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, September 27, 2006

Coup d'Etat: Bible Comment on II Chronicles 23 with poem by Jean Baptiste Racine, from Athalie

Daily Readings
Sirach 16, II Kings 11, II Chronicles 23, Jeremiah 30

Daily Text: II Chronicles 23

Coup d’État
Athaliah has put to death all of her own male grandchildren to establish her six year reign. Life may not have had the same political and cultural value as life does today, with the exception of the practice of abortion (over 40,000,000 in 40 years of U.S. practice), but for a grandmother to put to death her own is a haunting matter in any age. Joash, of course, being the unintended exception. In II Chronicles 23, Jehoiada the high priest is very purposeful in his arrangement of the coup d’état that overthrows Athaliah and places the seven-year-old Joash on the throne. It must not go unnoticed that it is the Davidic line, the Davidic throne, the rightful heir to God’s promises that is being set forth here. All through Jewish history right down to the advent of Jesus, this ancestral promise is maintained and fostered. Even the Church, which has shown no love or consideration for matters Jewish through subsequent history, emphasizes Jesus rightful role as Messiah and King. He is of David’s line.

from Athalie
Jean Baptiste Racine

Is Judah’s rightful sovereign,
The last of hapless Ahaziah’s line,
Who, as ye know, the name of Joash bore.
All the land, like yourselves, hath sorrowed o’er
This flower so fragile and so soon cut down,
Supposing his dead brothers’ fate his own.
He was indeed with a disloyal knife
Pierced as were they, but from the seat of life
God turned the stroke, kept his faint spark alive,
And vouchsafed that Jehosheba contrive
To cheat the assassins’ eyes, bear him away
All bloody in her arms, and from that day
Conceal him in the Temple with his nurse,
I being sole sharer in this theft of hers.

Alas, how can I ever pay my debt
For such long kindness and for love so great!

‘Gainst future years this gratitude store up.
(To the others) Behold ye, then, your king, your only hope.
My pains preserved him until now for you;
Servants of God, the rest is yours to do!
The murderous woman born of Jezebel
Shall soon discover Joash liveth still
And come again to plunge him in death’s gloom.
Although she knows him not, she seeks his doom
Already. Holy priests, now doth it rest
On you to thwart her rage and end at last
Your country’s shameful slavry, vengeance take
For your princes dead, restore the Law, and make
Judah and Benjamin both own their king.
Truly, it is a great and perilous thing
To attack upon her throne a haughty queen,
Who ‘neath her standard sees a host of men,
Fierce strangers and unfaithful Jews besides:
But ‘tis the Lord who strengthens me and guides.
Consider: In this child doth Israel live;
E’en now God’s wrath makes Athaliah grieve;
E’en now I muster you, despite her care.
She thinks us without arms and helpless here.
Let us crown Joash and proclaim him crowned,
At once; then, soldiers of our prince new-found,
March, calling on Him who giveth victory,
And waking slothful hearts to loyalty,
Within her very palace seek our foe.
And where is any heart sunk in so low
And vile a sleep that, seeing us come thus,
‘Twill not be moved to rally unto us:
A king whom God in his own Temple reared,
Aaron’s successor and his priests revered
Leading the sons of Levi forth to war,
And wielded by their hands, that sacred are,
The arms which David offered to the Lord?
God will send terror on our foes abhorred.
In heathen gore shrink not from bathing; strike
Both Tyrians and Hebrews down alike.
Are ye not from those Levites, famed erewhile,
Descended who, when to the god of Nile
Inconstant Israel in the desert bowed
With sinful worship, in apostate blood
Hallowed their hands, though slaying their dearest kin,
And, by this noble deed, for you did win
The honour, given to none else, to serve
The altars of the Lord? --But I observe
That ye already burn to follow me.
Swear first, then, on this sacred Book you see,
Unto the king whom Heaven this day gives back
To you again, that ye will for his sake
Live, fight, and die.

Collect for the Day
O God, the God of all righteousness, mercy, and love: Give us all grace and strength to conceive and execute whatever may be for thine honour and the welfare of the nation; that we may become at last , through the merits and intercession of our common Redeemer, a great and a happy because a wise and understanding people; to thy honour and glory.

[286:202 Lord Salisbury, 1830-1903]


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