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, October 01, 2005

Holy Influence

Daily Readings
Sirach 26:1-28 + II Kings 13 + II Chronicles 24 + Jeremiah 46

Quote of the Day
At two things my heart is grieved,
And because of a third
anger comes over me:
a warrior in want through poverty,
intelligent men who are treated contemptuously,
and a man who turns back from righteousness to sin—
the LORD will prepare him for the sword!
Sirach 26:28

Daily Text: II Kings 13

Holy Influence
There are two recitations of the life and works of Joash of Israel in this chapter. Could they have been competing versions? The first, vss. 10-13, simply mark him as following in the evil of his father and Jeroboam the I, and tell us that he is followed by Jeroboam II. The second is far more attractive for it leads to interaction with Elisha the prophet, vvs. 14-25. This second account is quite sympathetic for Joash comes to Elisha in a rather intimate interview. It is obvious that Elisha is dying and Joash weeps before him. Not only does he weep, but also he cries out with the words, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” In addition to using this very ancient title for a man of God (cf. Judges 17:10) Joash employs this phrase twice before seen in II Kings. The first time Elisha is crying the words as Elijah is taken from him. The second time is when Elisha is in Dothan and he asks the LORD to open the eyes of his servant that he might see. And the Scripture says, “So the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” [II Kings 6:17]. In these three instances the common elements are those of protection, accompaniment and in two instances travel companions. By ‘travel’ is meant the passage from life through death to life. And here that seems to be the significance of the phrase. Joash is able to see the accompanying presence of the angels of God, and he knows immediately that Elisha is dying for “the chariots of Israel and its horsemen” have gathered around him.

On his deathbed then, Elisha serves his king and his country one last time. He instructs Joash to shoot an arrow and to strike the ground with the remaining arrows from his quiver, both to indicate victory over the Aramean forces of Damascus. For one last time we see the intimacy with which Elisha moves in royal circles, but even more importantly we see the holy influence with which he prods and persuades and motivates the royal figures of his time.

The Singing Saviors
Clement Wood

“Dead men tell no tales!” they chuckled,
As the singing saviors died,
A few serene, and many shackled,
Scourged, tortured, crucified.

Dead men tell no tales. . . . Is Shelley
Dust blown dumbly over the ground?
Are Keats and Burns silenced wholly?
Do Milton’s stiff lips give no sound?

Is Shakespeare voiceless, Dante tongueless?
And, in this black, protesting year
Is the dead Jesus wordless, songless?
Listen!… They are all that you can hear!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Following the Money

Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels

Daily Readings
Sirach 25 + II Kings 12 + II Chronicles 23 + Revelation 12:7-12

Quote of the Day
I take pleasure in three things, and they are beautiful in the sight o fGod and of mortals: agreement among brothers and sisters,
friendship among neighbors,
and a wife and a husband who live in harmony. Sirach 25:1

Daily Text: II Kings 12

Following the Money
Succinct biographical summaries of the life of a person, whether king or peasant, seem always instructive and here we have one of those. This summary is organized into five ‘chapters.’ The first, Joash’s accession to the throne, second, his confrontation of the priestly hierarchy in his 30th year, third, new arrangements made for the upkeep of the temple, fourth, an example of his dealing with an external threat, and finally his manner of dying.

His mother was Zibiah of Beer-sheba, his father, of course, Ahaziah, king of Judah. Zibiah would have been a wife with less influence than Athaliah, and such discrepancy in birth position, he being the youngest, in his first year at the death of his father, would have always followed him among the influential at court. He who wears the crown is subject to threat from many sources. His greatest fortune was in being protected by Jehosheba, his father’s sister, who probably resented Athaliah, his father’s wife, resented her enough to hide Joash from her. That good fortune was augmented by Jehosheba’s husband who was Jehoiada, the chief priest, who raised the young Joash to fear the LORD and be crowned king. Jehoida’s influence evidently kept Joash on the straight and narrow all Jehoiada’s days, or least many of them, for he became very aged, dying at age 130 during Joash’s lifetime. Jehoiada may well have been in his middle 80’s when Joash was still a child.

In the 23rd year of his reign Joash tackles the priesthood, a powerful political cadre in his and every other administration in Judah. It is probably safe to say that the matured young king needed to take a hand, Jehoiada probably being old enough to have lost his grip over the younger men in the temple administration. They were responsible for the maintenance of the structure and received plenty of money to keep it up. But rather than that they were keeping it for themselves. So for Joash to tackle not just the priests, but those who controlled a source of considerable wealth was indeed a courageous act. He was able to negotiate that they would keep certain obligatory taxes and relinquish the voluntary offerings and the responsibility for building maintenance.

