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, October 15, 2005

The List

Daily Readings
Sirach 34 + Ezra 2 + Zephaniah 3 + Baruch 3

Quote of the Day
Learn where there is wisdom,
where there is strength,
where there is understanding,
so that you may at the same time discern
where there is length of days, and life,
where there is light for the eyes, and peace. Baruch 3:14

Daily Text: Ezra 2

The List
The exact purpose of this list is unknown, although today it tells us who the leaders of the returning Babylonian Jewish community were and the relative strength of their families. It lets us know that they provided for priests, Levites, and temple servants. And finally it gives some sense of how many people returned. There were roughly 50, 000 people returning. This was a gargantuan resettlement effort. This list is reproduced in I Esdras 5:7-46 and in Nehemiah 7:5-72. There are differences, but not many. I Esdras is obviously dependent upon Ezra; Nehemiah may have been compiled from a different source.

What the list does not tell us is that this is the second contingent to return. The first contingent is referenced in chapter 1:11 and 5:14-16 those who came in 538 with Sheshbazzar as governor. This list of folks came later in 520 with Zerubbabel as governor. Ezra is not readily understandable for it was not compiled in chronological sequence. Even much of Nehemiah is chronologically simultaneous or earlier than Ezra. In fact, Nehemiah the man preceded Ezra the man in their returns to Jerusalem. Note that in Ezra 2:2 Nehemiah was recorded and Ezra was not among them. One other matter of note is that Judah and Israel are no longer distinguishable. Israel simply refers to the people [vs. 70]. Exile has resulted in new strength, new vision, new devotion to the LORD.

Victory in Defeat
Edwin Markham
1852-1940

Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind,
The boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come
To stretch our spaces in the heart for joy.
407:915

Friday, October 14, 2005

Returning Home

Daily Readings
Sirach 33 + Ezra 1 + Zephaniah 2 + Baruch 2

Quote of the Day
For I know that they will not obey me, for they are a stiff-necked people. But in the land of their exile they will come to themselves and know that I am the Lord their God. Baruch 2:30, 31a

Daily Text: Ezra 1

Returning Home
Ezra is a continuation of II Chronicles. That can be seen by comparing the last two verses of II Chronicles 36 and the first three verses of Ezra. They are a repetition. Most scholars believe that the Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book, and certainly Ezra was written by the same hand as Chronicles. That is not so certain for Nehemiah.

The Judeans are in exile in Babylon. Others in Egypt, some undoubtedly in other places. Ezekiel is a central leader for them, and for awhile Jehoiachin’s continued presence in the king’s house must have given them hope. But it was with the accession of Cyrus of Persia, who was very congenial to the religions of the lands he had conquered, that real hope and possibility for a return to the land began to flower. Those who had been deported with Jehoiachin in 597 were the leaders of the nation and they were the ones given opportunity to return. There were many, perhaps most of the old nation, continuing to live in Judah, however, they were the poorest and the least educated and though political conditions were fairly stable under Persian rule, social conditions were chaotic. There was no ‘proper’ religious leadership, and if there had been there was no authority to rebuild what they had lost. That now comes from Cyrus and is given to those in exile who wished to return. They were supplied by neighbors and friends with the wherewithal to return. Cyrus himself made available vessels that had been taken from Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. So in 538 the first of them began that trek home. Excited and frightened and willing must have been emotions all present and accounted for.

