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 29, 2006

Without Malice: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 19 with poem by Abraham Lincoln, With Malice Toward None

Daily Readings
Proverbs 1, Numbers 25, Deuteronomy 19, Matthew 23

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 19

Without Malice
To be free of evil, without malice, protecting the innocent while upholding the right of the avenger, seems to be a fair summary of Deuteronomy 19. Deuteronomic Torah is an admixture of religious and social law. It seems to make little differentiation between the two. As in chapter 17:7, 12 the notion of purging evil from the national body politic is repeated twice and perhaps a third time in Deuteronomy 19 (cf. 13, 19 [21]). Purging evil seems to rest at the core of Israel’s religious and legal framework.

In the center of all of the references to the cities of refuge and the requirement for more than one witness, there falls this reference to not moving ancestral boundary markers (19:14). D. Hoffmann wrote, “The law follows the warning (verse 13) to purge the land of innocent blood. Moving a landmark defiles the land like spilled blood” [185:1472]. A malicious witness is surely as likely in such a case as in the case of manslaughter. Purge the land of malice.

With Malice Toward None
from the Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865
Abraham Lincoln,

With malice toward none;
With charity for all;
With firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right,
Let us strive on to finish the work we are in’
To bind up the nation’s wounds;
To care for him who shall have borne the battle,
And for his widow,
And his orphan—
To do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves,
And with all nations.

Collect for the Day
O God, who hast bound us together in this bundle of life, give us grace to understnd how our lives depend upon the courage, the industry, the honesty, and the integrity of our fellow-men; that we may be mindful of their needs, grateful for their faithfulness, and faithful in our responsibilities to them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. [286:71:201 Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971]

Friday, April 28, 2006

Discovering the Truth: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 18 with poem by George Eliot, Life's Purpose

Daily Readings
Psalm 72, Numbers 24, Deuteronomy 18, Matthew 22

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 18

Discovering the Truth
Discovering the truth was no settled matter for the ancients. The surrounding nations had a dozen ways to do it. Deuteronomy 18 prohibits all of them. Israel could have chosen to come directly to God as the nation of priests they were meant to be, but says Moses, at Horeb the people begged off from that responsibility and the LORD offered to appoint Moses as the first of a succession of prophets who would become both the mouth (word) and the eyes (vision) of God for the people. Their only responsibility was to determine which prophets were from the LORD and to follow completely the word and insight of the true prophet. Once the Torah was written down it became much easier, because they had priests, scribes and eventually rabbis who could interpret what was in line with the Torah and what was not. Likewise, we today have that resource plus that of the practice of the Church for 2100 years. Still, we do not always agree, while attempting to remain utterly loyal or wholehearted toward the LORD our God (Deuteronomy 18:13). The Chasidics had five verses that allowed them to sort through to agreement.
• “You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God” (Deut. 18:13).
• “I have set the Lord always before me” (Ps. 16:8)
• “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18)
• “In all your ways acknowledge Him” (Prov. 3:6)
• “To walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)
In Hebrew, the opening letters of these verses form (an acrostic for) the word repentance 185:1472) Perhaps if we embrace these in our practice, then our disagreements may be experienced in love.

Life’s Purposefrom “A Minor Prophet”
George Eliot

The earth yields nothing more Divine
Than high prophetic vision—than the Seer
Who fasting from man’s meaner joy beholds
The paths of beauteous order, and constructs
A fairer type, to shame our low content…

The faith that life on earth is being shaped
To glorious ends, that order, justice, love,
Mean man’s completeness, mean effect as sure
As roundness in the dew-drop—that great faith
Is but the rushing and expanding stream
Of thought, of feeling, fed by all the past.
Our finest hope is finest memory….

Even our failures are a prophecy,
Even our yearnings and our bitter tears
After that fair and true we cannot grasp;
As patriots who seem to die in vain
Make liberty more sacred by their pangs.

