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, May 20, 2006

Over-reaction: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 5 with poem by Simeon ben Isaac, Against the Evil Inclination

Daily Readings
Proverbs 21, Joshua 10, II Maccabees 5, Colossians 3

Daily Text: II Maccabees 5

That Antiochus was already in Egypt when he heard of Jason’s attack on Jerusalem is open to question. We know that Antiochus attacked Jerusalem in 169 and that he attacked Egypt in 168. How the rumor arose that Antiochus IV was dead also is a mystery. That Jason believed it is not in question for if it were so, Menelaus would not automatically be continuing as the High Priest. Goldstein (499:246 ff.) believes that Jason the Cyrene, author of the five volume history that the author of II Maccabees 5 is summarizing, was trying to protect the reputation of the Book of Daniel on these topics, and so used language that was obfuscating rather than being precise. It may be that Antiochus was on his way to Egypt when he heard about Jason’s attack. The fact that Antiochus IV did come in response to Jason’s attack, however, is not in question, and he did come in 168 B.C.E. His over-reaction is inexplicable. There may, probably were, factions within the city that cooperated with Jason’s 1000 man force to aid in gaining entry to the city. But the city was not with Jason, not supporting Jason, and was suffering desperately at his hands as he slew his own compatriots to gain his political end. And then for Antiochus to send Apollonius to kill all the men and to sell as slaves all of the women and boys was uncalled for. Apollonius’ treachery was a reflection on Antiochus’ own tendencies. Such evil can never support its ends, that is, the pacification of a conquered population. It can only engender hatred in the survivors.

Judas Maccabeus’ escape is the first significant reference to him in II Maccabees; obviously, he is not a hero of the author.

Against the Evil Inclination
Simeon ben Isaac

This fool who tricks and provokes and seduces to sin—destroy him,
cast him away, so that he may no more mislead us!
This abomination that defiles and befouls the pure—repulse it,
erase it from heart and mind.
This dupe who deludes and perverts the righteous—punish him,
obliterate him, so that he may not lead us astray.
This fly that lurks in the doorway of the heart—strangle it,
blot it out, and make a new heart blossom forth!

Collect for the Day
We beg you, Lord, to help and defend us. Deliver the oppressed, pity the insignificant, raise the fallen, show yourself to the needy, heal the sick, bring back those of your people who have gone astray, feed the hungry, lift up the weak, take off the prisoners’ chains. May every nation come to know that you alone are God, that Jesus Christ is your Child, that we are your people, the sheep that you pasture. [286:74:212 St. Clement of Rome, c. 100]

Friday, May 19, 2006

Treachery: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 4 with poem by Joseph ibn Abitur, Confession

Daily Readings
Proverbs 20, Joshua 9, II Maccabees 4, Colossians 2

Daily Text: II Maccabees 4

Full of connivance and betrayal, II Maccabees 4 details the treachery of Simon, Appollonius, Jason, Menelaus, Andronicus, Lysimachus and others. The sense of it is that not only Onias, the legimate high priest has suffered, but also the people, the temple, and the Lord, himself. So profuse has evil become, that not even the Lord can keep up with its weedy flourishing. Only Andronicus, a Greek, is brought to justice by the Lord (4:38), but perhaps he is the exception because by his hand Onias III, the legitimate and pious high priest was slain treacherously. It will be chapter 13 before Menelaus receives his due! But his fate is coming.

Joseph ibn Abitur

I know, my God that I have done violence to myself,
that I have brought destruction upon my Temple.
My own crimes have trapped me,
my lies have risen up against me;
for my sins have swept over my head.

I am the sinner, the evil-doer,
from my very inception.
I alone am guilty, no other is at fault;
no other is at fault;
no stranger shall have any part in my downfall.
Shame is my garment,
disgrace my clothing;
for my sins have swept over my head.

My very words convict me,
my lips bear witness against me.
Indeed, I was brought to birth in iniquity,
and my guilt was born with me.
My mother conceived me in guilt,
my father reared me in it.
There is no crime like mine,
it sets a snare for me;
for my sins have swept over my head.

