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, May 24, 2006

Retributive Justice: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 9 with poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Judas Maccabaeus

Daily Readings
Psalm 16, Joshua 14, II Maccabees 9, Ephesians 3

Daily Text: II Maccabees 9

Retributive Justice
The predictions of retributive justice were made by Eleazar and the seven brothers, and now they are borne out, according to the author of II Maccabees 9. On his way to avenge himself of Judas Maccabeus, Antiochus IV doubles over in pain and subsequently dies recognizing the hand of the Hebrew God. He appoints his son Antiochus Eupator and writes a letter to the Jews essentially telling them of his about face toward them. It is all too late for Antiochus, but the tenor of his death must be cheering for Judas and the Jews.

Judas Maccabaeus
Act V, Scene II
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

PHILIP (reading). “We pray thee
hasten thy return. The realm
Is falling from thee. Since thou hast
gone from us
the victories of Judas Maccabæus
for all our annals. First he overthrew
the forces at Beth-horon and passed on,
and took Jerusalem, the Holy City.
And then Emmaus fell; and then Bethsura;
Ephron and all the towns of Galaad,
And Maccabæus marched to Carnion.”
ANTIOCHUS. Enough, enough! Go
call my chariot-man;
we will drive forward, forward without ceasing,
until we come to Antioch. My captains,
my Lysias, Gorgias, Seron, and Nicanor
are babes in battle, and this dreadful Jew
will rob me of my kingdom and my crown.
My elephants shall trample him to dust;
I will wipe out his nation, and will make
Jerusalem a common burying-place,
And every home within its walls a tomb!

Throws up his hands, and sinks into
the arms of attendants,
who lay him upon a bank.)

PHILIP. Antiochus! Antiochus! Alas!
The King is ill! What is it, O my Lord?
ANTIOCHUS. Nothing. A sudden and sharp spasm of pain,
As if the lightning struck me, or the knife
Of an assassin smote me to the heart.
‘T is passed, even as it came. Let us set forward.
PHILIP. See that the chariots be in readiness;
We will depart forthwith.
ANTIOCHUS. A moment more.
I cannot stand. I am become at once
Weak as an infant. Ye will have to lead me.
Jove or Jehovah, or whatever name
Thou wouldst be named,--it is alike to me,--
If I knew how to pray, I would entreat
To live a little longer.
PHILIP. O my Lord,
Thou shalt not die; we will not let thee die!
ANTIOCHUS. How canst thou help
it Philip? O the pain!
Stab after stab. Thou hast no shield against
This unseen weapon. God of Israel,
Since all the other gods abandon me,
Help me. I will release the Holy City,
Garnish with goodly gifts the Holy Temple.
Thy people, whom I judged to be unworthy
To be so much as buried, shall be equal
Unto the citizens of Antioch.
I will become a Jew, and will declare
Through all the world that is inhabited
The power of God!
PHILIP. He faints. It is like death
Bring here the royal litter. We will bear him
Into the camp, while yet he lives
Into what tribulation am I come!
Alas! I now remember all the evil
That I have done the Jews; and for this cause
These troubles are upon me, and behold
I perish through great grief in a strange land.
PHILIP. Antiochus! my King!
ANTIOCHUS. Nay. King no longer.
Take thou my royal robes, my signet-ring,
My crown and sceptre, and deliver them
Unto my son, Antiochus Eupator;
And unto the good Jews, my citizens,
In all my towns, say that their dying monarch
Wisheth them joy, prosperity, and health.
I who puffed up with pride and arrogance,
Thought all the kingdoms of the earth mine own,
If I would but outstretch my hand and take them,
Meet face to face a greater potentate,
King Death—Epiphanes—the illustrious! (Dies.)

Collect for the Day
Gracious God, we bless your holy name for the heritage you have given us. Show us the path of life, that we may follow it in hope, and come to know the joy of the resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ. [476:720:16 Psalm prayer]


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