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David’s Rescue: A Cautionary Tale

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We often teach or preach based on a single passage, parable, or even chapter of scripture.  But I LOVE hearing the voice of David Suchet (who played Hercule Poirot for 25 years of drama) read the Holy Bible in the NIV-UK version, and found myself listening to the Book of 1 Samuel as Mr. Suchet narrated.

In Chapter 24 we see King Saul, maddened with jealousy and fear, seeking the life of David. While David and his men hide in a cave stronghold, Saul (leading his men) enters the cave to answer a call of nature, and David has his perfect opportunity to dispatch this enemy. He refrains, not to bloody his hands in revenge against the Lord’s anointed king. To hear the encounter and its conclusion (which takes 3 minutes and 48 seconds) click RIGHT HERE.

Normally, teaching ends right there and we break until another week, or lesson, or sermon, or whatever. (After all… the chapter is ended… go in peace… etc.) But as one blessed teacher of mine was always diligent to point out… “Scripture itself” didn’t come with chapter divisions. The next chapter “looks like” it takes up a whole new topic as David deals with some new characters Nabal and Abigail.

I was just letting Mr. Suchet transport me without interruption, and for the first time I saw this really cool thing I thought I’d share.

David is prudently yet living in the “field” with his forces, as King Saul wavers between contrition and homicidal fury. In the past, David has done good things for Nabal, protecting his staff and his goods in the wilderness, preserving them from any loss. He sends messengers with blessings and courteous words, and asks for such provisions as Nabal might spare for David and his troops.

Nabal, both named and acting the fool by nature, not only refuses succor, but rebuffs the messengers with deep insults and contempt for David. David seems cut to the quick, and resolves to redeem his honor and pride by killing every male of Nabal’s holdings. Fortunately, Nabal’s servants have overheard the initial insulting encounter, report all this to Abigail the mistress of the household, Nabal’s wife, who has provisions prepared and travels to David with words of service and apology, along with praise for the God of Israel and David as His servant.

To hear the entirety of THIS part of the story, take 7 minutes 50 seconds and hear Mr. Suchet narrate RIGHT HERE.

Generally, this also is taught as a “distinct chapter”, a “unit”, and we focus on the wisdom of Abigail, the foolishness and haughtiness of Nabal, on God’s wrath and judgment of Nabal, and the “everyone lived happily ever after” of the outcomes. All well, true, and good as far as it goes.

But this time, I was arrested by David’s gratitude towards Abigail for preventing his sin against Nabal’s household. She calmed his wounded pride and thirst for revenge, and he very distinctly thanked her for that. (I wonder if it was this, that attracted him to ask her hand in marriage when she was widowed.) But his words here are…

‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me.  May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.’ [verses 32-33]

And later…

‘Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.’ [verse 39]

What struck me today was something I’d never seen before, and it only hit me because of the short time between the two narratives… but…

Isn’t it interesting how nobly David resists any temptation to avenge himself on King Saul, for his contempt, his insults, and his murderous pursuit, citing his refusal to have blood on his hands of the Lord’s anointed? And yet how soon thereafter David is roused to a murderous rage over the ill-chosen (all right, the “stupid”) words of a fool? He had cared for all those workmen in the wilderness, and they apparently loved and respected him (for it was they who went to Ms. Abigail)… and yet by this simple prick of his ego, this slight to his accomplishments, dignity, and graciousness, he prepares to slaughter who knows how many, to vent his wrath.

Rightly, he praises God and Abigail for preventing him from so great a sin, and life carries on.

But it struck me, and I wanted to share with you, Gentle Reader… how often we can sense a “large” spiritual challenge to our grace, and overcome it… only to fall to some niggling pettifogging prick to pride, ego, or dignity.

If David had killed the men of Nabel’s household, he’d have slain the very men who admired him and went to Abigail. Would such murder have been as great a sin as the regicide of King Saul? With “sin” and “God” is there such a question as “how big”?