This day’s crimes alone—
not even counting those of other days—would suffice.
If the Dread One were to punish me for the sins of a single day,
I would sink without any foothold,
and would find no redemption.
See what my crime has done,
how my folly has repaid me;
for my sins have swept over my head.

My assailant found me out,
I fell into the hands of my enemies,
because I anger my Creator and rebelled against my Rock.
I did not curb my passion;
now my enemy curbs me.
There is no guilt like mine,
no trap like the trap set for me;
For my sins have swept over my head.

If any man should wish to die by his own hands,
my sin and I shall join him,
and he will not be alone.
No man, not even a slave,
would desire to live from such a beginning to such an end.
I swim in a sea of crime;
who will lift me up out of my filth?
For my sins have swept over my head.

My mother’s sons are oppressed;
I must answer for the violence done to them.
O my Lord, I shall never be purged of the blood
of my children and infants,
for I killed them with my sins and misdeeds.
My own hand wounded me,
my own self did me wrong;
For my sins have swept over my head.

My iniquities stood up against me,
I could not stand my ground.
They raised their hand high over me,
charged at me defiantly.
Then heaven and earth
saw their vengeance upon me.
Now I weep every night, all year long,
and on Sabbaths too, and on New Moons;
For my sins have swept over my head.

The dwellers of the underworld detest me,
even the host of the impure abhor me.
They sense that I am loathsome,
they see that I am soiled.
My Lord, what shall I do,
what can I do?
Oh, turn to my cry and plea,
listen to my prayer;
For my sins have swept over my head.

I have no pleasure in life,
I have no enjoyment in death.
My sin afflicts me in life,
my guilt in death.
Hasten to me and help me,
O God, maker of my soul.
Forgive my crime, speed my salvation,
O my King, my Redeemer, my Holy One;
For my sins have swept over my head.

Collect for the Day
O Merciful God, who answerest the poor,
Answer us,
O Merciful God, who answerest the lowly in spirit,
Answer us,
O Merciful God, who answerest the broken of heart,
Answer us.
O Merciful God,
Answer us.
O Merciful God,
Have compassion.
O Merciful God,
O Merciful God,
O Merciful God, have pity upon us,
And at a near time.
[286:848 Day of Atonement, Prayer in Darkness of Spirit]

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Politics and Piety: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 3 with poem by Felicia Hemans, Heliodorus in the Temple

Daily Readings
Proverbs 19, Joshua 8, II Maccabees 3, Colossians 1

Daily Text: II Maccabees 3

Politics and Piety
Our story in II Maccabees 3 ranges from the pits of human treachery in Simon to the glories of God’s own action in the affair of Heliodorous. This is a remarkable tale and neither its psychology or its theology are plumbed in the details. For the writer, God spoke, and without a doubt something remarkable occurred. Even the author of Daniel (11:20) mentions this event, and that author may well have lived at the time of this Seleucid king, Seleucus IV. Zechariah 9:8 may also refer to this event.

One of the depositors is Hyrcanus, a second cousin of Onias III and a brigand chief who has set himself up in opposition to the Seleucids. Evidently, he was powerful enough that they allowed him his sway in Transjordan without an attempt to dislodge him. That he had deposited monies in the temple under Onias protection would not have carried any weight with Heliodorus, and may have been the reason he continued to pursue his course after the protests of the high priest and all the people. However, it was the sanctity of the temple that was at stake here, regardless of the politics, and as has been suggested, they were complicated. For our author this was a major event in the reestablishment of the temple as the only true place of God’s dwelling. Surely, it is God who is glorified.

Heliodorus in the Temple
Felicia Hemans

A Sound of woe in Salem!—mournful cries
Rose from her dwellings—youthful cheeks were pale,
Tears flowing fast from dim and agèd eyes,
And voices minglikng in tumultuous wail;
Hands raised to heaven in agony of prayer,
And powerless wrath, and terror, and despair.