Babylon: 539 B.C.E.
Charles Reznikoff

An Elder. Our fathers were saved from the deaths
others died by hunger, plague, or sword,
when the cities of Judah and Jerusalem itself were taken,
and from the deaths so many died
along the journey that left our fathers
--the hills of Judah and the sea
out of sight many months and years—
exiles by the quiet waters and willows of Babylon;
but for us the noise of battle, not the battle itself,
is over; there is no shouting of soldiers
to warn us; no arrows; no shrieks
of the wounded;
only the suction
of this city
to pull us off our feet
until the remnant of Judah—Jerusalem and our God forgotten—
are particles in the dust of Babylon,
like other thousands and tens of thousands
Babylon has taken.
Another Elder. Did the Lord, whom our fathers served,
come from the sky to stand beside them,
or even from the safety of the clouds with His lightnings
save his His citadel?—
an aloof God, saving a few alive
of all Judah’s thousands and tens of thousands.
Is there another people who, their cities taken,
the temple of their God become the stones it had been,
and they themselves scattered from the land,
are still worshippers of its God?
nor, as it might have happened, are we captives among a savage people,
a brutish people, living in tents or caves:
these Babylonians are a great people,
living in palaces and gardens—
but we were only shepherds and herdsmen,
tenders of vineyards and of trees, ploughmen;
this is a nation of merchants and warriors,
priests of triumphant gods.
It was meant for ill to us,
but it has been for good, as to Joseph
who was brought to Egypt among slaves
to be second in his master’s and in the king’s house
Messenger. To all you Jews,
captives of Babkylon,
Cyrus the Persian, worshipper of one god and hater of idols,
proclaims,
Joy and rejoicing!
Your enemy is about to fall
and Babylon become a proverb among the nations!
Return to Judah,
rebuild Jerusalem
and the temple of your God;
your captivity is ended!
The First Elder. Surely the sun rises in the east!
Let it not be said that God has forgotten Judah,
or that the Lord was aloof
when puddles of blood stood in the streets of Jerusalem;
we looked for one of us—
and our deliverer is a stranger;
now let us hear no more of the God of Judah,
but tell us of the Lord of the universe and of Eternity,
before whom the multitudes of Babylonia
are as powerless
as when their cities,
the great angels of granite before their palaces,
the great gods and the lesser gods,
will be looked for with spoons in the desert
and remembered
only because Judah has remembered them for evil.
An Elder. It was hard for our fathers when they were slaves in Egypt,
building a mountain range of granite
along the flat banks of the Nile,
under the quick fists and staffs of taskmasters,
to leave the pots of fish that were theirs for the taking
and the plentiful sweet water
for the wilderness
and the knives of its tribes;
how much harder will it be for you, Judah,
to leave the gardens of Babylon,
the suits of linen and the cloaks of wool,
the meats and the cool fruits and wine
to become again dusty shepherds and herdsmen
on your barren hills, Judah;
to toil in your fields
eating only of what they shall plant,
if locusts and grasshoppers
leave what is saved form drouth and the storm,
and thieves and armed bands
what is spared by the locusts and worms.
Now shall the longings of your heart
and the words of your mouth, Jacob,
the sighs and groans, the cries and outcries of fifty years,
be put to the proof;
for the time is come of choosing and refusing:
your deliverer
calls upon Judah with the crash of thunder,
speaking your name with the voice of the earthquake.
The Prince of the Captivity. Servant of Cyrus,
who hates even as we do,
the vanity of idols,
in a world where their worshippers are like the sands for number,
those who love the truth are drawn to each other
like particles of iron that have known the loadstone;
build on each other like coral in the sea
against the waves, the tides and spring tides, tempests and typhoons,
that would sweep us all away!
The Jews are few; Judah is small among the nations,
without cities and land,
and you Persians have become a mighty people;
but in the battle we have known a pebble in a sling
to do as much
as a spear weighing many shekels of brass,
and Judah will not forget the friendliness of Cyrus.
Now let the young men who are ill at ease
where all the ground is field and garden, street and square,
and all the water is canals,
or the smooth river flowing between steps,
men who like the taste of salt better than that of honey,
try their strength against the hills
and form the rubbish heaps that are Jerusalem
rebuild the city;
replant the land
with olive trees and fig trees, with vineyards and fields of barley,
fields of wheat:
so shall Judah like a tree that has seen many tribes—
many cities become mounds and heaps--
flourish and renew itself;
for here we are only so much timber,
although smoothed and polished.
And there is other work to do in Babylon—
in courtyards, where flowers and leaves are brilliant
against a white-washed wall, the only noise
that of the fountain and the long leaves of the palms;
in cool rooms
where one need only put out his hand
to take food from the dish
or lift the cup to his lips
while the noise of the street
touches the listener no more than rain;
here others have their work,
like the stars in their orbits, seemingly
motionless,
but shining, not without influence,
upon the action of the world.
Let hands build the walls
hands more numerous
may pull down again,
but we must build in Babylon
another Zion
of precepts, laws, ordinances and commandments
to outlast stone or metal,
between every Jew and the fury or blandishment of any land—
that shall keep up a man as much as bread
and swallows of water in his belly, strengthen him
like links of armor on his body.
Let other people come as streams
that overflow a valley
and leave dead bodies, uprooted trees and fields of sand;
we Jews are as the dew,
on every blade of grass,
trodden under foot today
and here tomorrow morning.
395:262