This struck me, for myself, as a cautionary tale. It sometimes seems much easier to avoid the “big sins” in my life, only to fall so frequently to the “fleas” that seem able to niggle in past the plates of my armor. The Enemy doesn’t give up on temptation after one unsuccessful attempt, and I’ve long learned that “adrenalin is the Enemy’s favorite drug of choice”. If I can be made impatient or aggravated, if my pride or dignity can be pricked and offended, I can reach a murderous anger far more easily than I care to admit. (Cf. Matthew 5:21-22)

Anyway, just a cool thing I’ve never seen before, nor heard taught or preached… Thought you might find it interesting as well, Gentle Reader. Grace to you… Pray for me always!

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The Child at the Back…

Once upon a time, a small troop of people drudged along an uphill road, and found they’d arrived at their destination. They sought the Kingdom of God, and had reached the front gates.

Together they paused in silence, rapt in wonder, awe, worship, gratitude, and… honestly… fatigue, yet aglow with their sense of accomplishment. Most, but not all, were middle aged or older. Most were well dressed, some in ornate robes, others in business attire, some in Sunday best. There were both men and women.

An ancient man, apparently the porter, appeared outside the door and greeted the group cordially.

“Welcome to the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is wonderful to see all of you. Now, why have you come?”

At this, there was some milling about and muttering. None was quite sure what to say. Finally a man stepped forward and said, “Sir, we seek to enter. We have have traveled long hard roads, seeking to enter in to the Kingdom of God.”

The old gatekeeper nodded, “that’s marvelous. Well done. Now, good sir, why should I admit you? What is your qualification?”

The man pulled out a neat scroll and handed it forward. “I have sought this gate all my life. I have lived a righteous life, always doing right as I could. I’ve never lied or defrauded anyone. I fear God, and seek to obey His commandments with all my heart.”

The old man nodded approvingly, took the scroll, and said, “Well done, my son. You are very near indeed to the Kingdom.”

Turning to another petitioner, he asked the same questions. This man was mighty in worship leadership and had led thousands of believers in singing the praises and glory of God. He, too, was congratulated on his efforts and assured that he was very near.

The next was a woman who had spent her entire life in prayer and encouraging others to spend time with the Lord. She offered up all sufferings to the glory of God, and sought His will in all things. She had raised her children to fear and reverence God, and do what was right to honor Him. She too was congratulated, encouraged, and assured of her nearness.

This went on as one after another, everyone named their accomplishments and sacrifices in God’s name, and declared their honor and worship of Him. Each had done wonderful things, including one who had studied their whole life acquiring great academic honors and mastering all the sacred languages. He sought admittance through his efforts to teach the world of the wonders of the words of God. The last, or nearly last, conversation was with a mighty pastor who had built a magnificent cathedral, led many thousands to relationship with God, and trained many hundreds in their own lives of ministry and service. When asked why he had done all this, he said that Jesus was his Lord and his model, and he sought to live as Jesus had lived, in honor of God.

Everyone thought, “Ah, certainly THIS man… with all THAT to say…. all THAT he has done…. surely, this man, will pass through the gate.”

Yet, he received the same response, including the great approval and encouragement, from the Porter.

A quiet scuffing sound was heard from the back of the group, as a small child in quite nondescript clothing had turned around and began to shuffle back down the road away from the gate.

The Porter stepped forward, raised his cracked voice, and addressed the child. “You there!” as he stretched his arm towards the child and all the adults made way. (The wee one had been hidden at the back of the group where no one had seen.) The shuffling steps stopped, as the downcast figure slowly turned.

“Mm… me? Sir?” the child responded in a voice nearly too soft to hear.

The old man smiled warmly, “Yes, youngster. You. Why are you here?” The Porter’s eyes shone with friendly light as he encouraged the child to speak. “Don’t be afraid. Please tell me why you’ve come.”

“Well, sir. I came to find this gate, and to pass through into there, into the Kingdom.” The sibilant voice grew a bit, as the child’s eyes rose to meet his.

“Very good, little one. Why then, do you seem to want to leave before we’ve even spoken?”

The gaze and voice quickly dropped again. “Because I see now, I realize… I haven’t done any of the great things all these fine people have done. I have nothing to show you, good sir. I’m not even properly dressed, being a bit ragged and dusty like this. I have no business here. I’ll go quietly, sir.”

