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, November 06, 2006

Beheading: Judith 12:10-13:10a with poem by Swithun, Judith

Daily Readings
Sirach 49, Nehemiah 11:1-12:26, Judith 12:10-13:10a, I John 5

Daily Text: Judith 12:10-13:10a

The focus here in Judith 12:10-13:10a is the killing, the beheading, but prominent in the middle of that focus is once again a prayer. The author has Judith praying from the beginning of her sortie right through its execution (perhaps we should say, Holofernes execution) and final celebration. Twenty-first century sensitivities outside of the theater of our wars would not celebrate Judith’s act. Remove it from us and place it back in the Middle East and we are happy to embrace bloodletting politically as long as we don’t have to look at it except via the television screen. We haven’t changed much except that we do not celebrate death, we simply deal it out.

But in Judith’s centuries, human life was not prized culturally as it is today. That is probably due to the influence of Jesus, but never mind that. Even most of us Christians don’t recognize that he stands for peace not war, for negotiation not violence, for punishment without retribution, for crucifixion with a “Father forgive them.” Not so in Judith’s time and so prayer for the aid of God was not at all contradictory. In Judith 13:20 she is praised as “walking in the straight path before our God” [cf. 534:234]. Obviously, her people had no difficulty with the ethical implications of doing something good by immoral means. The end clearly justified the means in this story.

from Judith
Swithun, Bishop of Winchester
, 836 [1]

“Oh, God of Creation and Spirit of Comfort,
Oh, Son of the Highest, I beseech thee hear me,
Oh, Might of the Trinity, and thy mercy grant me,
So sorely needing it. Mightily my heart is
Stirred up within me and anxious my spirit,
Exceedingly troubled with sorrows; grant me, Sovereign of Heaven,
Victory and faith unswerving, that I with this sword may be able
To slay this dispenser of slaughter; safe do thou keep me,
Puissant Prince of Heroes: ne’er had I more pressing need of ‘
Thy all-protecting mercy: avenge now, mighty Lord,
Splendid Dispenser of Glory, the pain that my spirit endureth,
The grief that gnaweth my heart.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Then, the curly-locked lady
With flashing falchion smote the foeman detested,
The hostile-hearted one, that she half cut through, then
Severed his neck, that swooning he lay there
Drunken and wounded. Not dead was he yet, now,
Nor gave up the ghost: again vehemently,
With might and main, the mood-valiant woman
Smote the heathen hound that his head whirled rapidly
Forth on the floor; lay the foul carcass
Lifeless behind, his spirit departed
Down ‘mid the damned in dire abasement,
Ever thereafter in agony fettered,
With serpents bewound, in torments bound,
Firmly fastened in the flames of perdition,
When death took him off. Not e’er might he hope, now,
Encompassed with darkness to come away thence,
Leave that dragon-hall, but shall dwell in its horrors
Forever and ever, in endless perdition,
In that horrid home, hopeless, wretched.


1Attributed to Swithun by A.S. Cook. Others suggest Caedmon or Cynewulf [cf.537:3].

Collect for the Day
Purge the heart and mind and soul of this thy servant, we beseech thee, O Lord, of all that is unworthy of thy Presence, and grant that he, being purified of all earthly dross, may be counted worthy to serve thee among thy redeemed; through our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.



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