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

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Second Sight

Daily Readings
Sirach 20 + II Kings 6:24-7:20 + II Chronicles 18 + Jeremiah 41

Quote of the Day
There is a rebuke that is untimely, and there is the person who is wise enough to keep silent. Sirach 20:1

Daily Text: II Kings 6:24-7:20

Second Sight
One of the very interesting matters concerning Elisha is how close he stays to the king’s court. He was with the army when Jehoram marched against Moab (II Kings 3). He offers to speak a word on her behalf to the king or commander of the army for the wealthy woman of Shunem (4). When Naaman comes to Israel, Elisha knows what is being said within the court of the king (5). He passes on the thoughts of the king of Aram to the king of Israel (6). Presently, we find that the king himself can walk to Elisha’s house to protect him from being murdered by the king’s own emissary (6, cf. Josephus 412:IX:281). How different this is from Elijah, who when he delivered a message from YHWH often had to run for his life! Elisha, by contrast, was part of the retinue of the court, whether by birth and economic and political circumstance or by virtue of his role as the prophet of God. How he came to be part of the court is less important than how he functioned within it. And he functioned in it like a plumb line on a wall. That is, God’s word was ever ready to be announced, heard and heeded. Elisha was not co-opted by the king, but he stayed in the king’s good graces.

It was often the gift of second sight that allowed Elisha to advise the king and, as in our present text, to keep his head on his shoulders. Since Elisha invariably used this gift to the glory of God, we can assume that the gift was given by God. It may have come as part of the double-portion of Elijah’s spirit. The gift is not unheard of throughout the ages, and may well be one that many folk have in some natural sense. If it is devoted to God’s use, it may become blessed by God to his own glory.

I Hear a Voice
from Colin and Lucy, v. 4
Thomas Tickell

I hear a voice you cannot hear,
Which says I must not stay;
I see a hand you cannot see,
Which beckons me away.

Friday, September 23, 2005

A Prophet's Hospitality

Daily Readings
Sirach 19 + II Kings 6:1-23 + II Chronicles 17 + Jeremiah 40

Quote of the Day
In the third year of his (Jehoshaphat’s) reign he sent his officials…to teach in the cities of Judah….They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the LORD with them; they went around through all the cities of Judah and taught among the people. II Chronicles 17:7, 9

Daily Text: II Kings 6:1-23

A Prophet’s Hospitality
Once again we catch a glimpse of YHWH’s manner of treating of the enemy. And even admitting this writer’s bias through New Testament lenses, it would seem that such a ‘glimpse’ is an accurate projection. In this story Elisha is keeping the Arameans and the Israelites in some sort of political balance by keeping them both off-guard. He warns the King of Israel of the King of Aram’s plans being given them through the means of the LORD’S ‘sight.’ When the King of Aram discovers that Elisha is reading his mind he is furious and sets about to capture him. His men surround the city where Elisha is living and Elisha, protected by heavenly troops, calls for the blinding of the Aramean troops. So they are blinded and what follows is a comic scene. Like the pied piper of Hamelin, Elisha goes out to the blinded troops and tells they have surrounded the wrong person, but if they will follow him he will lead them to the right one. The trek is about 10 hilarious miles as the prophet leads those sent for him in a stumbling, blind march straight into the heart of Samaria and the presence of the king. Once there, surrounding by Israelite troops, their eyes are open and they discover themselves inside their enemy’s camp! He then instructs the king to give them a feast and send them home. Once that occurs they go home praising the King, Elisha and YHWH. Peace ensues. Would that every nation had an Elisha and a YHWH to manage its affairs in such a wholesome, delightful manner.

Whispers from the Bedroom

Blinded like mice in a maze
The troops just arrived, newly dazed
See nothing of the heavenly hosts
Milling around their military posts.

So when offered a route to a more pertinent prize
They accept to follow this Elisha who cries,
“South.” Exhausted, footsore, ten miles, please no more,
From Dothan to Samaria their ears calling fore.

They stretch and they stumble
Without any order, an army a-bumble
Hilarious, delirious, butt of all tales
The pride of Damascus, among Shemer’s males.

Surrounded, now seeing, their circumstance being
Desperate and helpless, can sight be not freeing?
Kill them? Deplete them? Leave them for carrion?
What shall I do now that you have come ferrying them?