“Wait, little one. How did you find the path to here?”

“Oh, that. Well, sometimes, I seem to hear Jesus’ voice calling me, leading me. Sometimes I think I can see His footsteps, or I catch a glimpse of Him up ahead. I think I’ve heard Him call to me, saying ‘Follow Me’, and so, whenever I’ve thought I had the direction right, or I could see the steps, I’ve tried to follow. One day, I met up with all these people, who had maps and books and things. And together, here we are….”

“I see,” nodded the old Porter. “So you followed. Now, granted that you don’t yet have a big list of mighty deeds or works to show, tell me WHY you want to enter these doors? What do you hope to gain?”

The child was a long time before answering, but no one broke the silence. All the elders found themselves thinking about the question for themselves. What did they really seek, hoping to enter in?

Finally the child answered, “Sir, I just want to get in to find HIM. I’ve heard Him. I’ve seen Him from time to time. But I just want to find Him, grab Him, and… and… hug Him.”

At this, some of the elders repressed a snort. How silly did that sound? Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! The Great Majesty of All Creation. And here this child speaks of grabbing… and hugging…  psh.

The Porter came close up to the child, dropped to one knee so they were face to face, and nearly whispered… “And why, child… Why do you so seek to hug Him that you’ve come all this way and dare even this?”

Tears welled as their eyes met, and the child whispered simply,  “because, sir, I love Him. I don’t know very much. I haven’t done very much, certainly nothing great. I’ve just heard His voice, seen Him now and again, and I love Him. That’s why I’ve come.”

The old Porter hugged the child, as the great gate door dissolved. There, to the astonishment of all, stood Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Joyfully He laughed as He dropped to one knee with His arms wide open for the child.

“Finally! You’ve arrived! I’ve been waiting. Together we will see everything. I cannot wait to show you.” Jesus had lifted the child up in His arms with a mighty heave. If a little one could fly, that’s how it seemed as together they shared a moment of sheer joy unspeakable.

Turning to the others, the Lord said, “I am so glad you are ALL here. You are so very close. You have all done so well, My good and faithful servants. As soon as you are ready, come in and join Us. You lack only one thing…” and, carrying the child in His arms, He passed through the gate back into His Kingdom.

Astonished, all the elders were left standing with the Porter, who had gently arisen and strode back to his post. Everyone was reviewing these amazing events in their mind, pondering heavy to understand.

The eldest and wisest of the lot, suddenly smiled and nodded. He exchanged glances with the Porter, who realized that understanding had dawned. Quietly he walked up to the Porter and whispered in his ear. The Porter stood aside as he passed in.

Everyone left standing there wondered what he had understood, and what he had said.

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2017 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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A Not-So-Random Act of Kindness…

angel glowThe past few days I’ve been thinking of “seeing God in all things”, and my early training in things spiritual. This afternoon, this embarrassing recollection came to me of a “mundane miracle” (the kind folks don’t think much about or speak to others of)… and I had the impulse to write it up. That impulse was instantly smothered by my own pride and sense of dignity, as I thought, “Oh no! I can’t put THAT episode out there. I look so foolish!”

Well, as prayers go, we all know how THAT was going to end up, so please feel free to laugh at the foolishness of my callow youth. I hasten to add that I was deep in the throes of my 19 year old omniscience at the time. I had recently been baptized after a year of catechumenate, thought I had a thorough grip on both religion and spirituality, and… basically… considered myself God’s gift to Christendom. (I shake my head and blush to admit all of that… but there it is… the truth is just the truth.)

Anyway, my Jesuit Dad was out of town on a business trip, I was a college student, and typically I attended noonday Mass at the campus chapel if Dad were not at home to celebrate Mass in the late afternoon. Morning classes finished up, and as I was reaching the brick staircase down to the subterranean Chapel that occupied our subgrade complex of Fountain, Bookstore, Chapel, and Cafeteria, an old tatty hunched over woman asked for my aid. (Insert my instant label “bag lady” right here, as she dragged along a little pull-behind grocery cart thingy, was covered in a disheveled gray wool overcoat, and had a bit of a “mothball” air about her).

