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

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Sexual Taboos: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 18 with poem by Brendan Galvin, Of Rivers, Theologies, and Persons Infamous

Daily Readings
Psalm 47, Exodus 37, Leviticus 18, II Timothy 3

Daily Text: Leviticus 18

Sexual Taboos
People of God were expected to behave differently from the world around them, Egypt and Canaan in this case. Christians too were taught separate patterns of behavior(cf. II Cor. 6:17 and Gal 5:22-23). These righteous behaviors were to mark the loyal child of God in either society.

Incest taboos were not unknown in the surrounding nations, but to have them spelled out in sacred writings, and so particularly, was unique to Israel. Menstruation was a protected time for women. They were not to be approached for sexual intercourse until their time was over and their ritual uncleanness past.

The taboo against offering offspring to Molech was likewise banned, but what was foreseen is unknown. Generally, child sacrifices are thought of, but here in a list of sexual taboos? The nations that worshipped Melek called him ‘king.’ The Jews changed the spelling and using the vowels from the word ‘shame’ called him Molech [185:883]. Whether there were opportunities to offer children as male and female prostitutes to Melek is unknown, but there must have been something that identified the sexual nature of the sin.

Homosexuality and bestiality were both prohibited. While there has been a sea change in public acceptance of homosexuality in the past two generations in the West, the biblical position is everywhere consistent with prohibition. Marriage between an acceptable pairing of man and woman is the norm.

Of Rivers, Theologies, and Persons Infamous
Roger Williams, 1671
Brendan Galvin

The Woonasquatucket, the Sakonnet, its rocks
a terror to hulls, the Taunton, Warren, Swansea
and Moshassuck—boundary waters all,
each involved in our discordances. With
Massachusetts grinding away on one side
and Connecticut on the other, poor Rhode Island
seemed a miserable grain of corn between.
I could say those rivers contribute to this
Narragansett Bay as the sects we admitted
flooded our colony. The Sakonnet might be
the Familists, who believed in direct
inspiration from the Holy Spirit, God’s Law
written on Adam’s heart when His breath
quickened the clay. How many days did I stumble
across the gadfly Samuel Gorton wandering
among the trees at Shawomet, conversing aloud
with the Creator? And let the Pawtuxet River—
where that two-legged beast Richard Chasmore
practicised his lust on a heifer, and William
Harris tried to work his land-lust—stand for
the Quakers, their reliance on a “Divine Light”
within. The Woonasquatucket we might say
represents the Anabaptists, or perhaps
the Antipedobaptists, or the Seventh-day Baptists
or Six Principle Baptists, for we welcomed
whatever Baptists arrived, one and all, even as
these rivers contribute to this bay. Grindletonians,
Ranters, Socinians, Antisabbatarians. With liberty
of conscience all might think as they would,
Anglicans, Jews, even Papists. And so
to Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
came some who held that the Lord was present in
hogs, dogs, and sheep, or that a harlot
was sanctified when she married a godly man.
Conjure any theological point and we housed
its espouser or defender, so long as he made no riot,
provoked no gusts, caused no false military
alarms, and took no part in plots and diggings,
as with Irish pirates or Dutch grave-robbers.
Nor would we welcome persons infamous,
as William Baker, much given to consorting
among Mohegan squaws at Pequot,
nor various wandering self-made squires and “sirs,”
as Captain George Wright, who flew like a cowbird
from bed to bed across these colonies, Plymouth
to Newport to New Netherlands, where he continued
his ungodly sports, apparently with Dutch approval.
Nor the Widow Messenger’s daughter,
Sarah Neale of Boston, great in the belly though unwed,
with a mouth abusive and unstoppable, who called
our town a cage of unclean birds, and yet
would live among us to spite our teeth. The rigider
colonies call us Rogues Island, the latrina
of New England, where everyone thinks otherwise
from everyone. Still, we agree upon freedom of thought
and the walling of civil government from church.
There is no lopping of ears or lives to enforce orthodoxy,
no witch-burning. We have drunk deeply from
the cup of great liberties, none deeper, but I tell you
the din and clash of opposing doctrines has
converted me to a Seeker, one who awaits the cure
of the Second Coming, and wishes some days I had never
sold my trading post at Cocumscussoc, that nest
down this bay in the Narragansett country where
no disturbing hand could reach me, whose name
when I say it to myself is as salutary as
two crows calling across its benign coves.
Image #44:51

Collect for the Day
Blessed are you, God of all the earth; you have called us out of every people and nation to be a royal priesthood and citizens of your holy city. May our words of praise call the world to turn to the joy of fellowship with you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:765:47 psalm prayer]

Friday, March 31, 2006

Nefesh: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 17 with poem by Olive Cecelia Jacks, The Offering

Daily Readings
Psalm 46, Exodus 36:2-38, Leviticus 17, II Timothy 2

Daily Text: Leviticus 17


Leviticus 17 commences the so-called ‘Law of Holiness’ that runs through chapter 25. This 'Law' is not a unified whole, but a collection of injunctions to guide the ritually holy life. The chapter (17) itself addresses all animal slaughter and includes a prohibition against the consumption of blood.

