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 08, 2006

Sabbath and Jubilee Years: Bible Comment on Leviticus 25 with poem by James Grahame, The Jubilee

Daily Readings
Psalm 57, Numbers 4, Leviticus 25, Matthew 3

Daily Text: Leviticus 25

Sabbath & Jubilee Years
Six years and then the land lies fallow. For how many centuries has the Sabbath Year of Leviticus 25 been observed? Many. History is replete with its witnesses. Just one of these is that of Josephus who recorded that Julius Caesar lightened taxes for Palestinian Jews who were observing the Seventh Year [185:941]. Wrote Plaut, “The surprising thing is not that the law was sometimes broken—many persons were suspected of trafficking in fruits of the seventh year—but that so many Jews observed it at great cost to themselves” [185:941]. The Jubilee year was a different matter. But while the Jubilee ideal created in Leviticus 25 may never have been observed, it continues to this day to inspire a concept of social justice for which men and women of few means yearn. This vision provides a marvelous alternative to both of the great economic practices of our time—communism and capitalism. Wherever unchecked ownership of private property is enshrined, there the people will eventually be enslaved by the wealthy classes (Henry George 185:951) That was true in Egypt, it was true in Rome, and it is becoming apparent in the United States, where there is already a permanent and rapidly growing underclass.

The written treatment of redemption rights for property and persons is likewise a beacon for humanity. There is here a different standard for alien and Hebrew, however, that standard is not based on intrinsic rights, but redemptive rights. That is because God redeemed the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and made them his own, no one ever has the right to re-enslave them. Once God redeems, that redemption is to be honored for all time (vs. 41-42, 55). It may be simply a concept, but it is one that gleams with the light of heaven, and one that finds a home in the Christian Testament, as well.

The Jubilee
Leviticus 25:8-13
James Grahame

The trumpet’s voice
The Sabbath of the jubilee announced;
The freedom-freighted blast, through all the land,
At once, in every city, echoing rings,
From Lebanon to Carmel’s woody cliffs,
So loud, that, far within the desert’s verge,
The crouching lion starts, and glares around.

Free is the bondman now; each one returns
To his inheritance. The man, grown old
In servitude far from his native fields,
Hastes joyous on his way. No hills are steep;
Smooth is each rough path. His little ones
Sport as they go, while oft the mother chides
The lingering step, lured by the wayside flowers.

At length, the hill from which a farewell look,
And still another parting look, he cast
On his parental vale, appears in view.
The summit gained, throbs hard his heart, with joy
And sorrow blent, to see that vale once more.
Instant his eager eye darts to the roof
Where first he saw the light. His youngest born
He lifts, and pointing to the much-loved spot,
Says, “There my father lived, and there they sleep.”

Onward he wends: near and more near he draws—
How sweet the tinkle of the palm-bower’d brook!
The sunbeam, slanting through the cedar grove,
How lovely, and how mild! but loveliest still
The welcome in the eye of ancient friends,
Scarce known at first;--and dear the fig-tree shade,
In which, on Sabbath eve, his father told
Of Israel, from the house of bondage freed,
Led through the desert to the promised land.
With eager arms the agèd stem he clasps,
And with his tears the furrow’d bark bedews;
And still at midnight hour he thinks he hears
The blissful sound that brake the bondman’s chains,--
The glorious peal of freedom and of joy.

Collect for the Day
God our help and strength, look with mercy on all who are oppressed in mind, body, or human dignity. Shield and protect them, and give them that wholeness which is your will for all your children. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. [476:778:57 psalm prayer]

Friday, April 07, 2006

Lex talionis: Bible Comment on Leviticus 24 with poem by Amos N. Wilder, To Pulpit and Tribune

Daily Readings
Psalm 56, Numbers 3, Leviticus 24, Matthew 2

Daily Text: Leviticus 24

Lex talionis
Blasphemy of YHWH’s name motivates Moses to make a special inquiry as to what judgment should be made in this Leviticus 24 reading. This special inquiry occurs on only three other occasions, all recorded in Numbers (9:6ff., 15:32ff., and 27:1ff. [185:936]). In response God gives Moses instructions as to how to respond to blasphemy and other violent acts. Blasphemy is obviously seen as a violent and heinous act against God. Others are all against fellow humans and include murder, the death of another’s animal, and injury to another human being.

