Saturday, June 10, 2017


Ancient Nineveh
The past week or more, the daily mass readings took us through the book of Tobit, a biblical novella about how God took care of certain of his exiled children living in Assyria. Tobit and his son Tobias were Jewish exiles living in Nineveh, an ancient Assyrian city of Upper Mesopotamia, on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. It was the largest city in the world for some fifty years until the year 612 BC when, after a bitter period of civil war in Assyria, it was sacked by a coalition of its former subject peoples, the Babylonians, Medes, Chaldeans, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians.
Raphael guiding Tobias
Tobit, a pious Jew, had a hard time living as an exile in pagan Nineveh, and was persecuted for practicing certain acts of Jewish piety such as burying a murdered fellow Israelite. The mass lectionary ends the story today (Saturday) with part of  the “happily ever after” section.
But the novella goes on for two more chapters, until the death of Tobit in the very last lines of the book.
Much honoured, Tobit lived to the age of a hundred and seventeen years. Before he died he witnessed the ruin of Nineveh. He saw the Ninevites taken prisoner and deported to Media by Cyaxares king of Media. He blessed God for everything he inflicted on the Ninevites and Assyrians. Before his death he had the opportunity of rejoicing over the fate of Nineveh, and he blessed the Lord God for ever and ever. Amen. (Tobit 14:14-15)

 When I looked up “Nineveh” to find out where it’s located and whatever became of it, I found out that the city of Nineveh is now part of larger modern city in northern Iraq with a much more familiar name: Mosul. Yes, you heard correctly, Mosul!
Nineveh’s ruins are across the river from the center of modern Mosul, where the archeological remains suffered in the 2010s from the occupation of the area by ISIS. Iraqi forces recaptured the area six months ago, in January 2017.

Western Mosul  today
Presumably Tobit would have been be okay with the reports on the National Geographic website: Deliberate destruction of monuments by ISIS since the Islamic militants first seized Mosul in June 2014, a mosque dedicated to the prophet Jonah inside the walls of Nineveh destroyed by ISIS in July 2014, sculptures from the site damaged during ISIS' rampage through the Mosul museum in February 2015. The militants have also destroyed the city's main libraries, which contained centuries-old manuscripts.  
This morning in church, when I tried reflecting on the fate of Nineveh, I couldn’t get beyond the outrageous craziness, hatred and destruction. So I turned from Mosul to tomorrow’s feast, the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. The mystery of the Trinity offered a beautiful contrast to the murderous insanity of the Mosul situation,
"The Trinity" -- Andrei Rublev
The mystery of the trinity assures us that God is not an isolated being existing in solitary sovereignty, infinitely beyond our human reach. If God is a Trinity of distinct persons, then God is relationship. God is Love. To make it sound more real, you can say that God is family. If that’s so, then you need to approach the mystery of the Holy Trinity with more than just your mind -- you need an open heart. To grasp more about the Trinity you have to be ready to receive God into your life, this God who is boundless, unconditional love.
God is family. All of us are family. In God’s eyes, all of his human creatures are family. Think of that the next time you’re thinking ill of someone, especially someone who hates you. No matter who that person is, you have to say to yourself, “I better be real careful because after all that person is family.” The mystery of the Holy Trinity has been buried temporarily beneath the rubble of Nineveh and Mosul.
If your God's love has boundaries around it and excludes certain people, then that is not the Triune God of the Christian faith, but a God with boundaries. A god with boundaries is obviously not much of a God, but rather an idol.
Our belief in the Trinity, in God as Family, challenges us to open our hearts in love to all our fellow human beings. Sure we may fall short of this, but we Christians need to hold onto that belief and try our best to live out its implications. That’s our job -- to spread the Good News that God is love, infinite, unconditional love.
Let us pray for the people of Mosul, all of whom are our brothers and sisters.

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