Essentially, the rule is that all slaughter must be done at the opening of the Tent of Meeting, thus giving us the setting of the Exodus wanderings. And vs. 7 claims that this ruling is for all time. However, Deuteronomy 12:13 changes that and allows for sacrifice at any altar designated as the LORD’s. This contradiction cannot be resolved cleanly. Scholars take several positions and each contradicts the others. But the sense of the ruling is that if you do not bring your animal to be slaughtered at the altar, but slaughter it elsewhere, you are guilty of bloodshed—murder, in other words. That slaughter is treated in God’s eyes as if you had killed another human being! This is a very high view of creation and the status of animals in God’s economy.

The second major point in Leviticus 17 is a prohibition against the eating of blood. Says the lawmaker, life or nefesh, usually translated ‘soul’, is in the blood. You yourself possess nefesh and must not consume any other creature’s nefesh. That same nefesh may atone for your sin, but it may not be offered outside the approved sacrificial setting. In the Christian faith we believe likewise that Jesus’ blood atones for our sins and our guilt, and that inferential possibility is drawn originally from chapter 17.

The Offering
Olive Cecilia Jacks


How have we fallen from our high estate,
O Lord! plunged down from heaven!
In wanton pride, in lust for empires great,
For riches have we striven.
Are these not dust and ashes in thy sight,
Swept by the wind and lost?
Have we not sinned against the Spirit’s might,
Blasphemed the Holy Ghost?

What dost thou ask from all the sons of men?
Atonement for this wrong?
Behold, we lay upon thine altar, then,
A host twelve million strong:
Twelve million dead; they stand before thy face,
An offering for sin;
Their cry goes forth into the bounds of space;
They crowd thy courts within.

Our dead they are,--friend, foe, alike,--our dead;
On sodden battlefield
They laid them down; for us their blood was shed;
By their stripes were we healed;
For our transgressions were we smitten sore;
Slaughtered with shot and shell;
For us the chastisement of peace they bore,
Descending into hell.

Not theirs alone the atoning sacrifice:
Wives, mothers, at the call,
In unity of sorrow paid the price,
Gave of their best, their all:
One was the heartache, one the darkened home,
And one the company
Of living dead, who wait to see God come:
A mighty company.

Collect for the Day
God our strength, your power is for peace, and the pride of your mighty acts secures the city of the humble. Teach us to put our trust in your salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:764:46 Psalm prayer]

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Yom Kippur—Day of Atonement

Daily Readings
Psalm 43, Exodus 35:1-36:1, Leviticus 16, II Timothy 1

Daily Text: Leviticus 16

Yom Kippur—Day of Atonement
Leviticus 16 is the first biblical reference to Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement, the highest and holiest of the Jewish days of religious observance. On this day of fasting and rest, the celebration’s object is that each person be brought into harmony with God and her fellow humans.

The scapegoat of 16:10 was defined in English by William Tyndale, the first great English Bible translator. Tyndale defined a scapegoat as an animal, a person or an object upon which guilt was transferred and then removed (185:860). Today that meaning has been altered to suggest that the scapegoat is responsible for someone else’s misbehavior or misfortune. But originally it included not blame, but transference of publicly acknowledged transgression to the back of another.

This reading suggests the danger to human beings, even the High Priest, to be encountered in the Holy of Holies. In addition to seeing the face of God the High Priest, folklore suggested, would also encounter Satan. Jacob Z. Lauterbach suggested that the smoke of incense was intended to protect the high priest by obscuring the face of God from his gaze and by driving Satan away with the same smoke (Plaut 185:860).

Atonement itself, a unique English word derived from ‘at’ and ‘one’ suggested bringing man and God together in harmony. The Hebrew root, kippurim, meaning ‘to cover up’ suggested that guilt was cancelled or made to be nonexistent. The two meanings achieve the same end. However, the prophets were not satisfied with ritual atonement, but required ‘return’ or teshuvah as well. The English word ‘repentance’ refers to an emotional component whereas teshuvah suggests action. The Day of Atonement in combination with teshuvah continues to provide an atoning, and life changing effect for those who celebrate it.