Then with Jehoida’s help he set up a locked receptacle for offerings and a procedure for counting and distributing the money. That is, the king’s own secretary and the high priest, both honest and responsible individuals counted the money together and then gave it to those who superintended the repairs to the temple. It is noteworthy to notice that so exemplary were the workmen, so completely honest, in contrast to the priests, that no further accounting was necessary!

Late in Joash’s life, Hazael of Aram threatened Jerusalem after slicing off a nearby city from Israel ruled by Jehu. Joash bought him off with significant sums of gold reserves. His weakness in this could not have been appreciated by his subjects. It is noteworthy that while II Kings represents this as a negotiated settlement, II Chronicles 24 indicates that Hazael had sent a few soldiers and those few fought effectively against the much larger army of Joash and wounding the king defeated the army. At the very least, Joash was not a military man, and in his weakness paid his way out of certain defeat.

While he was lying wounded, two foreign men of his household, perhaps mercenaries, conspired to end his life, and so what had been in large part a successful and faithful reign ended under of a cloud of military compromise and internal intrigue. In the end YHWH did not support the man who had started so faithfully to exalt YHWH, but did not continue.

Judgment Day
John Oxenham

Every day is Judgment Day,
Count on no to-morrow.
He who will not, when he may,
Act to-day, to-day, to-day,
Doth but borrow

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Instruction of the Young

Daily Readings
Sirach 24 + II Kings 11 + II Chronicles 22 + Jeremiah 45

Quote of the Day
I will again make instruction shine forth like the dawn,
and I will make it clear from far away.
I will again pour out teaching like prophecy,
and leave it to all future generations. Sirach 24:32, 33

Daily Text: II Kings 11

Instruction of the Young
The passage in Sirach 24 above reflects the significance of Joash’s crowning. He is son of the slain king, and last of the Davidic line. All of the rest of Ahab’s family in Judah are put to the sword so that Athaliah, mother of the slain king and daughter of Ahab and Jezebel can rule. The influence of Omri and Ahab and the god Baal in Jerusalem is great at this time, however, Joash is hidden by Jehosheba, wife of the priest Jehoiada, and it is obvious that Joash is brought up hidden in the temple and taught the ways of YHWH [II Kings 12:2]. It is that instruction that makes possible his faithful reign over at least thirty –eight years, even though his total years are given as the round number of forty (II Chronicles 24:1).

How critical the teaching of the young! In our own time, that teaching is so compromised by multi-cultural emphases that ‘truth’ seems lost in the process. ‘What is truth?’ The age old question is lost when all teaching is promulgated as of equal value. Joash reaffirms the covenant, probably both Davidic and Mosaic in nature, though exactly what is referred to here is unknown. The reference to ‘covenant’ in vs. 12 may have been a symbol that the young king wore, but the symbol in itself would have hearkened back to the commitment of David to the covenant of the LORD.

Arthur Guiterman

Mark Hopkins sat on one end of a log
And a farm boy sat on the other.
Mark Hopkins came as a pedagogue
And taught as an elder brother.
I don’t care what Mark Hopkins taught,
If his Latin was small and his Greek was naught,
For the farm boy he thought, thought he,
All through the lecture time and quiz,
“The kind of a man I mean to be
Is the kind of a man Mark Hopkins is.”

Theology, languages, medicine, law,
Are peacock feathers to deck a daw
If the boys who come from your splendid schools
Are well-trained sharpers or flippant fools,
You may boast of your age and your ivied walls,
Your great endowments, your marble halls,
And all your modern features,
Your vast curriculum’s scope and reach
And the multifarious things you teach—
But how about your teachers?
Are they men who can stand in a father’s place,
Who are paid, best paid, by the ardent face
When boyhood gives, as boyhood can,
Its love and faith to a fine, true man?

