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 25, 2005

Plan of God

Daily Readings
Sirach 21 + II Kings 8 + II Chronicles 19 + Jeremiah 42

Quote of the Day
Have you sinned, my child?
Do so no more, but ask forgiveness for your past sins.
Flee from sin as from a snake; for if you approach sin it will bite you.
Its teeth are lion’s teeth, and can destroy human lives
All lawlessness is like a two-edged sword; there is no healing for the wound it inflicts.
Sirach 21:1-3

Daily Text: II Kings 8

Plan of God
In I Kings 19:15, 16 Elijah is instructed, while on Mt. Horeb, to go to Damascus to anoint Hazael king of Aram. Evidently, he never gets there and Elisha in II Kings 8 finally does it. It is as if the responsibilities of Elijah and Elisha become one. The other matter Elijah was to manage was the anointing of Jehu, which Elisha also does in II Kings 9.

The manner of Hazael’s appointment, however, is unusual and the account is confusing. Hazael comes from his master, Ben-Hadad II, King of Aram, to inquire if his master will recover from an illness. Elisha pauses, ‘sees’ the matter with his gift of second-sight, and then breaks into tears. Obviously, he sees more than he wants to see. His tears are not for Ben-Hadad, who is suffocated or strangled by Hazael (cf. Josephus 412:IX:282) the very next day, but for Israel who will suffer great distress at the hand of Hazael. The confusion in the text is in vs. 11. The question at issue is who is the subject and who is the object of the gaze and the shame? My reading is that as he ‘sees’ Elisha stares dumbfounded and saddened at Hazael until Hazael, understanding that Elisha see his treachery already fully formed in his mind, becomes ashamed before the holy man. Josephus would probably support this reading, but many scholars through the years have seen it differently. That is, they see Hazael as the one who did the staring at the crying Elisha until Elisha became embarrassed and told him what he saw. According to these scholars, Hazael, still faithful to Ben-Hadad, was even covering him the next day with cool clothes when he died. This, however, ignores the accuracy of Elisha’s second-sight and prophetic powers that Ben-Hadad would recover. My guess is that he recovered immediately and was suffocated the next day by the jealous and ambitious Hazael. This latter seems to fit the context most closely.

And why did God appoint Hazael to become the nemesis of Israel? Because of Israel’s grievous sins, and God’s need to hold her accountable. Even so, God promised Elijah many years before that he would leave seven thousand faithful in Israel. The idea that God has a plan for the lives of humankind and their nations is a very difficult reality to ‘see.’ It does not seem to work out that way on the ground. Free will contradicts the pattern. Willfulness and sinfulness contradicts it. And yet there are so many stories, like this one, that point in that direction that we cannot live as if a divine plan were not present. We must at every moment live toward God in such a way as to do his will for us, and on every occasion of our own sin repent and ask forgiveness and start over trusting that God has a brand new plan for us, itself existing from eternity. We admit that such understandings are far beyond our ability to grasp and a coherent metaphor eludes us.

Fix’d Fate, Free will
from Paradise Lost, bk. ii, l. 555
John Milton

In discourse more sweet
(For eloquence the soul, song charms the sense,)
Others apart sat on a hill retir’d,
In thoughts more elevate, and reason’d high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate,
Fix’d fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wand’ring mazes lost.


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