Thy daughters, Judah! weeping laid aside
The regal splendour of their fair array,
With the rude sackcloth girt their beauty’s pride,
And thronged the streets in hurrying, wild dismay;
While knelt thy priests before his awful shrine,
Who made, of old, renown and empire thine.

But on the spoiler moves—the Temple gate,
The bright, the beautiful, his guards unfold,
And all the scene reveals its solemn state,
Its courts and pillars, rich with sculptured gold,
And man, with eye unhallowed, views th’ abode,
The severed spot, the dwelling-place of God.

Where art Thou, Mighty Presence! that of yore
Wert wont between the cherubim to rest,
Veiled in a cloud of glory, shadowing o’er
Thy sanctuary the chosen and the blest?
Thou! that didst make fair Sion’s ark Thy throne,
And call the oracle’s recess Thine own!

Angel of God! that through th’ Assyrian host,
Clothed with the darkness of the midnight hour,
To tame the proud, to hush th’ invader’s boast,
Didst pass triumphant in avenging power,
Till burst the day-spring on the silent scene,
And death alone revealed where thou hadst been.

Wilt thou not wake, O Chasterner! in thy might,
To guard thine ancient and majestic hill,
Where oft from heaven the full Shechinah’s light
Hath streamed the house of holiness to fill?
Oh! yet once more defend thy loved domain,
Eternal one! Deliverer! rise again!

Fearless of Thee, the plunderer, undismayed,
Hastes on, the sacred chambers to explore,
Where the bright treasures of the fane are laid,--
The orphan’s portion, and the widow’s store;
What recks his heart, though age unsuccored die,
And want consume the cheek of infancy?

Away, intruders!—hark! a mighty sound!
Behold, a burst of light!—away, away!
A fearful glory fills the Temple round,—
A vision bright in terrible array!
And lo! a steed of no terrestrial frame,--
His path a whirlwind, and his breath a flame!

His neck is clothed with thunder, and his mane
Seems waving fire; the kindling of his eye
Is as a meteor; ardent with disdain
His glance; his gesture, fierce in majesty!
Instinct with light he seems, and formed to bear
Some dread archangel through the fields of air.

But who is he, in panoply of gold,
Throned on that burning charger:
Bright his form,
Yet in its brightness awful to behold,
And girt with all the terrors of the storm!
Lightning is on his helmet’s crest, and fear
Shrinks from the splendor of his brow severe.

And by his side two radiant warriors stand,
All-armed, and kingly in commanding grace;
Oh! more than kingly-godlike—sternly grand;
Their port indignant, and each dazzling face
Beams with the beauty to immortals given,
Magnificent in all the wrath of heaven.

Then sinks each gazer’s heart; each knee is bowed
In trembling awe; but, as to fields of fight,
The unearthly war-steed, rushing through the crowd,
Bursts on their leader in terrific might;
And the stern angels of that dread abode
Pursue its plunderer with scourge of God.

Darkness—thick darkness!—low on earth he lies,
Rash Heliodorus—motionless and pale;
Bloodless his cheek, and o’er his shrouded eyes
Mists, as of death, suspend their shadowy veil;
And thus the oppressor by his fearstruck train
Is borne from that inviolable fane.

The light returns—the warriors of the sky
Have passed, with all their dreadful pomp, away;
Then wakes the timbrel, swells the song on high,
Triumphant as in Judah’s elder day.
Rejoice, O city of the sacred hill!
Salem, exult! thy God is with thee still!

Collect for the Day
Though our mouths should overflow with song as the sea, our tongues with melody as the roaring waves, our lips with praise as the heavens’ wide expanse; and though our eyes were to shine as the sun and the moon, our arms extend like eagles’ wings, our feet speed swiftly as deer—still we could not fully thank You, Lord our God and God of all ages, or bless Your name enough, for even one of Your infinite kindnesses to our ancestors and to us. [266:96 Our Immeasurable Debt to God]

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Precedents: Bible Comment on II Macabees 2 with poem by C. David Matt., Simchas Torah

Daily Readings
Proverbs 18, Joshua 7, II Maccabees 2, II Corinthians 13

Daily Text: II Maccabees 2

Why do these two letters precede the Preface of II Maccabees? It is an appropriate question and one without a clear response. It may well be that the author of II Maccabees wanted it clear from the beginning that the issue around which all of this subject swirls is the right of the Jews to worship God according to the Torah in Jerusalem. One would think that the author was trying to convince the Gentiles of their rights, but that would probably be misleading. They convinced the Gentiles by going to war and winning. II Maccabees was written for the Jewish community in dispersion, many of whom had founded competing temples. Precedents are a good way to think of them.

