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

Friday, June 16, 2006

Fit to Be a Queen: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 16 with poem by John Milton, Paradise Lost

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 1, Judges 12, Ezekiel 16, Tobit 10

Daily Text: Ezekiel 16

Fit to Be a Queen
Chapter 16, the longest of Ezekiel’s prophecies, falls neatly into three sections: 1-43a, a narrative of a newborn tossed into the wilderness to die, but rescued by YHWH to grow up to be a beautiful woman, fit to be a queen, though totally wanton in all her ways; 43b-58 a pejorative comparison of Jerusalem with her sisters, Samaria and Sodom; and finally 59-63, the mortification of Jerusalem accepted back into covenant with an ever-loving God.

Overall, the story of this rescued waif is colorful, sensuous in the extreme, and somewhat difficult to relate metaphorically to Jerusalem. And yet we have other examples of the same sort, the closest and most extended being the story of the prophet Hosea who’s paramour is Israel, whereas in Ezekiel God’s is Jerusalem. In stripping his wife of her privilege Hosea 2:4-14 closely parallels Ezekiel’s intent in 35-43.

Jerusalem always considered herself more faithful than Samaria, while Sodom was considered to be the paramount entity of corporate sin. But here Ezekiel makes Sodom look good by comparison to Jerusalem, and Samaria positively righteous. Jerusalem has become in God’s eyes the most faithless and sinful city in human experience. Ezekiel’s prophecy cannot have been accepted gladly, to say the very least, and perhaps because of that this beautiful, though sobering narrative, is not very well known in Hebrew or Christian circles.

Paradise Lost
Book i
John Milton

With these came they, who, from the bord’ring flood
Of old Euphrates to the brook that parts
Ægypt from Syrian ground, had general names
Of Baalim and Ashtaroth, those male,
These feminine: for spirits when they please
Can either sex assume, or both; so soft
And uncompounded is their essence pure;
Nor tied or manacled with joint or limb,
Nor founded on the brittle strength of bones,
Like cumbrous flesh; but in what shape they choose,
Dilated or condensed, bright or obscure,
Can execute their airy purposes,
And works of love or enmity fulfil.
For those the race of Israel oft forsook
Their living strength, and unfrequented left
His righteous altar, bowing lowly down
To bestial gods; for which their heads as low
Bow’d down in battle, sunk before the spear
Of despicable foes. With these in troop
Came Astoreth, whom the Phœnicians called
Astarte, queen of heaven, with crescent horns;
To whose bright image nightly by the moon
Sidonian virgins paid their vows and songs,
In Sion also not unsung, where stood
Her temple on th’ offensive mountain, built
By that uxorious king, whose heart though large,
Beguiled by fair idolatresses, fell
To idols foul. Thammuz came next behind,
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allured
The Syrian damsels to lament his fate
In amorous ditties all a summer’s day,
While smooth Adonis from his native rock
Ran purple to the sea, supposed with blood
Of Thammuz yearly wounded: the love-tale
Infected Sion’s daughters with like heat,
Whose wanton passions in the sacred porch
Ezekiel saw, when by the vision led
His eyes survey’d the dark idolatries
Of alienated Judah.
409:15

Collect for the Day
O Lord our God, you know who we are; men with good consciences and with bad, persons who are content and those who are discontented, the certain and the uncertain, Christians by conviction and Christians by convention, those who believe and those who half-believe, those who disbelieve.

And you know where we have come from; from the circle of relatives,
acquaintances and friends, or from the greatest loneliness; from a life of quiet prosperity, for from manifold confusion and distress; from family relationships that are well ordered or from those disordered, or under stress; from the inner circle of the Christian community or from its outer edge.

But now we all stand before you, in all our differences, yet alike in that we are all in the wrong with you and with one another, that we must all one day die, that we would be lost without your grace, but also in that your grace is promised and made available to us all in your dear Son, Jesus Christ. [489:209 Karl Barth, 1886-1968]

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