The Spirituality of Judith

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 — Week of Proper 20

Sergius, Abbot of Holy Trinity, Moscow, 1392

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 985)

Psalms 78:1-39 (morning) 78:40-72 (evening)

Esther 5:1-14 or Judith 8:9-17, 9:1, 7-10

Acts 18:12-28

Luke 3:15-22

The drama of the book of Judith is compelling. The Jewish city of Bethulia is trapped behind strong city gates. Surrounding them is a mighty siege army of Assyrians. The water has run out. It is the dry season when no rain comes. Many of the citizens have urged surrender. They know that they would become slaves, deported wherever and however the conquering Assyrians wish. But this seems preferable than the slow deaths by thirst and famine followed by the inevitable attack which will breach their walls, bringing violent rape, death and pillage.

The town leader has urged them to hold out a little longer — for five more days. Ask God to deliver us, he says. If God has not done so in five days, we will surrender.

The beautiful and pious widow Judith summons the town leaders to her home. She scolds them: “What you have said to the people today is not right… Who are you to put God to the test today…? No, my brothers, do not anger the Lord our God. For if he does not choose to help us within these five days, he has power to protect us within any time he pleases, or even to destroy us in the presence of our enemies. …God is not like a human being, to be threatened, or like a mere mortal, to be won over by pleading. Therefore, while we wait for his deliverance, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it pleases him. …In spite of everything let us give thanks to the Lord our God, who is putting us to the test as he did our ancestors.”

That is a remarkable speech. Judith exhibits profound trust in God. She refuses to play deadline games with the divine. With great determination, she accepts the dire situation, facing it as a challenge in the tradition of her ancestors, and she expresses thanks to God despite the threats.

Within that spirit, she prays. Then she determines to take action herself, asking God, “Give to me, a widow, the strong hand to do what I plan. By the deceit of my lips strike down the slave with the prince and the prince with his servant; crush their arrogance by the hand of a woman.”

Trust and acceptance. Grateful thanksgiving. Prayer and determination in action.

That’s not a bad pattern.

Too often I spend wasteful energy whining or being anxious about what is. What is, is. Complaint and fear add nothing to it. Anxiety only makes action harder. Something is freed whenever we radically accept the circumstances of the present moment as being the container for God’s activity in our lives. If God is to be with us, God can only be with us in this present moment, in these circumstances — for this is what we have to work with.

There is also something powerful released whenever we receive the present moment and its circumstances with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is our active trust of God. At some time each of us will have to offer to God our lives. We do that best when we do so with thanksgiving.

The prayer of Judith is not passive. She boldly determines to act, with courage and decisiveness. She does not sit back in victimhood. She makes a plan, risky and creative, and she throws herself into action to participate with God in the work of deliverance of her people.

The spirituality of Judith: Acceptance. Thanksgiving. Prayer and Action.

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