The blasphemy is what concerns us here, apart from why the inquiry is necessary, whether because the man is an alien, or because of the problematic nature of mixed marriage or the blasphemy itself. More interesting is God’s response. Take him outside the camp, have all of those who heard him blaspheme lay their hands on his head and then the whole congregation is to stone him. The laying on of hands is reminiscent of offering animal sacrifice e.g., Leviticus 1:4, 3:2. That is, all those who heard him blaspheme, probably by pronouncing the name of YHWH, bear some guilt by association. Running through their minds is this blasphemy and they witness to his sin and their inadvertant participation in it by laying their hands on his head before he is stoned. The man dies for his own sin, but there is suggested here that his death in some way atones for theirs.

Lex talionis, an eye for and eye, is also included here. Hertz writes that ‘This is ”one of the paradoxes of history. On the one hand, Judaism, the so-called religion of ‘strict justice,’ rejected the literal application of the law of retaliation and knew neither torture in legal procedure nor mutilation as a form of punishment. In Christian lands, on the other hand, mutilation and torture are well-nigh the indispensable accompaniments of justice from the middle of the thirteenth century down to the middle of the eighteenth, and in some countries to the middle of the nineteenth and beyond” [185:939]. What is interesting is that in the late twentieth century and in the present, Israel is going way beyond Judaism’s former conservative practice in its violence against the Palestinians, the current day ‘aliens’ in their midst. They are going way beyond even Lex talionis in this struggle. Reportedly, the state of Israel now employs secret prisons for the torture of prisoners who are never heard of again and that the United States makes use of such facilities, as well. How refreshing it would be to see a return to the sanity of biblical justice!

To Pulpit and Tribune
Amos N. Wilder

Speak holy words—too many blasphemies,
Too many insolent and strident cries
And jeers and taunts and maledictions rise.

Speak faithful words—too many tongues that please,
And idle vows, and disingenuous pleas,
And heartless and disheartening levities.

Speak quiet words—the constellations wait,
The mountains watch; the hour for man is late
Likewise to still his heart and supplicate.

Speak chastened words—for anguish is at hand,
Intolerable, that none can understand,
And writs of ill no mortal eye has scanned.

Speak gentle words—for fallen on the knives
These sentient hearts and these exceeeded lives
Bleed till their pitying Advocate arrives.

Speak holy words—and O thou tarrying Lord,
Leave not thy cherished to the power of the sword;
Come with thy hosts and rout the opprobrious horde.

Collect for the Day
Giver of courage, when our path is hard and dangerous, give us the grace of quiet confidence. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. [476:777:56 Psalm prayer]

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Calendar: Bible Comment on Leviticus 23 with poem by Rose Emma Collins, The Tabernacle

Daily Readings
Psalm 55, Numbers 2, Leviticus 23, Matthew 1

Daily Text: Leviticus 23

The Calendar
The most complete biblical discussion of the festival calendar in Israel is found in Leviticus 23. Three other shorter calendars are described in Exodus 23:14-18, 34:18-25 and Deuteronomy 16:1-16. In those passages only three of the festivals are mentioned, here we have a half dozen.
Passover or Pesech, the 14th of Nisan
The Harvest Festival, determined by first crop
The Feast of Weeks, likewise determined by first crop

The Day of Remembrance, 1st of Tishri
The Day of Atonement, 10th of Tishri
The Festival of Booths, 15th of Tishri
The six festivals fall neatly into two divisions, the first all related to Pesech in the first month of the year,i.e., Spring, and the second related to the religious New Year (Remembrance) and falling in the seventh month, the Fall of the year..

But calendars are not determined alone by festivals. There are other concepts like days, weeks, months, and years. The day has through the centuries been seen as beginning at different times.. This discussion relies on Plaut (185:920) as to the history and the nature of these ordered time periods. It is thought that originally the civil day began and ended at sunrise. Some time later, it began and ended at sunset (the biblical view, generally) and today it begins and ends at midnight by the clock.

In all historical discussion there is required a starting point for time and like that of the day, time’s referent point has changed from time to time.
• The Greeks counted from the first Olympiad 776 B.C.E.
• The Seleucid era began in 312 B.C.E. with the beginning of the Greco-Syrian Empire.
• The Creation of the world was picked by the Jews and set at 3710 B.C.E. (note that history and civilization did begin about 4,000 B.C.E.)
• Christians began to date from the birth of Christ, year 1 (B.C., Before Christ and A.D., Anno Domino, in the year of the Lord), not a beginning point, but a center point, suggesting that Christ is the focal point of history. (Webster states that A.D. should precede the year and B.C., when used, should follow its year.)