The letter which began at 1:10b and continues into II Maccabees 2 is considered to be a forgery, however, not one created by the compiler of the condensation which is II Maccabees. Rather he used the forged letter, probably unaware and unconcerned that it was not all that it claimed to be, because it makes his point. The condensation is accepted as exactly what it portends to be—a synthesis of a five volume work by Jason of Cyrene. That source volume is no longer extant, but it would been known by those to whom he was writing. In the two letters and in the preface the author keeps the hope alive and growing that God is bringing his people out of bondage into their political own once again. Amazing how hope continues to spring in Jewish breasts.

Simchas Torah
C. David Matt.

Full oft has the ark been opened
And in the sad procession,
Our Fathers bore the sacred Law
Their one most dear possession.

While unto the foe abandoned
To ravish and to spoil,
They left their rich and plenteous store,
The fruits of a life of toil.

And into the regions unfathomed
They bore the precious scroll,
To shield it or to die for it,
To pay the exile’s toll.

Yet in to-day’s pageant procession
Of banner and scroll and light,
The Jew clasps tight the self-same Law
He bore through oppression’s night.

Rejoice then, O Israel! Thy praise
Unto thy Maker give.
No more the Torah bids thee die;
To-day it bids thee live!

To live for it, and to cherish
Each sacred memory,
Which time has woven in a crown
Of glory unto thee.

Let revelry hold its sway, then,
And the hour be given to cheer;
For the cycle of reading is ended
On the happiest day of the year.

And lest the mocker, derisive,
Avow you delight to be through,
Lovingly wind it from end to start;
Begin to read it anew.

Collect for the Day
Let us declare the greatness of our God and give honor to the Torah.
For out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the world of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Praised be the One who in His holiness has given the Torah to His people Israel.
[471:417 For the Reading of Torah]

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Temple Schism: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 1 with poem by Caroline Deutsch, The Miraculous Oil

Daily Readings
Proverbs 17, Joshua 6, II Maccabees 1, II Corinthians 12

Daily Text: II Maccabees 1

Temple Schism
In the third and second centuries B. C. the Jewish peoples learned that if they kept the commandments, even though they were under the rule of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, they would prosper. But then came a period when that was not enough. In fact, obedience to the Torah became a crime under the Seleucid, Antiochus IV, 167 to 164 B.C. [499 3]. The Jews fought back and for awhile did so successfully. II Maccabees documents this period.

In II Maccabees one there are two letters, the second beginning in verse 10b and continuing through the 18th verse of chapter two. In the first letter there is an account of Jason rebelling. Jason had begun an alternate and schismatic temple in Egypt, and the Jews of Jerusalem were appalled. In this letter they have become convinced that the Jerusalem temple is the one true temple and they are calling upon their brothers in Egypt to celebrate the Feast of Booths which they themselves are doing.

The second letter, as the first, is focussed in opposition to the schismatic temple and claiming that the Second Temple in Jerusalem is now God’s holy place. The references to Nehemiah and the discovery of naptha, petroleum, serves to reinforce the claim that the Second Temple is now the one to look towards.