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Holocaust

Daily Readings
Sirach 32 + II Kings 24:18-25:30 + Zephaniah 1 + Baruch 1

Quote of the Day
I will utterly sweep away everything
From the face of the earth, says the LORD.
I will sweep away humans and animals;
I will sweep away the birds of the air
And the fish of the sea.
I will make the wicked stumble,
I will cut off humanity
From the face of the earth, says the LORD.
I will stretch out my hand against Judah,
And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem….
Zephaniah 1:1-4a

Daily Text: II Kings 24:18-25:30

Holocaust
Why in the world would Zedekiah rebel against the king of Babylon? He had to remember what had happened to Jehoiakim and Jehoichin. There was evidently movement by the Egyptians under the new Pharaoh, Apries. Zedekiah was certainly convinced that something had changed radically. However, his conviction did not change the reality of Babylonian hegemony. They came; they built a siege wall or ‘collar’ around the city and began to assault the walls with rams and ramps. It took about eighteen months, and one night with no food at all left to feed the people the Chaldeans broke through the city wall. When he knew that the enemy was inside the walls, Zedekiah, and the soldiers still with him, left by a quiet gate through the kings garden, probably negotiating the covered waterways built by Hezekiah to bring water into the city. They were away down the Arabah wadi to Jericho, with his own soldiers scattering to the hills before the Chaldeans caught up with him and made him prisoner. It was the end. They burned the temple, the palace and all the great houses, broke down the city wall and looted the treasuries of the city. The remaining leadership were taken to Riblah before the king where they were summarily executed leaving only the poorest of the poor, the uneducated and the marauding bands of escaped Judean soldiers in the hills of Judea. The long effort YHWH was making with his people was just beginning.

Oh! Weep for Those
George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron

Oh! weep for those that wept by Babel’s stream,
Whose shrines are desolate, whose land a dream;
Weep for the harp of Judah’s broken shell’
Mourn—where their god hath dwelt the godless dwell!

And where shall Israel lave her bleeding feet?
And when shall Zion’s songs again seem sweet?
And Judah’s melody once more rejoice
The hearts that leaped before its heavenly voice?

Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast,
How shall ye flee away and be at rest!
The wild-dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,
Mankind their country—Israel but the grave!
395:258

Monday, October 10, 2005

Huldah, Prophetess in Judah

Daily Readings
Isaiah 39 + II Kings 22 + II Chronicles 33, 34 + Lamentation 3

Quote of the Day
When all the prisoners of the land
are crushed under foot,
when human rights are perverted
in the presence of the Most High,
when one’s case is subverted
--does the Lord not see it?
Lamentations 3:34-36

Daily Text: II Kings 22

Huldah, Prophetess in Judah
The scholars seem rather clear that the book discovered in the temple is an early version of Deuteronomy. It contains both covenant and clear indication of punishment if the covenant is not lived out. The prophetess Huldah confirms the words found in the book of the law, however, she exonerates the king for he has been exemplary, and she promises that he will die in peace before evil comes on the kingdom. I suppose that one could see that this was fulfilled, since he dies years before the exile. However, as we shall see in chapter 23, he dies an untimely death at the hands of Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. The discovery of this book of the Torah and Huldah’s prophecy all come when Josiah is about 18 or 20 years old, a pretty young age to be heading up the reformation that Josiah undertakes. Assyria is losing power during Josiah’s reign and the possibility of clearing Judah and Jerusalem of all references to Assyrian religious observance, if any was required, is possible politically. His extension into Samaria as will seen in chapter 23 is also made possible by this political reality. Our author observes only religious realities, however, the political realities were present, if unrecorded. How these two interacted is unknown to us except by inference. It may be said, however, that consonant with Josiah’s faithful observance of God’s covenant is an increase in power and jurisdiction that Manasseh during his long reign would never have seen because of his role as vassal of Nineveh.