The Tabernacle
(Leviticus 23:33-43)
Rose Emma Collins

Let us build to the Lord of the earth in each place
The Tent, which His glorious presence will grace.
‘Twill be hallowed with light that descends from on high,
Where the prayers and the praises are heard thro’ the sky,
‘Tis the time when the beauty of earth is fulfilled,
And the stars all look down on the Tent that we build;
When the moon in her robing of silver attire,
Approaches in silence, the sun’s crimson fire!
All the splendour of heaven, the beauties of earth,
Exult in the love that has given them birth!
The boughs of thick trees with their leaves all entwine,
Round the delicate stems of the Myrtle and Vine;
The Palm trees are clasping the Willows with joy,
A rapture that death cannot change or destroy;;
Each tree that was bearing its fruit o’er the land,
Owes renewal of life, to the One mighty hand!
Its exquisite beauty enchanting our sight,
One thought has created, for taste and delight.
Choice flowers in manifold colours and scent,
Adorn the frail walls of the gorgeous built tent;
Where “showers of blessings” from promise divine,
Replete with His mandates, eternally shine!
Now twilight glides gently o’er trees, fruit and flower;
And fragrant the breath of the exquisite bower.
The lamps that were burning, are fast growing dim,
While angels have enter’d, and chant a soft hymn;
‘Tis the music of heaven! their voices ascending,
In tones most celestial, with praises are blending.
The trees are all trembling with joy, and the Rose
Has awaken’d to see where the angels repose;
But they folded their wings all impervious thro’ night,
And vanish’d ere dawn spread her roseate light!

Collect for the Day
God of grace, when we are frightened and alone, help us to trust you and cast our burdens upon you, that we may be upheld by your saving strength. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. [476:776:55 psalm prayer]

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sacred Donations: Bible Comment on Leviticus 22 with poem by Madeleine L'Engle, Shout Joy!

Daily Readings
Psalm 53, Numbers 1, Leviticus 22, Titus 3

Daily Text: Leviticus 22

Sacred Donations
Sacred donations are those portions of sacrifices that the priest’s may legitimately claim for their own and their family’s use. Having that understood Leviticus 22 is quite readily understandable in its own terms. There is a fascinating section that deals with humane treatment of animals in verses 26-28. It is noteworthy that in spite of the number of animals used in animal sacrifice, the Jewish people with their kosher laws, which require humane killing methods, continue today far more humane than the rest of the population in the way animals are treated. Slaughter house practices in the United States are generally so sadistic and cruel as to be justifiable cause for widespread vegetarianism, even if there were not other sound and sane reasons. The conclusion of the chapter, vss. 31-33, are more important than their ordinariness might suggest—ordinariness in the sense of their familiar injunctions concerning honoring the name of God, the very God who brought these people out of slavery in Egypt. Plaut cites SIFRA from the Halachah.

Though the context treats of ritual purity, tradition regarded this passage as the classical source for the law of martyrdom…. To prevent public profanation of God’s name (“in the midst of the Israelite people”), the Jew should die rather than transgress even a minor commandment. He should offer himself unreservedly, without expectation of a miracle (Dan. 3:16 ff.). Julianus and Pappus, two rebels against the Roman tyranny, were captured. The Roman officer who ordered their execution tauntingly asked them, “why does your God not rescue you as He rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego?” They replied, “The three men were altogether worthy of a miracle and Nebuchadnezzar was a great king who deserved to be the instrument of a miracle. But you are a wicked ruler and do not merit such an honor, and we have incurred death for our sins. If you do not slay us, God has many other agents to punish us—lions and leopards, snakes and scorpions. But, in the end, you will be punished for our death.” And the tale reports that, before the execution had taken place, orders arrived from Rome to put that officer to death. [185:918]

Shout Joy!
Madeleine L’Engle

O sing unto God
and sing praises unto his Name
magnify him that rideth upon the heavens
praise him in his Name
shout it
cry it aloud upon the wind
take the tail of his steed
and fling across the sky
in his wild wake
he cannot be caught
he cannot be fled
he cannot be known
nor his knowledge escaped
the light of his Name
blinds the brilliance of stars
catch the falling dragon
ride between his flailing wings
leap between the jaws of the lion
grasp the horn of the unicorn
calling with mighty voice
caught in star flame
whipped by comet lash rejoice before him
cry above the voices of the cherubim
shout alongside the seraphim
bellow joy behind kings
scattered by the quaking of his hills
fleeing before his fire
rush like snow through his thunderous flame
crying with gladness
adoration of his Name
God is Lord

