life. George Fox and early Friends thought the writer was writing about the end of outward liturgical forms, which they saw as “worldly.” To me this battle over “outward” or “material” things and their relationship or lack of relationship to “spiritual” realities is just the never-ending debate between Plato and Aristotle. And I think Christians HAVE to come down on Aristotle’s side – if the perfect and eternal God of all became a man in Jesus, that ends it. We come to the eternal, the perfect and the REAL through the “incarnation” – the material, transient, and lowly. I think that the essence of all liturgy should be to help us enter into a spiritual dimension that makes Christ’s “once and for all time” sacrifice present to us now.

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