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

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Double-Portion

Daily Readings
Sirach 15 + II Kings 2 + II Chronicles 13 + Jeremiah 36

Quote of the Day
Before each person are life and death,
And whichever one chooses will be given.
Sirach 15:17

Daily Text: II Kings 2

The Double-Portion
The double-portion in Hebrew culture was the inheritance of the eldest son (Deuteronomy 21:17). It could amount to two-thirds of the father’s heritage. While Elisha’s request for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit may have originated with the notion of the elder son’s portion, he was not asking for a quantifiable inheritance, either two-thirds of Elijah’s spirit or a doubling of his spirit. He wanted Elijah’s blessing, e.g., that which Jacob stole from Esau. This in itself would mark him, set him apart as Elijah’s legitimate successor from the rest of the company of prophets, among whose number he may well have heretofore been counted. In many ways Elijah’s vocational heritage became Elisha’s. Elisha also prophesied before kings, had major healings, increased the oil in a widow’s cruse, raised a widow’s boy from the grip of death, and completed work that Elijah had begun, e.g., with Jehu. His double-portion did not make him greater than his master, who was marked by the spirit of the living God. It was only Elijah who tradition has it was taken up in a whirlwind without going through the process of death.

From the moment of his return to human society Elisha was recognized as having the spirit of Elijah, the man of God. That is, Elisha too was seen from then on as a man of God. He, as did Elijah, lived apart from the other sons of the prophets in his own house. He models for us the behavior of asking directly from the Holy Spirit a double-portion of the Spirit. However, in recognizing Elijah’s departure in a whirlwind as part of Elisha’s story, let us not forget the honor with which this man Elijah is held in our Scriptures and in the life of our God. The first is often, if not always greater than his successor.

The Ascent of Elijah
Winthrop Mackworth Praed

“Ille, feris caput inviolabile Parcis, Liquit Jordanios turbine raptus, agros.”
Miltoni Lat. Poem.

Servant of God thy fight is fought;
Servant of God, thy crown is wrought:
Lingerest thou yet upon the joyless earth?
Thy place is now in Heaven’s high bowers,
Far from this mournful world of ours,
Among the sons of light, that have a different birth.

Go to the calm and cloudless sphere
Where doubt, and passion, and dim fear,
And black remorse, and anguish have no root;
Turn—turn away thy chastened eyes
From sights that make their tears arise,
And shake th’ unworthy dust from thy departing foot.

Thy human task is ended now;
No more the lightning of thy brow
Shall wake strange terror in the soul of guilt;
As when thou wentest forth to fling
The curse upon the shuddering King,
Yet reeking with the blood—the sinless blood he spilt.

And all that thou hast braved and borne,
The Heathen’s hate, the Heathen’s scorn,
The wasting famine, and the galling chain,--
Henceforth these things to thee shall seem
The phantoms of a bygone dream;
And rest shall be for toil, and blessedness for pain.—

Such visions of deep joy might roll
Through the rapt Prophet’s inmost soul,
As, with his fond disciple by his side,
He passed with dry and stainless tread
O’er the submissive river’s bed,
And took his honored way from Jordan’s refluent tide.

High converse held those gifted Seers
Of the dark fates of after years,
Of coming judgments, terrible and fast;
The father’s crime, the children’s woe,
The noisome pest, the victor foe,
And mercy sealed, and truth made manifest at last.

Thus as they reasoned, hark! on high
Rolled back the portals of the sky;
And from the courts of the empyrean dome
Came forth what seemed a fiery car,
On rushing wheels, each wheel a star,
And bore the Prophet hence,--O
whither?—to his home!

With head thrown back, and hand upraised,
Long—long that sad disciple gazed,
As his loved teacher passed for aye away;--
“Alas, my father!” still he cried,
“One look—one word to soothe, to guide!—
Chariot and horse are gone from
Israel’s tents to-day!”

Earth saw the sign;--Earth saw and smiled,
As to her Maker reconciled;
With gladder murmur flowed the streams along;
Unstirred by breath of lightest breeze
Trembled the conscious cedar trees,
And all around the birds breathed
gratitude in song.

And viewless harpstrings from the skies
Rang forth delicious harmonies;
And strange sweet voices poured their grateful hymn;
And radiant eyes were smiling through
The tranquil ether’s boundless blue,
The eyes of Heaven’s high host, the
joyous Seraphim.

And Piety stood musing by,
And Penitence with downcast eye;
Faith heard with raptured heart the solemn call,
And, pointing with her lustrous hand
To the far shores of that blest land,
Sent forth her voice of praise,--“for
him, O God,--for all!”