Feed them, honor them, fill them with wine
And send them all home with your thanks for good time.
Then learn what your God would have you to be
Consider, wonder, behaving, set free.

The heavenly view is that all humankind
Is created and serves the master divine
Enemies treated like friends in your home
May become your supporters, a source of shalom.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Linking Miracle and Faith

Daily Readings
Sirach 18 + II Kings 5 + II Chronicles 16 + Jeremiah 39

Quote of the Day
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; ….” II Kings 5:15 --Naaman

Daily Text: II Kings 5

Linking Miracle and Faith
Naaman comes for healing, but he does not come humbly. He comes in all the trappings of power. It was enough to express his need; that did not require humility. But when Elijah did not even come out of his house to greet him, the great man was not simply offended, not simply embarrassed, not even angry, he was enraged. To be humble is one thing; to be humiliated is another. Naaman raged and refused to follow Elijah’s instructions. It took his emotionally uninvolved attendants to prick his reason. To dip oneself seven times in the Jordan was after all a simple thing to do. He listened; that was part of his greatness. Once healed he was converted to faith in this YHWH. Here was a man of action. How often we find in Holy Scripture this link between miracle and believing. The link is as necessary today as it has ever been. The problem may be that we, like the enraged Naaman, are not willing to make the necessary act of faith.

Naaman’s Song
Rudyard Kipling

“Go wash thyself in Jordan—go, wash thee and be clean!”
Nay, not for any Prophet will I plunge a toe therein!
For the banks of curious Jordan are parcelled into sites,
Commanded and embellished and patrolled by Israelites.

There rise her timeless capitals of Empires daily born,
Whose plinths are laid at midnight, and whose streets are packed at morn;
And here come hired youths and maids that feign to love or sin
In tones like rusty razor-blades to tunes like smitten tin.

And here be merry murtherings, and steeds with fiery hooves;
And furious hordes with guns and swords, and clamberings over rooves;
And horrid tumblings down from Heaven, and flights with wheels and wings;
And always one weak virgin who is chased through all these things.

And here is mock of faith and truth, for children to behold;
And every door of ancient dirt reopened to the old;
With every word that taints the speech, and show that weakens thought;
And Israel watcheth over each, and—doth not watch for nought….

But Pharpar—but Abana—which Hermon launcheth down—
They perish fighting desert sands beyond Damascus-town.
But yet their pulse is of the snows—their strength is from on high—
And, if they cannot cure my woes, a leper will I die!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Clarity and Prayer

The Feast of St. Matthew
Daily Readings
Sirach 17 + II Kings 4 + II Chronicles 15 + Jeremiah 38

Quote of the Day
They entered into covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and with all their soul. …. They took an oath to the LORD with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with horns. All Judah rejoiced over the oath; for they had sworn with all their heart, and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest all around.
II Chronicles 15:12, 14-15

Daily Text: II Kings 4

Clarity and Prayer
Four miracle stories are here: one of the two Hebrew children redeemed from slavery by the fount of oil, that of the Shunammite woman, a third, of the pot of death made wholesome and finally, a precedent for the feeding of the 5000. The tale of the Shunammite woman is a mirror image of that of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. That widow provides Elijah with food and lodging and he brought her dead son to life again [I Kings 17]. Elisha receives board and room from the Shunammite woman and in turn prays for her a son who subsequently is born, thrives, dies and lives again.

The model of this woman is instructive. She wants the presence of the man of God and honors him with food and lodging. She asks nothing for herself and when promised a son is thankful, grateful, responsible, but not in debt to Elijah or to Elijah’s God. With the son’s death she is not at all accepting. When it comes to this boy all of her patient, accepting qualities melt away and she becomes aggressive, focussed, intent on Elisha’s connection with God. Her words are caustic, even bitter, but her faith that he can and will do something is unshaken. Elisha responds to her request by sending his servant, Gehazi. Perhaps if the woman had had faith in Gehazi’s ministrations the boy would have been healed through him. But no, the woman requires that Elijah go to the boy. It is interesting that she has clarity about this and the prophet does not. She is not in the least interested that Elijah sends his servant. He may be the man of God, but he is human also and she understands this. To be the man of God for her requires more than the sending of his servant, and at this point in her life she wants one thing and that is the life of her son. No one other than Elijah can possibly bring that about. The original motive of her hospitality is not clear until now. With the giving of such hospitality she has a right to make demands, and make demands she does. In chapter 5 Naaman will not have this leverage, but when he follows Elijah’s instructions given by the same servant, Gehazi, he will be healed. In the end, both Elisha and God honor her demands. She has the clarity and the will; Elisha prays the prayer.

