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 03, 2006

Sexual Offenses: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 20 with poem by Dante Alighieri, from The Divine Comedy

Daily Readings
Psalm 49, Exodus 39, Leviticus 20, Titus 1

Daily Text: Leviticus 20

Sexual Offenses
The parallel nature of the material in Leviticus 20 and Leviticus 18 is obvious. While in chapter 18 these sexual offenses were named and prohibited, in chapter 20 punishments for them are named. And the punishments are not light, insignificant or trivial. They include death, death by burning, death by stoning, and it seems very harsh and unforgiving. Capital punishment was meted out for these sexual offenses, and other sacrilegious behaviors such as blasphemy and flagrant Sabbath sins on the one hand, and for murder and kidnapping on the other. (185:907). The reality is that the Rabbis were much opposed to capital punishment and actually found a number of technical ways to avoid capital punishment. But even beyond that, lest we feel superior as Westerners, Plaut reminds us that England was still requiring the death penalty for pickpockets as late as the eighteenth century (185:907)... Still these punishments were severe. The LORD wanted no misunderstanding about the differences in morality expected in the behavior of the people of God. Holiness was not a matter to be taken casually.

from The Divine Comedy 1 Hell
Dante Alighieri

And when I had heard my Doctor tell the fame
Of all those knights and ladies of long ago,
I was pierced through with pity, and my head swam.

“Poet,” said I, “fain would I speak those two
That seem to ride as light as any foam,
And hand in hand on the dark wind drifting go.”

And he replied: “Wait till they nearer roam,
And thou shalt see; summon them to thy side
By the power of the love that leads them, and they will come.”

So, as they eddied past on the whirling tide,
I raised my voice: “O souls that wearily rove,
Come to us, speak to us—if it be not denied.”

And as desire wafts homeward dove with dove
To their sweet nest, on raised and steady wing
Down-dropping through the air, impelled by love,

So these from Dido’s flock came fluttering
Down-dropping toward us down the cruel wind,
Such power was in my affectionate summoning.

“O living creature, gracious and so kind,
Coming through this black air to visit us,
Us, who in death the globe incarnadined,

Were the world’s King our friend and might we thus
Entreat, we would entreat Him for thy peace,
That pitiest so our pangs dispiteous!

Hear all thou wilt, and speak as thou shalt please,
And we will gladly speak with thee and hear,
While the winds cease to howl, as they now cease.

There is a town upon the sea-coast, near
Where Po with all his streams comes down to rest
In ocean; I was born and nurtured there.

Love, that so soon takes hold in the gentle breast,
Took this lad with the lovely body they tore
From me; the way of it leaves me still distrest.

Love, that to no loved heart remits love’s score,
Took me with such great joy of him, that see!
It holds me yet and never shall leave me more.

Love to a single death brought him and me;
Cain’s place lies waiting for our murderer now.”
These words came wafted to us plaintively.

Hearing those wounded souls, I bent my brow
Downward, and thus bemused I let time pass,
Till the poet said at length: ”What thinkest thou?”

When I could answer, I began: “Alas!
Sweet thoughts how many, and desire how great,
Brought down these twain unto the dolorous pass!”

And then I turned to them: “Thy dreadful fate,
Francesca, makes me weep, it so inspires
Pity,” said I, “and grief compassionate.

Tell me—in that time of sighing-sweet desires,
How, and by what, did love his power disclose
And grant you knowledge of your hidden fires?”

Then she to me: “The bitterest woe of woes
Is to remember in our wretchedness
Old happy times; and this thy Doctor knows;

Yet, if so dear desire thy heart possess
To know that root of love which wrought our fall,
I’ll be as those who weep and who confess.

One day we read for pastime how in thrall
Lord Lancelot lay to love, who loved the Queen;
We were alone—we thought no harm at all.

As we read on, our eyes met now and then,
And to our cheeks the changing colour started,
But just one moment overcame us—when

We read of the smile, desired of lips long-thwarted,
Such smile, by such a lover kissed away,
He that may never more from me be parted

Trembling all over, kissed my mouth. I say
The Book was Galleot, Galleot the complying
Ribald who wrote; we read no more that day.”

While the one spirit thus spoke, the other’s crying
Wailed on me with a sound so lamentable,
I swooned for pity like as I were dying,

And, as dead man falling, down I fell.

Collect for the Day
God of our salvation, save us from envy, and teach us to be content with what is enough. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. [476:768:49 Psalm prayer]


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