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The Everyday Prayer


 
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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome


Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you.
The child you shall bear will be holy.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Judith 1,1-16

It was the twelfth year of Nebuchadnezzar who reigned over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh. Arphaxad was then reigning over the Medes in Ecbatana.

He surrounded this city with walls of dressed stones three cubits thick and six cubits long, making the rampart seventy cubits high and fifty cubits wide.

At the gates he placed towers one hundred cubits high and, at the foundations, sixty cubits wide,

the gates themselves being seventy cubits high and forty wide to allow his forces to march out in a body and his infantry to parade freely.

About this time King Nebuchadnezzar gave battle to King Arphaxad in the great plain lying in the territory of Ragae.

Supporting him were all the peoples from the highlands, all from the Euphrates and Tigris and Hydaspes, and those from the plains who were subject to Arioch, king of the Elymaeans. Thus many nations had mustered to take part in the battle of the Cheleoudites.

Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians sent a message to all the inhabitants of Persia, to all the inhabitants of the western countries, Cilicia, Damascus, Lebanon, Anti-Lebanon, to all those along the coast,

to the peoples of Carmel, Gilead, Upper Galilee, the great plain of Esdraelon,

to the people of Samaria and its outlying towns, to those beyond Jordan, as far away as Jerusalem, Bethany, Chelous, Kadesh, the river of Egypt, Tahpanhes, Rameses and the whole territory of Goshen,

beyond Tanis too and Memphis, and to all the inhabitants of Egypt as far as the frontiers of Ethiopia.

But the inhabitants of these countries ignored the summons of Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians and did not rally to him to make war. They were not afraid of him, since in their view he appeared isolated. Hence they sent his ambassadors back with nothing achieved and in disgrace.

Nebuchadnezzar was furious with all these countries. He swore by his throne and kingdom to take revenge on all the territories of Cilicia, Damascus and Syria, of the Moabites and of the Ammonites, of Judaea and Egypt as far as the limits of the two seas, and to ravage them with the sword.

In the seventeenth year, he gave battle with his whole army to King Arphaxad and in this battle defeated him. He routed Arphaxad's entire army and all his cavalry and chariots;

he occupied his towns and advanced on Ecbatana; he seized its towers and plundered its market places, reducing its former magnificence to a mockery.

He later captured Arphaxad in the mountains of Ragae and, thrusting him through with his spears, destroyed him once and for all.

He then retired with his troops and all who had joined forces with him: a vast horde of armed men. Then he and his army gave themselves up to carefree feasting for a hundred and twenty days.

 

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Look down, O Lord, on your servants.
Be it unto us according to your word.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Today we begin a reading of the entire Book of Judith. The sacred author opens the narrative with a reflection on Nebuchadnezzar’s absolute power and totalitarian demands. Such power does not tolerate the slightest opposition or difference of opinion. The first seven chapters of the book narrate how this absolute power personified by Nebuchadnezzar seeks to establish itself among the peoples. Nebuchadnezzar represents a man who, refusing to accept the fact that he is "only one man" (1:11) like everyone else, elevates himself to a divine status so as to impose his dominion over "all the peoples of the earth" (1:12; 2:7; 3:8). No one is able to oppose him. He seems to have extraordinary power wielding a prevailing, invasive organization to which one must join, that is in fact submit. The first chapter begins with a description of the splendour of the kingdom of Elam, which Nebuchadnezzar wants to conquer. The kingdom’s capital, Ecbatana, is imposing: walls 25 metres wide and 35 metres high surround the city and towers stand 50 metres tall at the city’s gates. The gates themselves reach 35 metres high and 20 metres wide, ample enough for an army to march through. All the peoples of the east join together with Arphaxad to block Nebuchadnezzar’s advance and the destruction of Ecbatana. They gather all of their armies on the plains of Ragau. We must keep in mind that the sacred author’s intention is not to recount precise historical events as they occurred, but rather to summarize the history of salvation that involves all the people of the world. For the Jewish people of this time, the world extended from Persia in the East, to Egypt in the South, and to the Mediterranean Sea in the West. And even though in Judith’s time the Phoenicians and the Punics had already crossed oceans, conquered Sardinia and reached the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, this was not taken into consideration. For the Jewish people the world was comprised of Asia Minor, the Mesopotamia, Persia and Egypt all the way down to Ethiopia. It is in this context that Nebuchadnezzar was aspiring to be in command of the whole world. And, indeed, this is apparent when he seeks a universal alliance against Arphaxad. When the other nations refuse to join him, he single-handedly attacks the king and defeats him, thus becoming the only emperor in the land. In this way, also, Nebuchadnezzar becomes an alternative to God. So, on the one hand, there is Nebuchadnezzar and the alliance of nations and, on the other hand, there is this small kingdom of Judea, which had no powerful armies or great cities, but had only its God. The small and insignificant people of Israel hide God’s power within themselves. This is the story that the Book of Judith narrates. The apostle Paul will say: "For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom" (1 Cor 1:25). Salvation does not come from the powerful. It is clear from the beginning that God operates through the weak. Judith, a poor and weak woman, overcomes and defeats the enemy. The history of the world is made up of the struggle of evil forces against God, but it always ends with God’s victory over those malign forces. It is true that evil can have the powerful of this world at its disposal, but the Lord is much stronger. The small people of the believers have no strength to defeat evil on their own but they can do it with God’s help.


07/06/2010
Memory of the Mother of the Lord


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