Collect for the Day
God of hope, in times of trouble save us from blind despair and help us to wait in confidence for the bloom of new life which, in the darkness, we cannot imagine. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. [476:773:53 psalm prayer]

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

High Calling: Bible Comment on Leviticus 21 with poem by Carl P. Daw, Jr., from God of the Prophets

Daily Readings
Psalm 50, Exodus 40, Leviticus 21, Titus 2

Daily Text: Leviticus 21

High Calling
Leviticus 21 returns to requirements for priests, some of which we have seen previously. In the first instance we see that priests are generally not free to defile themselves with the dead, with the exception of close kin (vss.1-6). Beginning with verse 10 we find a reference, I believe, to a rota, perhaps of a week’s length (cf. chap. 8), during which time a particular priest, or set of priests, has the responsibility for the sacrifices. During that time they are considered ‘under the oil of annointing’ and may not even leave the Tent of Meeting, much less, defile themselves by attending to the dead even if that person were otherwise within the bounds set in vss. 1-6. There was no difference between Aaron and his sons in Leviticus 8. Why should there be a difference between the High Priest and other priests subsequently, i.e., relating to the dead?

Another matter of interest is in the prevention of anyone with a physical blemish becoming a priest. At first that ruling seems prejudicial and unworthy. At a second glance, we can see that the same requirements for the priest as for the sacrifice seem to be in play. There certainly is nothing wrong with the meat on lame sheep; that is not the issue. The issue is physical perfection. Recognition of priestly relationship is not ignored, for a blind son of a priest may eat of any sacrifice that any other family member may eat. But this notion of ‘only the best’ for God seems to be a consistent theme, and ‘best’ is here defined by ‘no physical imperfection.’

from God of the Prophets
Carl P. Daw, Jr.

Anoint them priests!
help them to intercede
with all thy royal priesthood born of grace;
through them thy Church presents in word and deed
Christ’s one true sacrifice
with thankful praise.
493:359:stanza 3

Collect for the Day
Blessed are you, God of glory; you call us to give up all our vain attempts to reach you, and to come before you in thanksgiving for your great salvation, shown to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:770:50 Psalm prayer]

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sexual Offenses: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 20 with poem by Dante Alighieri, from The Divine Comedy

Daily Readings
Psalm 49, Exodus 39, Leviticus 20, Titus 1

Daily Text: Leviticus 20

Sexual Offenses
The parallel nature of the material in Leviticus 20 and Leviticus 18 is obvious. While in chapter 18 these sexual offenses were named and prohibited, in chapter 20 punishments for them are named. And the punishments are not light, insignificant or trivial. They include death, death by burning, death by stoning, and it seems very harsh and unforgiving. Capital punishment was meted out for these sexual offenses, and other sacrilegious behaviors such as blasphemy and flagrant Sabbath sins on the one hand, and for murder and kidnapping on the other. (185:907). The reality is that the Rabbis were much opposed to capital punishment and actually found a number of technical ways to avoid capital punishment. But even beyond that, lest we feel superior as Westerners, Plaut reminds us that England was still requiring the death penalty for pickpockets as late as the eighteenth century (185:907)... Still these punishments were severe. The LORD wanted no misunderstanding about the differences in morality expected in the behavior of the people of God. Holiness was not a matter to be taken casually.

from The Divine Comedy 1 Hell
Dante Alighieri

And when I had heard my Doctor tell the fame
Of all those knights and ladies of long ago,
I was pierced through with pity, and my head swam.

“Poet,” said I, “fain would I speak those two
That seem to ride as light as any foam,
And hand in hand on the dark wind drifting go.”

And he replied: “Wait till they nearer roam,
And thou shalt see; summon them to thy side
By the power of the love that leads them, and they will come.”

So, as they eddied past on the whirling tide,
I raised my voice: “O souls that wearily rove,
Come to us, speak to us—if it be not denied.”

And as desire wafts homeward dove with dove
To their sweet nest, on raised and steady wing
Down-dropping through the air, impelled by love,

So these from Dido’s flock came fluttering
Down-dropping toward us down the cruel wind,
Such power was in my affectionate summoning.

