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.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Promise of God

Daily Readings
Psalm 66 + Numbers 13 + Deuteronomy 6 + Matthew 22

Verse for the Day
But in truth God has heard me;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Psalm 66:17

Daily Text Numbers 13:21-27
21 So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. 22They went up into the Negeb, and came to Hebron; and Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the Anakites, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23And they came to the Wadi Eshcol, and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them. They also brought some pomegranates and figs. 24That place was called the Wadi Eshcol, because of the cluster that the Israelites cut down from there. 25At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land.
26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27And they told him, "We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.

The Promise of God
Spies! These twelve creep up through the hill country from the Wilderness of Zin in the northern Negev to the mountain pass north of Damascus known as Lebo-Hamath. From this route they would have been able to see far reaches of the land. Whether there were one or two groups spying out the land, the editors wrote of it as one and we will look at it that way. Today this land has much rich agricultural land because of irrigation. In that time, presumably, there was little or no irrigation and yet it was part of the Fertile Crescent known from time immemorial as a rich and productive land. The hills may well have been covered by forests, the valleys well-watered and the coastal plain tended by Canaanite farmers. It was fully settled by several peoples. War was an accepted means of the migration of peoples and Jacob’s successors knew that they would have to take the land by force. Today the hills are barren, desert wastes, and even the river valleys require irrigation to make them productive. It may well be that Israel’s settlement there later stripped the land of its vegetative cover and turned it into a desert-like place. But Fertile Crescent is burned in my mind, as is the report of the spies that this was a land that flowed with milk and honey. That may mean simply goats and bees, but more likely it was a phrase that conjured up an Eden of a place. The idea of one cluster of grapes requiring two men and a pole to carry it is mind-boggling. Still it required vision to see past the strong settlements, and an armed and prosperous people to the promise of God. Only Caleb, and later Joshua, had that vision.

The Bunch of Grapes
George Herbert

Joy, I did lock thee up: but some bad man
Hath let thee out again:
And now, me thinks, I am where I began
Seven years ago: one vogue and vain,
One air of thoughts usurps my brain.
I did toward Canaan draw; but now I am
Brought back to the Red sea, the sea of shame.

For as the Jews of old by God’s command
Traveled, and saw no town:
So now each Christian hath his journeys spanned:
Their story pens and sets us down.
A single deed is small renown.
God’s works are wide, and let in future times;
His ancient justice overflows our crimes.

Then have we too our guardian fires and clouds;
Our Scripture-dew drops fast:
We have our sands and serpents, tents and shrouds;
Alas! our murmurings come not last.
But where’s the cluster? where’s the taste
Of mine inheritance? Lord, if I must borrow,
Let me as well take up their joy, as sorrow.

But can he want the grape, who hath the wine?
I have their fruit and more.
Blessed be God, who prospered Noah’s vine,
And made it bring forth grapes good store.
But much more him I must adore,
Who of the law’s sour juice sweet wine did make,
Even God himself, being pressed for my sake.
395:147

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