Collect for the Day
O God, bring our nation and all nations to a sense of justice and equity, that poverty, oppression, and violence may vanish and all may know peace and plenty. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. [476:798:72 psalm prayer]

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Purging Evil: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 16:18-17:20 with poem by Robert Herrick, To His Conscience

Daily Readings
Psalm 71, Numbers 22:41-23:30, Deuteronomy 16:18-17:20, Matthew 21

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 16:18-17:20

Purging Evil
Justice is an overriding concern for Israel, because it is for Israel’s God. Twice in this passage (17:7, 12) we read the words “So you shall purge the evil from (your midst) Israel.” This is the divine concern that underlies the rule of law and the drive for justice. The Deuteronomist sets up a structure for policing evil: locally appointed judges and officials, centrally located Levitical priests and a cult judge and finally, though not required, a king. At the very lowest level there are guidelines for rendering just decisions:
• Do not distort justice
• Show no partiality
• Accept no bribes
“Jewish law came to be known as halachah, ‘the way to go’ to fulfill the divine intent. Giving meticulous attention to its minutiae was to be doing His will, and, while in time this preoccupation often became extreme, its ultimate purpose was never in question: it was and remained to carry out Israel’s obligation under the covenant to perfect the kingdom of the Almighty. Conversely, to act with loving kindness was to act justly, for such was one’s obligation. Tzedek, the word for justice, and tzedakah, the word for giving to others, express the same objective” (185:1461). Justice faithfully done insured that evil was kept at bay.

To His Conscience
Robert Herrick

Can I not sin, but thou wilt be
My private Protonotary?
Can I not woo thee to pass by
A short and sweet iniquity?
I’ll cast a mist and cloud, upon
My delicate transgression,
So utter dark, as that no eye
Shall see the hugged impiety:
Gifts blind the wise, and bribes do please,
And wind all other witnesses:
And wilt not thou, with gold, be tied
To lay thy pen and ink aside?
That in the murk and tongueless night,
Wanton I may, and thou not write?
It will not be: And, therefore, now,
For times to come, I’ll make this vow,
From aberrations to live free;
So I’ll not fear the Judge, or thee.

Collect for the Day
Holy God, be our strength and our salvation, that we may never be ashamed to praise you for your mighty acts. We ask this through Jesus Christ. [476:797:71 psalm prayer]

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pilgrim Festivals: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 16:1-17 with an Anonymous poem, Pesach Le' Osid

Daily Readings
Wisdom of Solomon 16, Numbers 22:2-40, Deuteronomy 16:1-17, Matthew 20

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 16:1-17

Pilgrim Festivals
Sixteen Deuteronomy celebrates the pilgrim festivals, the ‘haj’ of the Jewish celebrations. In Deuteronomy each of these is celebrated in Jerusalem, the place the ‘LORD their God should choose.’ This is in keeping with the Deuteronomic determination to centralize (cf. chapter 12) Israel’s cult life. The festivals are Pesech (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukot (Tabernacles). Pesach, also known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, is directly tied to deliverance from Egypt, recreating it in the ‘Bread of Affliction’ (vs. 3). Shavuout, the Feast of weeks was celebrated for a day exactly seven weeks after the beginning of the grain harvest. It has come to be identified also with the day of the giving of the Law at Sinai. Sukot is at the end of the harvest season, a time of great rejoicing. While Pesach and Shavuot only required one day at Jerusalem, on Sukot the pilgrims stayed the entire week and celebrated. In our day, Sukot has inspired in the United States a Thanksgiving celebration on the fourth Thursday in November (185:1452).

Pesach Le’ Osid
(The Passover of the Future)

Israel in fetters still! The prophet’s wand
Shall stretch across the tyrant’s hapless land,
And prison doors shall straightway open wide,
And barring waters shall like walls divide,
To let the Lord’s redeemed pass dry-shod o’er
And reach a brighter, freer, friendlier shore.
The angel that unseen spreads seeds of death
And on each house corrupt pours poisoned breath
Shall pass the homes of God’s appointed by
And none that mark their lintel-posts shall die.
Hope paints this vision thus in golden hue
And, deathless as Hope, doth Faith bespeak it true,
Affliction’s bread shall yield to plenty’s leaven,
The clouds shall pass and earth shall grow like heaven.

