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

Monday, April 17, 2006

Holy War: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 7 with poem by Eleanor G. R. Young, The Man from Sangamon, at Gettysburg

Daily Readings
Psalm, Numbers 13, Deuteronomy 7, Matthew 12

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 7

Holy War?
From the perspective of contemporary society there is an almost universal desire to distance oneself from a command to ‘destroy them all’ such as we find in Deuteronomy 7. A holy war is now considered a contradiction in terms. This in spite of the fact that we are busy killing indiscriminately in places like Iraq. In fact, since warfare is no longer face to face, but remote controlled, war is more indiscriminate than it has ever been in the history of warfare. We may select one site over another, but there is no control or first hand knowledge of who or what will be there when we fire upon that target. And the difference between today and in the time of the Exodus is that our goals are totally political, while their’s were religious as well as political.

The image of the divine warrior fighting for his treasured people was not that the LORD hated the gentile, but that he loved and longed for the righteous life of the covenant people. Such a life was humanly impossible in the midst of people’s with numerous other gods. That is, for a people with free will, a ‘hedge’ was necessary if there was to be a people with focussed ethical, moral and religiously righteous behavior. Is that so difficult to understand in a nation that struggles continuously with ‘keeping the immigrant out,’ much of which has become paranoid over the Muslim ‘menace?’ That not all of us agree with that characterization of our society does not change the reality that we all understand it. The Mesopotamian culture of 3000 years ago was so different from our own that to even try to lay our values upon it is to be hypocritical. Let us reserve our criticism for our own culture, and our ‘understanding’ for the one not our own. In many societies throughout time the military paradigm was an honored one. That it is not honored today by everyone is something we can be thankful for, but our thankfulness need not project superiority on to the distant past. Rather, thoughtful understanding of the underlying reasons needs to take precedence. How can a society, a community, even a Christian congregation live the exemplary life it is called to by God if every behavior, every idea, every religious persuasion is not only accepted as valid, but embraced as good? Such a community is simply without any standard for holiness and probably without any real connection with the God it names. That was no less true in the Fertile Crescent 1000 years B.C.E.

The Man From Sangamon, at Gettysburg
Eleanor G. R. Young

I am a man who knew Abe Lincoln well;
We logged together on the Sangamon.
Abe was a thinker then, we noticed that;
Noticed the way he used to go apart
And watch the sunset flush the western sky
Until the river seemed a thing of flame.
Abe would sit there, a little off from us,
The soft wind blowing his unruly locks,
His face alight with deep, unspoken dreams.
It was as if he visioned the long way
His great, gaunt frame would one day have to go;
As if he heard the distant roar of war.
I have seen tears start in Abe Lincoln’s eyes
And run unheeded down his wind-bronzed cheeks
Even as long ago as those old days
When we were logging on the Sangamon.

After the day’s hard work we would sit there,
Lost in the wild, still beauty of the place;
(I can recall the smell of early spring
That settled on the river after dark);
Would sit and watch the stars come slowly out
And hear the water lap against our boat
And lose ourselves in quietness and sleep.
But Lincoln would sit on, deep in his thoughts.
One day we saw a slave sold on the bank:
That night Abe Lincoln’s heavy brows were knit
In troubled thought. That night
He did not close his brooding eyes,
But sat there thinking till the morning sun
Turned the pale sky into a flood of light.

Today, when I stood there at Gettysburg,
And saw that figure that I knew and loved
Take its quiet place—
How can I put in words
The thoughts that surged so swiftly through my heart?
This was the man I knew so well and long—
This man who spoke such simple, tender words—
Truths that would root and grow and bear much fruit!
Somehow, when he had finished, I ran forth
And caught his great hand close within my own:
“Abe!” I cried, huskily. “You know me, Abe?”
There, in the great crowd, he leaned on my arm.
Tears of delight were on his homely face.
“It is as if,” he told me, brokenly,
“The years of war and horror were wiped out
And we were on the Sangamon again.
My heart has hungered after you, my friend.”

That was Lincoln, the friend of all the world.

Collect for the Day
Heavenly Father, you gave your Son victory over those who plotted evil against him and when he cried to you in his agony, you delivered him from the fear of his enemies. May those who suffer with him find refuge in you, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:785:64 psalm prayer]


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