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 09, 2005

Vows

Daily Readings
Psalm 59 + Numbers 6:1-21 + Leviticus 26 +Matthew 15

Verse for the Day
For my part, I will sing of your strength;
I will celebrate your love in the morning; Psalm 59:18

Daily Text Numbers 6:1-8

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When either men or women make a special vow, the vow of a nazirite, to separate themselves to the LORD, 3they shall separate themselves from wine and strong drink; they shall drink no wine vinegar or other vinegar, and shall not drink any grape juice or eat grapes, fresh or dried. 4All their days as nazirites they shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. 5All the days of their nazirite vow no razor shall come upon the head; until the time is completed for which they separate themselves to the LORD, they shall be holy; they shall let the locks of the head grow long. 6All the days that they separate themselves to the LORD they shall not go near a corpse. 7Even if their father or mother, brother or sister, should die, they may not defile themselves; because their consecration to God is upon the head. 8All their days as nazirites they are holy to the LORD.


Vows
Vows are common in Scripture, and the Nazarite vow is well known, so well-known that even today most Christians could probably tell you about Samson and John the Baptist, maybe even Samuel. John Milton wrote a wonderful poem, Samson Agonistes and regales wonderful images of the man in his disgrace after telling Delilah about the secret of his strength. The Nazarite vow prohibited the cutting of one’s hair, imbibing alcohol and contact with the dead. The vow’s aim was a special dedication to the LORD. Everywhere it testified to holiness and such dedication is widely admired. In the twentieth century much of it was seen in the holiness sects in this country. Abjuring alcohol was widespread, and among women, many were those who spent a lifetime without cutting their hair. They didn’t it call a Nazarite vow, but the intent was the same.

Such dedication was also often scoffed at as taking oneself too seriously. The Jews, for example, came to feel that one who spent so much time denying himself, would probably also have no care for his neighbor and they regarded such rigorousness as sinful. In the Christian Church the most extreme forms of self-denial were seen in the monastery and in the priesthood where the devotee embraced vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In Islam abstinence from alcohol has become the rule for the faithful. Among the Jewish Hasidim, the men wear full beards and earlocks and stand out clearly as biblically observant. “By their appearance the observant aim to testify to membership in a people who, all of them, are consecrated to God [185:1061].” Perhaps it is not so strange in our society that our elders get a little strange when their children let their hair grow or perhaps cut it off entirely. It makes us nervous. Extreme dedication or rebellion often create that response.

from Samson Agonistes
by John Milton

Shall I abuse this consecrated gift
Of strength, again returning with my hair
After my great transgression, so requite
Favor renew’d, and add a greater sin
By prostituting holy things to idols;
A Nazarite in place abominable
Vaunting my strength in honor to their Dagon?
Besides, how vile, contemptible, ridiculous,
What act more execrably unclean, profane?
409:432

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