No printed word nor spoken plea
Can teach young hearts what men should be,
Not all the books on all the shelves,
But what the teachers are, themselves.
For Education is, Making Men;
So is it now, so was it when
Mark Hopkins sat on one end of a log
And James Garfield sat on the other.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Daily Readings
Sirach 22:27-23:27 + II Kings 10 + II Chronicles 21 + Jeremiah 44

Quote of the Day
Who will set a guard over my mouth, and an effective seal upon my lips,
so that I may not fall because of them, and my tongue may not destroy me?
Sirach 22:27

Daily Text: II Kings 10

Chapters nine and ten create the longest running narrative in the Book of Kings. Therefore, it was important to the Deuteronomists who edited it. This may be because it signaled the end of Ahab of Israel, the king with the greatest notoriety in the biblical record. Jehu is also not a figure to be admired. He was a ruthless military man, and his assassination of kings, their heirs and Israel’s Baal worshippers is a bloody story. In all of this he is given the cover of Elijah’s zeal against the Baal worshippers, and Elijah’s prophecies that Ahab’s line will be totally wiped out. Jehu does it all. It looks like radical leadership on the surface, but simultaneously, he is isolating himself from the surrounding nations. Moab, Edom and Aram already oppose him. Judah is cut off because of his treatment of their king and the king’s relatives. He is forced in his first year of rule to pay tribute to Shalmaneser III of Assyria and in 28 years of rule he never recovers. Radical and good leadership does not create such handicaps for the people. With all of his ‘zeal’ for YHWH, or was it zeal for bloodshed, he continues to honor the calves created by Jeroboam and was ‘not careful to follow the law of the God of Israel with all his heart’ [vs. 31]. The result was that Hazael of Aram, in particular, continually trimmed off cities from Israel defeating him throughout the land. As well, Shalmaneser's tribute must have cost him plenty.

One of the fascinating portions of his takeover is his relationship with Jehonadab son of Rechab. The Rechabites were a family, a tribe that swore off alcohol and stone houses, living in tents and seeking an extremely conservative form of YHWH worship. Their ancestors are recorded in I Chronicles 2:55 and they are praised by Jeremiah (ch. 35). Similar to the Nazirites, their vows were communal rather than individual. Formed during Jehu’s reign they are first seen here. One wonders if it was not the butchery that they fostered here that led to their vow of solicitous faithfulness to nomadic purity.

from An Essay on Man
Alexander Pope

For forms of government let fools contest;
Whate’er is best administered is best:
For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight;
His can’t be wrong whose life is in the right:
In faith and hope the world will disagree,
But all mankind’s concern is charity.
Ep. Iii, l.303 413:384:1

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Divine Appointment

Daily Readings
Sirach 22:1-26 + II Kings 9 + II Chronicles 2 + Jeremiah 43

Quote of the Day
“‘This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”
II Chronicles 20: 17 --Jahaziel ben Zechariah

Daily Text: II Kings 9

Divine Appointment
The crowning of kings would not seem to be an everyday matter, but here two chapters in a row we see the declaration of kings—in both cases requiring treason to effectuate the transfer of power. Such a transfer, however, is not at all unknown in powerful military circles. Such coup’ de etat’s occur right up until the present. It is only in extremely stable societies that such is not an ever present possibility. But here a religious man, Elisha, stands behind the overthrow giving credence to military actions. Evidently, the military had little respect for the prophets for their comments about the one who met with Jehu were derogatory in the extreme. On the other, when they heard his words they lost no time in proclaiming Jehu king. Jehu secures the city of Ramoth Gilead where King Joram’s commanders are meeting to confer on the battle in progress. Instead of sticking with the battle they abandon it to allow Jehu to become king. He drives in his chariot to Jezreel, the site of their wounded king and shoots him along with the king of Israel. Assassination is the rule of the day. Jezebel is next. She gives Jehu audience at her window from an upper story and gives insult by calling him ‘Zimri’, the name of the man who assassinated Baasha of Israel a couple of generations earlier. Jehu simply calls on the eunuchs serving Jezebel to give him their loyalty and to throw her to the ground and they do so without hesitation. Amazing what people will do when ordered.

Song for the Clatter-Bones
F. R. Higgins

God rest that Jewy woman,
Queen Jezebel, the bitch
Who peeled the clothes from her shoulder-bones
Down to her spent teats
As she stretched out of the window
Among the geraniums, where
She chaffed and laughed like one half daft
Titivating her painted hair—

King Jehu he drove to her,
She tipped him a fancy beck;
But he from his knacky side-car spoke,
“Who will break that dewlapped neck?”
And so she was thrown from the window;
Like Lucifer she fell
Beneath the feet of the horses and they beat
The light out of Jezebel.

That corpse wasn’t planted in clover;
Ah, nothing of her was found
Save those grey bones that Hare-foot Mike
Gave me for their lovely sound;
And as once her dancing body
Made star-lit princes sweat,
So I’ll just clack: though her ghost lacks a back
There’s music in the old bones yet.

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.