Collect for the Day
O God, make us more conscious of Your gifts to us, and help us to see that no work truly prospers until it brings blessings to others. May our observance of this festival teach us not to withhold from others a share in the bounty that is ours, nor to dispossess them of what they have gleaned by their own efforts.

Help us, O Lord, so to live that when we have gathered our final harvest, many shall rise up and call us blessed. [471:396 for the Sabbath in Sukkot]

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Never Forget: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 15 with poem by William Shakespeare, Not Thine Own

The Feast of St. Mark

Daily Readings
Isaiah 52:7-10, Numbers 21:1-22:2, Deuteronomy 15, Mark 16:15-20

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 15

Never Forget
Remission of debt, manumission of slaves and the transmission of blessing into sacrifice makes up the content of the Deuteronomic text in Deuteronomy 15. The debt is predicated on the Sabbath year for on that year all fields were to be allowed to rest, that is, no crops were to be planted. So, if the peasant had found himself in crisis and had to borrow, the coming of the Sabbath year would be enough to sink him, for in addition to having his fields idle, he had continuing debt payment! The remission of debt addressed this social issue by sacral means. The debt was at least to be remitted during the Sabbath year and probably completely remitted for all time. In the process the continuance of peasant landholdings was made more possible. “This sermon (vss. 3-11) is a summons to meet the poor at all times with an open hand and an open heart. It is the appeal to the heart which is characteristic” (496:106). That appeal is brought home in vs. 11.

The manumission of slaves is based on Israel’s own redemption by God when he brought them out of slavery in Egypt. ‘Never forget’ is the watchword. ‘Never forget’ that you were once a slave! And, naturally, it is an extension of the principle in the last paragraph. If a poor man or woman, landholders, had to sell themselves into slavery because of debt, they deserved another chance. And when they were freed, they were to be freed with sufficient bounty to make their second chance feasible. The lofty and beautiful conception here is that while there are the poor always, wealth should continuously be circulated to make possible both liberty and community-wide economic self-sufficiency. Everyone had a right to such economic self-sufficiency, not just the well-off. And the foundation of this is the recognition that all sufficiency comes from the LORD God.

Not Thine Own
from “Measure for Measure,” Act I, sc. I
William Shakespeare,

Thyself and thy belongings
Are not thine own so proper as to waste
Thyself upon thy virtues, they on thee.
Heaven doth with us as we with torches do
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, ‘twere all alike
As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touched
But to fine issues, nor Nature never lends
The smallest scruple of her excellence
But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines
Herself the glory of a creditor,
Both thanks and use.

Collect for the Day
Almighty God, whose loving hand has given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you withour substance, and remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, thorugh Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[BCP:827:38 For the Right Use of God’s Gifts]

Monday, April 24, 2006

Tithing: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 14 with poem by Kahlil Gibran, On Giving

Daily Readings
Psalm 106:19-48, Numbers 20, Deuteronomy 14, Matthew 19

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 14

Three seemingly disparate subjects are addressed in Deuteronomy 14, prohibition of mutilation when grieving, dietary guidelines and tithing. Lacerating one’s flesh and cutting one’s hair as a natural part of grieving was forbidden on the grounds that Israelites are the children of God, and children of God have so much to be thankful for that even the appearance of abasing themselves need be avoided.

Jewish dietary laws have ever been scoffed at, ignored, and trivialized by Gentiles and Christians. However, they became a part of Jewish religious identity, not because they made sense, but because the LORD God asked it. Gerhard von Rad has a thoughtful comment on them, “the reader of today must from the outset form a clear idea in his mind on two points when framing an opinion on subjects of this kind. He must not suspect them of being ‘external matters’ which obstruct genuine piety rather than serve it. Such religious observances are deeply rooted in a conception of wholeness, according to which external things take place within as well, and what is within expresses itself in concrete externals. Secondly he must as far as possible refrain from asking the questions which spring so readily to our lips about the ‘meaning’ of the symbolism and of the observances. Observances keep themselves astonishingly unaltered, whilst the spiritual associations to which at any given time they owe their significance are subject to frequent change [496:100].