“O living creature, gracious and so kind,
Coming through this black air to visit us,
Us, who in death the globe incarnadined,

Were the world’s King our friend and might we thus
Entreat, we would entreat Him for thy peace,
That pitiest so our pangs dispiteous!

Hear all thou wilt, and speak as thou shalt please,
And we will gladly speak with thee and hear,
While the winds cease to howl, as they now cease.

There is a town upon the sea-coast, near
Where Po with all his streams comes down to rest
In ocean; I was born and nurtured there.

Love, that so soon takes hold in the gentle breast,
Took this lad with the lovely body they tore
From me; the way of it leaves me still distrest.

Love, that to no loved heart remits love’s score,
Took me with such great joy of him, that see!
It holds me yet and never shall leave me more.

Love to a single death brought him and me;
Cain’s place lies waiting for our murderer now.”
These words came wafted to us plaintively.

Hearing those wounded souls, I bent my brow
Downward, and thus bemused I let time pass,
Till the poet said at length: ”What thinkest thou?”

When I could answer, I began: “Alas!
Sweet thoughts how many, and desire how great,
Brought down these twain unto the dolorous pass!”

And then I turned to them: “Thy dreadful fate,
Francesca, makes me weep, it so inspires
Pity,” said I, “and grief compassionate.

Tell me—in that time of sighing-sweet desires,
How, and by what, did love his power disclose
And grant you knowledge of your hidden fires?”

Then she to me: “The bitterest woe of woes
Is to remember in our wretchedness
Old happy times; and this thy Doctor knows;

Yet, if so dear desire thy heart possess
To know that root of love which wrought our fall,
I’ll be as those who weep and who confess.

One day we read for pastime how in thrall
Lord Lancelot lay to love, who loved the Queen;
We were alone—we thought no harm at all.

As we read on, our eyes met now and then,
And to our cheeks the changing colour started,
But just one moment overcame us—when

We read of the smile, desired of lips long-thwarted,
Such smile, by such a lover kissed away,
He that may never more from me be parted

Trembling all over, kissed my mouth. I say
The Book was Galleot, Galleot the complying
Ribald who wrote; we read no more that day.”

While the one spirit thus spoke, the other’s crying
Wailed on me with a sound so lamentable,
I swooned for pity like as I were dying,

And, as dead man falling, down I fell.

Collect for the Day
God of our salvation, save us from envy, and teach us to be content with what is enough. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. [476:768:49 Psalm prayer]

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Holiness: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 19 with poem by James Henry Leigh Hunt, Abou Ben Adhem and the Angel

Daily Readings
Psalm 48 Exodus 38 Leviticus 19 II Timothy 4

Daily Text: Leviticus 19

The Golden Rule
Addressed to the entire congregation the LORD lays down twenty-five statutes to be observed by those who love Him. All of them premised on God’s holiness and his requirement that the people also be holy, these statues include the decalogue, but go beyond it as well. It is a sort of original Letter of James. “…faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (2:17-19). Here also belief in God is required alongside the ethical and moral requirements of the law. The agriculturist is to leave the edges and gleanings of his field for the poor who have insufficient sustenance. That is, there is social responsibility for all members of the society. The handicapped are to be honored and protected not ridiculed. Even in your husbandry there are matters to be observed, for all the creation comes within the circle of Israel’s God’s care. Treat aliens with the same care you treat your kin and your neighbor, and of course, that most famous dictum, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

The golden rule is not unique to Christianity, not unique to Judaism, Confucius is attributed a like teaching in a negative form and Kant is given credit for an abstract principle which essentially restates it in his categorical imperative (185:893). However, the first written form is found here in Leviticus 19:18. And it includes the alien “…you shall love the alien as yourself” (19:34). And the whole of this teaching is predicated on the holiness of God. He has one pattern of behavior among men and women within his creation, though Israel has the fullest knowledge of it. When they tie loving God with loving treatment of their fellow beings they bring honor to God’s name.

Abou Ben Adhem and the Angel
James Henry Leigh Hunt

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold;
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?” The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still, and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow-men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed;
And, lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest!

Collect for the Day
Gracious God, you have made us fellow-citizens with the saints in the city of your eternal light. In the time of storm, when the foundations shake, teach us to wait in silence on your steadfast and transforming love, made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
[476:766:48 Psalm prayer].