Yom Kippur
George Alexander Kohut

O Lord of Hosts, Thou Only One,
Art radiant in star and sun,
“Thy Will be done!”

All life is Thine ere life’s begun,
All life is Thine when life is run,
“Thy Will be done!”

The scarlet thread of sin is spun,
Forgive us, Gracious, Holy One,
“Thy Will be done!”

Collect for the Day
God of mercy, deliver those who are weighed down by fear and depression, and give them joy and gladness in your presence. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. [476:760:43]

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Worrisome Discharges: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 15 with poem by Walt Whitman, The Sum of All Known Reverence

Daily Readings
Psalm 42, Exodus 34, Leviticus 15, I Timothy 6

Daily Text: Leviticus 15

Worrisome Discharges
Leviticus 15 deals exclusively with fluid discharges from the genitals of men and women. In all cases they create ritual uncleanness and the requirements for cleansing are similar. That the ancients had, what we consider today, unreasonable fears concerning natural phenomena is patently obvious. However, the responses in many societies make the Jewish responses seem most rational [Plaut 185:850]. Pliny, the Roman Governor, for example, on menstruation wrote that “the touch of a menstruous woman turned wine to vinegar, blighted crops, killed seedlings, blasted gardens, brought down the fruit from trees, dimmed mirrors, blunted razors, rusted iron and brass (especially at the waning of the moon), killed bees or at least drove them from their hives, caused mares to miscarry and so forth” [185:849]. When one looks then at biblical requirements, none of this is expressed, only what needed to be done to bring about ritual purity is expressed.

On the other hand, male discharges were treated very similarly, whether those discharges were abnormal ones (vss. 1-15, zav) or seminal emissions (vss. 16-18). Bathing following a period of waiting at the end of these emissions was required for all, however, for the zav it was required that the water be living water, i.e., from a spring, stream, lake or sea. For all of the other cases it could be a pool or cistern, artificially created with stagnant water. This alone is evidence that these discharges were not considered harmful to others even though they could transmit ritual impurity. Whereas zav was an irregular male discharge, so zavah was an irregular female discharge. In these cases alone a sacrifice would be required to acquire ritual purity once again. In the case of regular discharges such as seminal emissions and menstruation no sacrifice was required.

The Sum of All Known Reverence
Walt Whitman

The sum of all known reverence I add up in you, whoever you are;
The apple-shaped earth and we upon it.
The endless pride and outstretching of man and of woman;
unspeakable joys and sorrows;
The wonder everyone sees in everyone else,
and the wonders that fill each minute of time for ever;
It is for you whoever you are—
it is no farther from you than your hearing and sight from you;
We consider bibles and religions divine—I do not say they are not divine;
I say they have all grown out of you, and may grow out of you still;
It is not they who give the life—it is you who give the life.
Will you seek afar off? You surely come back at last,
in things best known to you, finding the best, or as good as the best—
Happiness, knowledge, not in another place,
but this place—not for another hour, but this hour.

Collect for the Day
Gracious God, in the night of distress we forget the days of sun and joy. Even when we do not know your presence, preserve us from the dark torrent of despair. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:759:42 Psalm prayer]

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Expectation of Cleansing: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 14 with anonymous poem, The White and Scarlet Thread

Daily Readings
Job 42 Exodus 33:7-23 Leviticus 14 I Timothy 5

Daily Text: Leviticus 14

Expectation of Cleansing
There is in Leviticus 14:2 an expectation that the person afflicted with tzara‛at will be cleansed at some point. At that point the priest will go to him outside the camp. There is the assumption that the afflicted person has been isolated, though his or her spouse could accompany the individual outside the camp. In the pronounced cleansing two birds are utilized. One is killed and the second is dipped in the blood of the first and then the person to be cleansed is sprinkled with the blood from the living birds feathers. That living bird is then released to fly outside the camp thereby becoming an atoning symbol for the person. After the person bathes in water, washes his clothes and shaves all the hair off his body, he is cleansed.

A house suspected of having tzara‛at is treated similarly. Plaut (185) notes that if a person stays in a home that is unclean, he or she becomes unclean. However, if they are in there before the pronouncement is made they have no uncleanness! Likewise, once the owner suspects tzara‛at in his house and goes to inform the priest, the priest gives him time to remove from his house all of its furniture and appointments before he comes to determine its ritual purity! This is another small indication that whatever the tzara‛at was, it wasn’t seen as life-threatening for either the individual involved or the community. It was simply a ritual matter. Interesting also is that the two bird ceremony was required for declaring a house, once unclean, to be clean again. What significance did the atonement of a house have? Lichen or mildew are two of the obvious possibilities for this tzara‛at in a house. Matters were not predetermined, however, in favor of cleansing. A house could be destroyed and presumably a human afflicted could be unclean for life.

