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

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Mind of Abraham: IV Maccabees 14 with poem by Bink Noll, Abraham's Madness Poem

Daily Readings
Isaiah 52, III Macabees 7, IV Maccabees 14, Luke 11

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 14

The Mind of Abraham
The number seven figures largely in this passage: seven youths, seven tortures, seven-fold fear and seven days of creation. The number seven, the sacred hebdomad, is invoked to bring to perfection the sacrifice of our story. “Several passages in Philo celebrate the virtues of the number seven, e.g., De opif. Mundi 90: ‘I doubt whether anyone could adequately celebrate the properties of the hebdomad, for they are beyond all words.’ Philo then mentions some of these, properties and concludes (ibid. 128): ‘These and yet more than these are the statements and reflections of men on the number seven, showing the reasons or the very high honor which that number has attained in Nature, the honor in which it is held by the most approved investigators of the science of Mathematics and Astronomy among Greeks and other peoples, and the special honor accorded to by that lover of virtue, Moses’” [462:216].

All of the above is simply a transition to the more amazing feat of reason accorded the mother of the seven. Her torture was more diverse than theirs and therefore more excruciating, leaving reason even more honored than in her sons. For she endured the birth pangs seven times, she had the sympathy that every parental creature has for its young. Here our author cites examples from natural history, birds and bees defending their own, and this instinctual behavior was also part of the torture overcome by the mother bringing her to the mind of Abraham, that is, sacrificing willingly that which is most dear to her in the entire world, her own flesh and blood, sons of her womb.

Abraham’s Madness Poem
Bink Noll

When Isaac watched his father strain back
the ram’s head, its throat separate and bleed,
evisceration, and fat turn to smoke,

not he had heard any angel speak
but felt sharply where the rope still cut,
how his own neck cracked, his own flesh burned.

I likewise learned to distrust my sire
whose god in our house was powerful
as revenge shuddering through a plot.

Mornings, his story would begin,
“My dear boy, God will provide the lamb,”
when I knew I went the only lamb,

knew the god had repeated his demand
and violence on this man who adored
both of us past any hope of reason.

I was proving tall, bright, soft of voice.
Then he—his love wild to get me grown—
would change and cheat the law, then reach out

to slay some cheap and easy innocent,
then stop the silence raging in his ear
by reports of angels I never heard.

How we sons lay awake to ponder
the misery of such divided men
to whom the patriarchal lies come true.

My son shall not watch me in a fury
of faith take fire to the altar where
I sacrifice nothing I cherish.

He may feel my hands grab like priest hands,
his eyes may die in the brightness
that I have meant obedience entire.

So much I walked with my mad Abraham.

Collect for the Day
Lord Jhesu Crist, that madest me,
That boughtest me on rode-tree
And fore-ordainedst that I be,
Thou knowst what Thou wouldst do with me;
Do with me now as pleseth Thee.
Amen, Jhesu, for Thy pyte.

[286:89:271 King Henry VI, 1421-1471]


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