She hobbled up to me slowly, said I looked like a nice young student, and did we celebrate the Mass here on campus? “Yes! Yes we do…” I responded, as in my mind I thought, “Poor thing. She just wants to beg a lunch from the Cafeteria, and is using the Mass as an excuse to get downstairs. *I*… I [puff out chest in my mind’s eye here] shall be wondrously charitable and do the ‘Christian thing’, and buy her lunch!”

I helped her down the 20 or so brick steps with her cart and pointed out the Chapel doors.

However… quite sure of myself, and brimming over with smug righteous charity, I said, “Are you sure it is the Chapel you want, ma’am? The Cafeteria is right here, and I’ll be glad to buy you lunch if you’d like!” [I could see the glow of my halo now, as heaven itself would pause to watch the Little Monk executing this act of corporal mercy! I was so proud…]

But she said, No, it wasn’t necessary. She would like to attend Mass if I wouldn’t mind opening the door.

“Of course, ma’am,” I responded, not at all discouraged. This humble beggar woman needed to preserve her pride, of course. Dignity above all. And so she would attend Mass as the appropriate reason for being down here, and THEN ask for lunch afterwards. Ah, I understood. I would be ready… to be kind, humble, and charitable! Yes!

She sat a bit apart, as the dozen or so in attendance were scattered about the comfortable, but quite portable chairs. Weekday Mass was a half hour or so affair, and, while I know I prayed at least PART of the time, and most likely paid SOME attention during the celebration of the Eucharist, my mind was mostly occupied with whether I would offer her a soup and sandwich lunch, or go whole hog with a dinner type entree? After all, “feeding the hungry” was a biggie to Christ, so maybe the dinner menu?

OK, so Mass is ended “go in peace, to love and serve the Lord…” “Thanks be to God”… Right, I’m on my way, Lord. And I rejoin my charge, waiting for the inevitable request for lunch. Which… which… doesn’t come. As we walk out the doors of the Chapel. So, I think I may need to “grease the way” a bit, and I point out the lovely Cafeteria entrance to our right, asking if she’d ever been here before.

No, no she’d never been here. This seemed a very nice place. Nice Mass. Nice people… and I think, “Ah… ‘nice people’… here it comes. She’s going to ask me for lunch. I’m SO ready…” and… her request never comes as we walk past the Cafeteria to the brick stairs up and out.

Now, I’m downright confused. I KNOW I had this sussed. What’s going on?

She simply asks if I will help her get her cart up the steps and walk her to the sidewalk. I say of course I will, but I am so unspeakably confused.

We get to the sidewalk, she thanks me, and begins to toddle away. I keep walking alongside her, and tell her I’m about to go have lunch.

She says, “Oh, how nice, dear. You enjoy that.” and keeps toddling.

Then, nearly with a tone of irritation in my voice, I ask, “Ma’am? Wouldn’t you care to have lunch with me? My treat?”

She stopped, turned to me beaming the world’s most gracious smile, and says, “Oh, no dear. I’m fine. I just wanted to attend Mass, and you are just SO kind to have shown me around and helped me. Thank you. And God bless you.” And off she toddled to the corner, waiting for the light to cross the street.

Um… Gentle Reader… I was “poleaxed”. I turned away, stunned. My grandmother would have told me to close my mouth, as I’d catch flies, my jaw had dropped so far. I’d gotten to the stairs down to the cafeteria again (truly intending to have lunch), and it was only a few seconds later and out of sight of her, when I thought, “I never asked her name, or if she would be coming again.” And I turned back around to rejoin her.

When I got to the corner (no more than 10 seconds later), she was gone. I mean, completely gone. Nowhere in sight in any direction. She shouldn’t have been able even to cross the street in that length of time, and the buildings around that corner were not “pedestrian friendly” (college admin offices and such). There was nowhere a casual visitor could have GONE, not to mention that the main building across the street was the Jesuit Residence, with entrance on the other corner.