The White and Scarlet Thread
The Message of the Atonement

Turn, O Israel, turn and live;
Thought to thread of warning give.
Lo! the solemn hour is here.
May the thread be white and clear
Though deep sin the conscience darken.
Sinner, pray and God will hearken.

Collect for the Day
Eternal God, we hereby vow to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzedakah as we begin this day of holiness. We shall not forget the words of Your prophet, who called us to share our bread with the hungry, to clothe the naked, and never to hide ourselves from our own kin.
[477:56 at the Kindling of the Yom Kippur Lights]

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tzara'at--Skin Affliction: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 13 with poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from The Ancient Mariner

Daily Readings
Job 41, Exodus 32:1-33:6, Leviticus 13, I Timothy 4

Daily Text: Leviticus 13

Tzara‘at—Skin Affliction
Chapter 13 of Leviticus clearly points out that the priest must declare a person with skin afflictions as clean or unclean. This is a ritual pronouncement; it had nothing to do with medical diagnosis or treatment, and in reality had little to do with protection of the community. Rather it spoke to whether the person was being punished for sin or not.

The Hebrew word tzara‛at described skin afflictions of a variety of sorts. Gradually, it became synomous with the word for leprosy, but this occurred via the Latin Vulgate that translated tzara‛at as leprosy, which strictly speaking, only refers to Hansen’s disease. Plaut notes that there is a serious question, one that cannot be answered conclusively, as to whether tzara‛at ever means ‘leprosy’ [185:828].

As it relates to garments, tzara‛at seems to be some variety of mildew or fungus (Plaut 185:836). Obviously, however, we might with hindsight view these eruptions on skin or cloth, or in chapter 14 in houses, it was a fearful issue for these ancient peoples. Partly, because they were beyond explanation, they were attributed to God’s punishment of sin or transgression. God has always held the answer to humanity’s unanswerable questions.

from The Ancient Mariner, pt. III
Samuel Taylor Coleridge


I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in,
As they were drinking all.

When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.

And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was white as leprosy,
The Night-mare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
‘The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!’
quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out:
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.

Collect for the Day
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen. [BCP:461:In the Morning]

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Marking Childbirth: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 12 with poem by E. McNeill Poteat, Jr., Orisons

Daily Readings
Job 40 Exodus 31 Leviticus 12 I Timothy 3

Daily Text: Leviticus 12

Marking Childbirth
That childbirth defiled the mother seems rather far-fetched today. In the ancient world, however, it was common to treat this post-parturition time as having particular taboos. Cultically and religiously one suspects that this was a particular way to mark the gifts of women, though to women themselves it may have been rather burdensome. Certainly in the Christian Church with its long history of the ‘Churching of Women’ in the Roman and Anglican traditions, based on this Levitical expectation from Leviticus 12, there was little onus reflected. Rather it was an opportunity for thanksgiving prior to receiving Holy Communion. In the English Book of Common Prayer (1662) the woman kneels in a convenient place while the priest reads the 116th Psalm and leads in a prayer of thanksgiving for safe delivery. The woman makes an ‘accustomed offering’ and is admitted to Holy Communion. In the Hebrew rite there was a simple burnt offering and sin offering offered (12:6) at the end of her time of purification. Presumably the sin offering had nothing to do with the birth. There is in the Haggadah the following comment on these references. “Why should the woman bring a sin offering and require expiation? While in the pain of labor, she might have vowed ‘I’ll never let my husband come near me again!’” (185:827).

E. McNeill Poteat, Jr.

He placed a prayer wheel where the wild winds dance,
And some complained his piety was lazy;
But then his thoughts on prayer were rather hazy.
Yet God attended to his suppliance.

He knelt on scarlet plush before his lord,
And mumbled words of ancient litanies
But felt uncomfortable on his knees;
And God, lost in the gloomy nave, was bored.

Silent, she raised her eyes that burned and glistened
Like fresh lit tapers in a shadowy crypt;
No raptured praise, no murmuring, tight lipped,
But God stopped stars in flight an hour, and listened.

Collect for the Day
O Almighty God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast vouchsafed to deliver this woman thy servant from the great pain and peril of Child-birth:
Grant, we beseech thee, most merciful Father, that she, through thy help, may both faithfully live, and walk according to thy will, in this life present; and also may be partaker of everlasting glory in the life to come;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [490:344 The Churching of Women]