Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A People Living Apart

Daily Readings
Proverbs 4 + Numbers 22:41-23:30 + Deuteronomy 16 + Galatians 4

Quote of the Day
And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6

Daily Text: Numbers 23:7-10
7Then Balaam uttered his oracle, saying: "Balak has brought me from Aram, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains: 'Come, curse Jacob for me; Come, denounce Israel!' 8How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the LORD has not denounced? 9For from the top of the crags I see him, from the hills I behold him; Here is a people living alone, and not reckoning itself among the nations! 10Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number the dust-cloud of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!"

A People Living Apart
Balak has brought his seer from Mesopotamia, from a region of the Euphrates River, and this man is one who prays to the God of Israel, why or how we do not know. In his first oracle in this chapter he looks out over the people and speaks words related directly to Jacob or Israel seeing this people as ones that live apart from the family of nations. This in itself may be seen as the blessing or the curse of Jacob, and it may be added, the Christians.

They are different, they are to be different and Balaam’s vision continues to be embraced and despised by the Judeo-Christian tradition. Even those who reject it are identified in some large measure by it. The Jews see themselves as do all other peoples as being different from the rest of humankind. There are two peoples in the world: Jews and Gentiles. God’s vision for the Jews was that they were chosen to represent him as priests to the rest of the nations, the Gentiles. To the extent that the Christian church voluntarily takes up the mantle of the Jewish people, that is true for Christians, as well. It is not a reasonable division of peoples. It is not a rational matter. Yet in some measure, most, if not all, humankind share it. Much of the historical difficulty in the Middle East issues from it. The holocaust is defined by it. Jews who wish to assimilate are cursed by it. Hebrews who are willing to don the mantle as are the Hasidim, the Orthodox, the Conservatives are marked by it. Among the holiness Christians, the Pentecostals, the Quakers and the Evangelicals—who define themselves as a people set apart from the world, who consciously attempt to “come out from among them,” meaning the world, are informed by Balaam’s vision. As noted above, so-called mainline Christians who consciously reject being any different than anyone else in the world live in semi-conscious reaction to Balaam’s vision. It is certainly true that ‘apartness’ creates a stigma that is difficult. In the Roman Catholic faith the late Pope John Paul II’s zeal for Christian behavior and his unreadiness to accept contraception, abortion, divorce, homosexuality and euthanasia as acceptable Christian practice marked his Romans as a people set apart.

What a vision! Richard Hays has a short description of the content of that vision, the story we have to live and tell. “The God of Israel, the creator of the world, has acted (astoundingly) to rescue a lost an broken world through the death and resurrection of Jesus; the full scope of that rescue is not yet apparent, but God has created a community of witnesses to this good news, the church. While awaiting the grand conclusion of the story, the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is called to reenact the loving obedience of Jesus Christ and thus to serve as a sign of God’s redemptive purposes for the world [293:193].”

Any group is marked by how effective it is in achieving its mission. It is so common that it is a truism that almost always the Christian groups that accomplish this are defined by a traditionalist vision, one that sets them apart.

From The Hollow Men
T. S. Eliot

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow.


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