Elisha’s Chamber
Richard Wilton
“A little chamber,” built “upon the wall”—
With stool and table, candlestick and bed—
Where he might sit, or kneel, or lay his head
At night or sultry noontide: this was all
A prophet’s need: but in that chamber small
What mighty prayers arose, what grace was shed,
What gifts were given—potent to wake the dead
And from its viewless flight a soul recall.

And still what miracles of grace are wrought
In many a lowly chamber with shut door,
Where God our Father is in secret sought,
And shows Himself in mercy more and more;
Dim upper rooms with God’s own glory shine,
And souls are lifted to the life Divine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Unadorned Truth

Daily Readings
Sirach 16 + II Kings 3 + II Chronicles 14 + Jeremiah 37

Quote of the Day
When the Lord created his works from the beginning,
and, in making them, determined their boundaries,
he arranged his works in an eternal order,
and their dominion for all generations.
They neither hunger nor grow weary,
and they do not abandon their tasks.
They do not crowd one another,
and they never disobey his word. Sirach 16:26-28

Daily Text: II Kings 3

Unadorned Truth
Mesha, king of Moab, rebelled against Israel to whom he had been subject, as soon as Ahab died. Ahab’s son Ahaziah didn’t live long enough after becoming king to go to war and so it fell to Jehoram his brother, who with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah and troops from Edom to take the fight to Mesha. There are two things to be noted. First, Jehoshaphat asked for a prophet’s guidance precisely as he had done with Ahab when they were going to war to recover Ramoth-Gilead. Then the prophet was Micaiah; this time it is Elisha. The circumstances are a little different since the three nations have already embarked on military maneuvers. They have gone to Moab via a southern route through the desert. They don’t seem to concerned about their ability to make war. Their concern, after a week in the desert, is the lack of water and Elisha brings a word from the Lord about how the Lord will provide the water. Jehoshaphat is consistently concerned with the Lord’s leadership. Thankfully, the water came, and through a series of circumstances the armies of Israel, Judah and Edom begin to take city after city in Moab until they come to the capitol. It is obvious to Mesha, who by now is shut up in his capitol fighting a defensive battle that his enemies are going to overtake him. At that point he sacrifices his firstborn son ostensibly to Chemosh, the god of Moab.

Now here is the problem. The account of this entire war is written after the fact. Presumably, it reports accurately the whole course of the campaign up to this point. Elijah has prophecied the following: “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this wadi full of pools.’ For thus says the lord, ‘you shall see neither wind nor rain but the wadi shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your cattle, and your animals.’ This is only a trifle in the sight of the lord, for he will also hand Moab over to you. You shall conquer every fortified city and every choice city; every good tree you shall fell, all springs of water you shall stop up, and every good piece of land you shall ruin with stones.” All of this occurs. However, after Mesha sacrifices his son there is this simple mystifying statement: ”And great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.” And we know from other sources that Moab was not conquered!

Whose wrath came upon Israel? The wrath of Chemosh? If so, the author has admitted that Chemosh is more powerful than YHWH. No biblical writer would suggest that [Cogan and Tadmor, 439:51]. An alternative explanation would be that the sacrifice was to Israel’s God in the first place and that YHWH then visited his wrath on his own people. This is, of course, nonsense. Another possibility is that Israel committed some sin and was punished for it, but if so we are never told that. Most likely, there was no explanation for Israel’s retreat. After the sacrifice of the child, something happened within the troops to cause them to retreat without reconquering Moab, and the author of the II King’s report simply couldn’t say what it was, because to say was blasphemy and/or a lie. Rather than commit either of those he tells the truth as he understood it without any explanation. We will never know why the retreat occurred, but we can take comfort from the honesty in the report that it did. Whatever it was it did not shake their faith in YHWH or his prophet.

W. H. Auden

Whether conditioned by God, or their neural structure, still
All men have this common creed, account for it as you will:--
The Truth is one and incapable of contradiction;
All knowledge that conflicts with itself is Poetic Fiction.

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.