This was utterly impossible. That was disturbing. But… I… *I*… had been WRONG! Dead wrong! So incredibly, unbelievably, wrong! I had thought I was being “hustled” in the Name of God. And, to show off my incredible Christian largesse I was perfectly willing to be “hustled in the Name of God by this scheming Bag Lady”. And instead, instead, I had helped an elderly, pious, arthritic… come attend Noonday Mass with no other plan or agenda but to honor God.

O… No…

Ever been there? Ever find yourself blushing and stammering with embarrassment before the entire heavenly court? I just stood there, on that street corner looking around stupidly, as waves of conviction and remorse crashed over me. Pride… pride and vanity… and I’d blown an entire Mass where I could have worshiped, and judged this woman the whole time, and utterly failed to receive the blessing and grace she otherwise had for me, listening to my own “interior narration” of this imaginary drama. Aw… maaaan!

Now, without getting into anything deep of denominational differences, at that point in my upbringing particularly, I was being trained to “dump guilt” as rapidly as possible. Having a Jesuit Dad makes this very convenient in general, as access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is ready to hand almost any time. But Dad was out of town, and this had been SO out of order.

I headed to the office of a friend, who happened to be the Director of Campus Ministry, but he knew my family situation well and knew me pretty well. Fr. Kelly, with this terrific cultured Dublin Irish accent. It was lunchtime and I found him alone in the offices, as I asked if he had a minute. He was happy to see me, directed me to a chair, and asked how things were going. I said I was hoping he would hear my confession.

He was a bit surprised, asked if I didn’t prefer to wait for my Dad to get back, I said no, so graciously he reached for his stole (a purple ribbon-thingy you may see priests use now and again), and we began simply with his words, “OK, tell me about it…”

I told him the story about as honestly as I have just told you, and step-by-step I saw him smile and gently shake his head. He knew me well, he knew my pride and faults, and he could see this whole thing unrolling in front of him. He was not ridiculing me, as he knew I was in real spiritual discomfort here, but at the end he could not help but laugh out loud. (Not the last time I’ve had a priest laugh at my confessions.)

Then we got to the “counseling” part of the Rite, and he nearly glowed with joy.

“Little Monk, I don’t need to say anything about what was out of order there. You’ve seen that quite clearly. But you are NOT seeing the great blessing you’ve had. To be frank, I think it’s entirely possible that this visitor may not have been human at all. I think you’ve just been taught a lesson by an angel. Now, I could tell you ‘don’t judge’ or ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ from now til the cows come home, but this… this lesson God has graced you with… you’ll never forget this as long as you live.

“Have you ever seen her before?” I shook my head. “Well, neither have I, and I know almost all the ‘casual visitors’ to our Masses. I have a very strong feeling we will never see her again, either. But if you ever do, please let me know.

“In the meantime, for your penance just return to the Chapel for a few minutes and pray for that lady, and pray thanking God for this incredible lesson and teaching. I know it has changed you and taught you, in ways that you will always carry with you. Thank you so much for sharing this with me.” And we completed the Rite.

Of course, this woman was never seen again. Now, for any Catholic, an “apparition” of any sort (a physical manifestation of a spiritual entity) is sort of a “big deal”. But, especially at that time, God was doing so many “unlikely things”, and I was yet so “new” as a Catholic, that I didn’t know that or make any big deal of it. The story was so humbling I didn’t really share it outside my family. And, honestly, I’ve seldom thought about it between then and now.

There is no possible way that hobbly woman got away from that corner. So… over time I’ve concluded that was either an angel, as Fr. Kelly speculated, or it may have been the Lord Himself, which my Dad later mentioned as a possible. I hoped it wasn’t Him, as I’d feel all the more embarrassed about the whole episode.

But the bottom line is: Whether this elderly lady was altogether human, or angel, or otherwise… the Event… the Lesson… was totally and thorougly “miracle” in my book. Of all the people she could have approached that day, or of all the people who could have approached ME that day… what are the odds of such a “perfect fit”?

Mundane Miracles… who can fathom the height, the width, the depth of God’s love, grace, and willingness to nurture and grow His children?

Grace to thee… *still blushing a bit*…

The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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