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

Monday, May 29, 2006

Denial of Hope: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 14 with poem by Edmund Spenser, Death

Daily Readings
Proverbs 29, Joshua 19, II Maccabees 14, Philippians 2:1-3:1a

Daily Text: II Maccabees 14

Denial of Hope
Two men are contrasted in II Maccabees 14, Alcimus the high priest and Razi, the patriot, called father of the Jews. Alcimus dissembled to feather his own nest, and like Menelaus before him created much of the unrest between the Jews and the reigning monarchs, whether Antiochians or Seleucids. Razi, on the other hand, put his people before himself, and in the end when betrayed to Nicanor he took his own life. What the motivation was for betraying him is unknown. Did he know the whereabouts of Judas? Was he one of the leading Hasideans? Or was it because he was Jewish first and always, opposing all dominion by the Seleucids? Verse 38 says that he was accused of Judaism! This must have meant that he refused to recognize any authority not of the Jews own making. It may have related to the office of high priest and some refusal to recognize a high priest appointed by the reigning monarch. We will probably never know. What we do know is that rather than be taken by Nicanor he committed suicide.

Suicide was sometimes acceptable in Judaism, particularly in cases like Razi’s, where he was to be humiliated and made an example to intimidate the Jewish population. On the other hand, at times Jews forbade it. In Christianity only the Donatists (cf. 499:493) were known for suicide and they took Razi as their example. But overwhelmingly the Christian church has condemned suicide. In most cases suicide is a personal declaration of an irrevocable loss of hope, else why take one’s own life. Suicide flies in the face of Christian hope and it creates a ravaging and destructive effect in the lives of those who love the one dead by his own hand. It has thus been seen as a denial of the very Christ who himself died for us to make peace and hope possible. However, in Razi’s case suicide was not a denial of hope, for he died embracing the hope of resurrection. His denial was that of being completely subject to Nicanor’s perfidy. Such a distinction must be considered in suicide. Can this distinction be extended to include a terrible and debilitating disease? As in all ascetic judgements, cases probably should be considered one at a time. Hopefully, the Lord works that way. Judas’ Iscariot’s suicide could not qualify, but Razi’s would.

Death
Edmund Spenser

1552?-1599

What if some little paine the passage haue,
That makes fraile flesh to feare the bitter waue?
Is not short paine well borne, that brings long ease,
And layes the soule to sleepe in quiet graue?
Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas,
Ease after warre, death after life does greatly please.
407:1842

Collect for the Day
O God that art the only hope of the world,
The only refuge for unhappy men,
Abiding in the faithfulness of heaven,
Give me strong succor in this testing place.
O King, protect thy man from utter ruin
Lest the weak faith surrender to the tyrant,
Facing innumerable blows alone.
Remember I am dust, and wind, and shadow,
And life as fleeting as the flower of grass.
But may the eternal mercy which hath shone
From time of old
Rescue thy servant from the jaws of the lion.
Thou who didst come from on high in the cloak of flesh,
Strike down the dragon with that two-edged sword,
Whereby our mortal flesh can war with the winds
And beat down strongholds, with our Captain God.
[489:110:June 6 Bede, 675-735]

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