Tithing itself is a response to God that comes out of one’s commitment to God. It reflects both duty and the need to learn to give. Both ought to be valued, and certainly the loyalty and the generosity of God are marvelous examples of both. Jesus gave so fully that his life was a large part of the gift. He gave until nothing was left to give and at that point the gift of his life kept right on giving. He tithed not a part, but the principle. Privilege is the keynote of tithing. It is a privilege to give to God and those God loves, and with the privilege comes identification.

On Giving
from “The Prophet”
Kahlil Gibran,1883-1931

You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the
trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?
There are those who give little of the much which they have—and they give it for
recognition and their hidden desire makes their gift unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give
with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles
upon the earth.

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
and to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’. 407:1197

Collect for the Day
God our Father, remembering your covenant you graciously pardoned those who rebelled against you. Grant that where sin abounds, grace may abound more, through Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:852:106 psalm prayer]

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Prophetic Heresy: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 13 with poem by George Eliot, Life's Purpose

Daily Readings
Psalm 70, Numbers 19, Deuteronomy 13, Matthew 18

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 13

Prophetic Heresy
Legitimizing the prophet by determining whether or not the message had integrity with the truths of God previously revealed, opens Deuteronomy chapter 13. The prophet spoke words that interpreted orthodoxy for the individual, the community, and the nation. Sometimes that interpretation was radically out of the ordinary, but it was not difficult to see whether or not it was within the theological, moral and ethical boundaries of the traditional faith. In an elementary way this was true from the beginning. Moses tells the people that if a prophet led them from YHWH to another god, even with unexplained portents and oracles, he was a false prophet. Prophetic heresy, however, is far more nuanced today. On the other hand, we have a textual tradition today, unavailable in Moses’ time. The new Gospel of Judas, for example, released by National Geographic in the past month, is one of the Gnostic Gospels long known to be in existence. But its ‘heresies’ are far from new, they were sorted out when the Christian canon was established in the third century and before. Whether or not this recently published manuscript is the ancient collection of myths and tales, or another hoax remains to be determined. Nonetheless, it need not concern the believer. Its attitude toward the God of the Torah is enough to help one realize that it is a false gospel on the same grounds as Moses instructions concerning false and true prophets in Deuteronomy 13. The text of the Gospel of Judas reportedly sees this “Old Testament God as no friend of mankind but, rather, the cause of its suffering” (Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker April 17, 2006, p. 80). The typical Gnostic nonsense about Jesus being pure spirit in human disguise is, of course, endemic.

In the chapter the author addresses three ways the community might go astray from following the LORD God. These three ways are by following a false prophet, by following suggestions from a close family member and by allowing an entire community within Israel that has rejected the one God to follow other gods. The core message is that the interests of the LORD God must be set above all other considerations. This temptation today is no different from that of Moses’ day. How many of us will serve God when we earn more money, when the kids are out of the house, educated, married, have their kids raised, when we retire, after we acquire our inheritance? There is no end to the matters that keep us from making a whole-souled commitment.

Life’s Purpose
From “A Minor Prophet”
George Eliot

The earth yields nothing more Divine
Than high prophetic vision—than the Seer
Who fasting from man’s meaner joy beholds
The paths of beauteous order, and constructs
A fairer type, to shame our low content…
The faith that life on earth is being shaped
To glorious ends, that order, justice, love,
Mean man’s completeness, mean effect as sure
As roundness in the dew-drop—that great faith
Is but the rushing and expanding stream
Of thought, of feeling, fed by all the past.
Our finest hope is finest memory….

Even our failures are a prophecy,
Even our yearnings and our bitter tears
After that fair and true we cannot grasp;
As patriots who seem to die in vain
Make liberty more sacred by their pangs.

Collect for the Day
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. in your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:795:70 psalm prayer]