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

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hedging: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 9 with poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Whoso Loseth His Life"

Daily Readings
Psalm 66, Numbers 15, Deuteronomy 9, Matthew 14

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 9

Moses is hedging in Deuteronomy 9. Not once does he praise his people. Not once does he give them cause to rejoice or feel they are right or privileged. Not once. They are going into the land promised, oh, yes, but have no illusions it is only because God is judging the people of the land for their sin that he is going to give the Israelites their land. If you think otherwise, he says, remember your history of disobedience, rebelliousness, stiff-necked opposition to the Lord from the moment he brought you out of Egypt. Even at Horeb when God was giving you his beloved commandments you were busy creating an alternative to God—the golden calf. At Masseh, at Kadesh-Barnea, everywhere you defied him. In the end, it was only my prayers that kept God from striking you dead. And I prayed not because of your worthiness, but based on three points I knew God might listen to. First, He is identified with you; you are his possesion, no matter how defiant you are. Second, he promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be with them and their descendants forever, and could he go back on his own word? Finally, I told him the Egyptians would snigger at him, taking this slave people out into the desert only to kill them, unable to bring them to the fabled promised land.

Interesting that Moses’ intercession for the people was effective, while his intercession for himself to be allowed to go into the land was not (cf. 3:26)! Leadership, while it has its own rewards, often must give its life for the people. In Deuteronomy 9, Moses gives an impassioned image of his own struggle with the LORD on behalf of this people. But is the Jewish people so different from the rest of the world’s peoples? No. They are an apt paradigm for us all—defiant to the end. In Christianity there is not as much emphasis on our defiance, but there is clear understanding that only because of the sacrifice of Christ can we stand before God. Sinners all, we come only because the Christ mediates for us even more effectively than Moses for the Exodus peoples.

“Whoso Loseth His Life”
Algernon Charles Swinburne


Unto each man his handiwork, unto each his crown,
The just Fate gives;
Whoso takes the world’s life on him and his own lays down,
He, dying so, lives.

Whoso hears the whole heaviness of the wronged world’s weight
And puts it by,
It is well with him suffering, though he face man’s fate;
How should he die?

Seeing death has no part in him any more, no power
Upon his head;
He has bought his eternity with a little hour,
And is not dead.

For an hour, if ye look for him, he is no more found,
For one hour’s space;
Then ye lift up your eyes to him and behold him crowned,
A deathless face.

Collect for the Day
God of power and might, you bring your people out of darkness and slavery into light and freedom through the waters of salvation. Receive our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and keep us always in your steadfast love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[476:788:66 psalm prayer]


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