Death frowned far off his icy frown,
The monarch of the iron crown,
First-born of Sin, the universal foe;
Twice had his baffled darts been vain;
Death trembled for his tottering reign,
And poised the harmless shaft, and
drew the idle bow.

Sons of the Prophets, do ye still
Look through the wood and o’er the hill,
For him, your lord, whom ye may ne’er behold?—
O dreamers, call not him, when day
Fades in the dewy vale away,
Nor when glad morning crests the
lofty rocks with gold!

Peace! call that honored name no more,
By Jordan’s olive-girdled shore,
By Kedron’s brook, or Siloa’s holy fount;
Nor where the fragrant breezes rove
Through Bethel’s dim and silent grove,
Nor on the rugged top of Carmel’s
sacred mount.

Henceforth ye nevermore may meet,
Meek learners, at your master’s feet,
To gaze on that high brow, those piercing eyes;
And hear the music of that voice
Whose lessons bade the sad rejoice,
Said to the weak, “Be strong!” and to
the dead, “Arise!”

Go, tell the startled guards that wait
In arms before the palace gate
“The Seer of Thesbe walks no more on earth:”
The king will bid prepare the feast;
And tyrant prince and treacherous priest
Will move with haughtier step, and
laugh with louder mirth.

And go to Zarephath, and say
What God’s right hand hath wrought to-day
To the pale widow and her twice-born son:
Lo, they will weep, and rend their hair,
Upstarting from their broken prayer,--
Óur comforter is gone, our friend,
our only one!”

Nay, deem not so! for there shall dwell
A Prophet yet in Israel
To tread the path which erst Elijah trod;
He too shall mock th’ oppressor’s spears,
He too shall dry the mourner’s tears;
Elijah’s robe is his, and his Elijah’s God!

But he before the throne of grace
Hath his eternal dwelling-place;
His head is crowned with an unfading crown;
And in the book, the awful book
On which the Angels fear to look,
The chronicle of Heaven, his name is written down.

Too hard the flight for Passion’s wings,
Too high the theme for Fancy’s strings;
Inscrutable the wonder of the tale!
Yet the false Sanhedrim will weave
Wild fictions, cunning to deceive,
And hid reluctant Truth in Error’s loathly veil.

And some in after years will tell
How on the Prophet’s cradle fell
Rays of rich glory, an unearthly stream;
And some how fearful visions came
Of Israel judged by sword and flame,
That wondrous child the judge, upon
his father’s dream.

Elijah in the battle’s throng
Shall urge the fiery steeds along
Hurling the lance, lifting the meteor sword:
Elijah in the day of doom
Shall wave the censer’s rich perfume,
To turn the wrath aside, the vengeance of the Lord.

Vain, vain! it is enough to know
That in his pilgrimage below
He wrought Jehovah’s will with steadfast zeal;
And that he passed from this our life
Without the sorrow of the strife
Which all our fathers felt, which we must one day feel.

To us between the world and Heaven
A rougher path, alas! is given;
Red glares the torch, dark waves the funeral pall:
The sceptred king, the trampled slave,
Go down into the common grave,
And there is one decay, one nothingness for all.

It is a fearful thing to die!
To watch the cheerful day flit by
With all its myriad shapes of life and love;
To sink into the dreary gloom
That broods forever o’er the tomb,
Where clouds are all around, though
Heaven may shine above!

But still a firm and faithful trust
Supports, consoles the pure and just:
Serene, though sad, they feel life’s joys expire;
And bitter though the death pang be,
Their spirits through its tortures see
Elijah’s car of light, Elijah’s robe of fire.

And Did Those Feet
William Blake
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant Land.

“Would to God that all the Lord’s people were Prophets.”
Numbers, xi. Ch., 29 v.


Blogger Norm said...

Elijah is heading straight for the land of Moses’ burial. 1400 years later, John the Baptizer baptized Jesus at the same loop in the Jordan River where Joshua miraculously crossed, which is also the same spot where the Prophets Elijah and Elisha parted the waters and crossed miraculously to the east bank (2Kings2:8). This ford in the river, which is located directly opposite of Jericho, was known as Bethabara, or Beit ‘Abara ("house of the crossing") and is called Al-Maghtas in Arabic.
Less than two kilometers east from this point of the river is place where Elijah ascended into heaven "on a chariot of fire and horses of fire" (2 Kings 2: 5-14). In New Testament times, the site of Elijah’s ascension became known as Bethany, the village of John the Baptist (Jn1:28). (This Bethany is not to be confused with the village of Bethany near Jerusalem, where the Bible says Lazarus was raised from the dead.)

8:04 AM  

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