Hulduh is the single woman prophet mentioned in either Israel or Judah. She obviously was respected and her words revered and remembered. She was married to Shallum who may have been Jeremiah’s uncle (cf. Jeremiah 32:7), and Jeremiah was not the only other male prophet to be present in Jerusalem. Nahum and Zephaniah both prophesied during Josiah’s reign as well. The interesting matter of Hulduh is that nothing is made of her prominence. Women were recorded in prominent positions more often in the period of the judges, but they may have been far more prominent all along than we have any record of. This casual record suggests that such was possible. God makes use of suitable vessels in his work all along, and will continue to do so through all of time.

Wisdom and Discipline
S. Rodigast

Whate’er my God ordains is right;
His will is ever just;
Howe’er he orders now my cause
I will be still, and trust.
He is my God,
Though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall,
Therefore to him I leave it all.

Whate’er my God ordains is right;
He never will deceive;
He leads me by the proper path,
And so to him I cleave,
And take, content
What he hath sent;
His hand can turn my grief away,
And patiently I wait his day.

Whate’er my God ordains is right;
He taketh thought for me;
The cup that my Physician gives
No poisoned draught can be,
But medicine due;
For God is true;
And on that changeless truth I build
And all my heart with hope is filled.

Whate’er my God ordains is right;
Though I the cup must drink
That bitter seems to my faint heart,
I will not fear nor shrink;
Tears pass away
With dawn of day;
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,
And pain and sorrow all depart.

Whate’er my God ordains is right;
My Light, my Life, is he,
Who cannot will me aught but good;
I trust him utterly;
For well I know,
In joy or woe,
We soon shall see, as sunlight clear,
How faithful was our Guardian here.

Whate’er my God ordains is right;
Here I will take my stand;
Though sorrow, need, or death make earth
For me a desert land
My Father’s care
Is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall,
And so to him I leave it all.
377:544

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Sinner's Prayer

Daily Readings
Prayer of Manasseh II Kings 21 + II Chronicles 32 + Lamentations 2

Quote of the Day
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,
and I acknowledge my transgressions.
I earnestly implore you,
forgive me, O lord, forgive me!
Prayer of Manasseh 12, 13a –Manasseh

Daily Text: II Kings 21

The Sinner’s Prayer
The Book of the Kings gives an unrelieved and dismal picture of Manasseh’s reign. He does evil and is perhaps the worst of the Judean kings, performing as badly as Ahab of Samaria. His record is subsumed within a few paragraphs and he alone has placed an Asherah image within the temple bounds. On the other hand, he rules longer than any other king of Judah or Israel. How do we evaluate the many times when a bad king’s rule and life has been shortened by YHWH for his evil, when this the most evil of them all rules the longest of all?

There is a record in the Chronicles, chapter 33, that records a prayer of repentance made by Manasseh, perhaps when he is taken as a captive to Babylonia. If it is at all similar to The Prayer of Manasseh, it becomes obvious that not only did Manasseh understand the evil he was perpetuating, but he understood also what was required in the service of YHWH. For example,
I am weighted down with many an iron fetter,
so that I am rejected because of my sins,
and I have no relief; for I have provoked your wrath
and done what is evil in your sight,
setting up abominations and multiplying offenses.
And now I bend the knee of my heart,
imploring you for your kindness.
Perhaps God gave him the forgiveness he requested and allowed him to return to Jerusalem and continue as king. That is one way of understanding it. What makes it more difficult though is that his grandson, Josiah, was a wonderful king and when he repented of the error of his ways, there was no forgiveness in the sense of extended reign, as we shall see. There is something in all of this that does not meet the eye.

Only One Way
Author Unknown

However the battle is ended,
Though proudly the victor comes,
With fluttering flags and prancing nags
And echoing roll of drums,
Still truth proclaims this motto,
In letters of living light:
No question is ever settled
Until it is settled right.

Though the heel of the strong oppressor
May grind the weak in the dust,
And the voices of fame with one acclaim
May call him great and just,
Let those who applaud take warning,
And keep this motto in sight:
No question is ever settled
Until it is settled right.

Let those who have failed take courage;
Though the enemy seemed to have won,
Though his ranks are strong, if in the wrong
The battle is not yet done.
For, sure as the morning follows
The darkest hour of the night,
No question is ever settled
Until it is settled right.
377:286