The Miraculous Oil
Caroline Deutsch

Little cruet in the Temple
That dost feed the sacrificial flame,
What a true expressive symbol
Art thou of my race, of Israel’s fame!
Thou for days the oil didst furnish
To illume the Temple won from foe—
So for centuries in my people
Spirit of resistance ne’er burnt low.
It was cast from home and country,
Gloom and sorrow were its daily lot;
Yet the torch of faith gleamed steady,
Courage, like thy oil, forsook it not.
Mocks and jeers were all its portion,
Death assailed it in ten thousand forms—
Yet this people never faltered,
Hope, its beacon, led it through all storms.
Poorer than dumb, driven cattle,
It went forth enslaved from its estate,
All its footsore wand’rings lighted
By its consciousness of worth innate.
Luckless fortunes could not bend it;
Unjust laws increased its wondrous faith;
From its heart, exhaustless streamng,
Freedom’s light shone on its thorny path.
Oil that burnt in olden Temple,
Eight days only didst thou give forth light!
Oil of faith sustained this people
Through the centuries of darkest night!

Collect for the Day
Master of the universe,
let there be no good hope that is not a command,
let there be no prayer that does not ask to become a deed,
let there be no promise unless it be kept.

Upon this earth may just and reverent nations arise:
needing no challenge like war,
no more undone by poverty and injustice.
Let them be places where every person matters.
So shall the human community,
rich in beginnings and poor in conclusions,
grow mature in wisdom and ripe in understanding.

Upon this earth may women of spirit arise,
men of integrity and compassion,
creators of God-seeking peoples;
slow to judge others,
quick to judge themselves:
so may they be all their days and years.
We ask for messiahs,
a new age of the spirit,
Your kingdom on earth.

Let the Eternal be King over all the earth.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Death of Moses: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 34 with poem by R. M. Rilke, Face to Face

Daily Readings
Proverbs 16, Joshua 5, Deuteronomy 34, II Corinthians 11

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 34

The Death of Moses
For Moses to see the land was to receive title to it. But the LORD continued to refuse him entry. As a consequence he transferred the fief to Joshua whose responsibility it was to secure it and distribute it (cf. Lohfink’s thesis 498:869). But how was he to see all of the land described? From Mt. Pisgah this is impossible. Was a vision intended, or could Moses have been assumed into the presence of God as was later believed? Jesus on the Mt. of Transfiguration was with Elijah and Moses. The notion of the Assumption of Moses fits in with this meeting, since Elijah also was taken up into heaven. The book of Jude, verse 9, hints at this belief. On the other hand, Deuteronomy 34 says he was buried, the death of Moses clear and final. How he ‘saw’ this extent of land is difficult to imagine. But then he was unique, one with whom God spoke face to face.

Moses uniqueness is widely recognized in Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, in history and in art. Elie Wiesel has written, “His passion for social justice, his struggle for national liberation, his triumphs and disappointments, his poetic inspiration, his gifts as a strategist and his organizational genius, his complex relationship with God and His people, his requirements and promise, his condemnations and blessings, his bursts of anger, his silences, his efforts to reconcile the law with compassion, authority with integrity—no individual, ever, anywhere, accomplished so much for so many people in so many different domains. His influence is boundless, it reverberates beyond time” [185:1588].

Face to Face
R. M. Rilke

Then slowly the aged
God bowed down His aged face to the aged mortal.
Withdrew him out of himself in kisses
into his older age. And with hands of creation
swiftly remounted to the mountain, until it amounted
to nothing more than the others, lightly surmounting
human conjecture.

Collect for the Day
Great and holy is the Lord,
the holiest of holy ones for every generation.
Majesty precedes him,
and following him is the rush of many waters.
Grace and truth surround his presence;
truth and justice and righteousness are the foundations of his throne.
Separating light from deep darkness,
by the knowledge of his mind he established the dawn.
When all his angels had witnessed it they sang aloud;
for he showed them what they had not known;
Crowning the hills with fruit,
good food for every living being.
Blessed be he who makes the earth by his power
establishing the world in his wisdom.
In his understanding he stretched out the heavens,
and brought forth wind from his storehouses.
He made lightning for the rain,
and caused mists to rise from the end of the earth.
[286:11:25 Dead Sea Scrolls]

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Moses' Blessing: Bible Comment on Deuteronomy 33 with poem by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy, My Peace I Give Unto You

Daily Readings
Proverbs 15, Joshua 4, Deuteronomy 33, II Corinthians 10

Daily Text: Deuteronomy 33

Moses’ Blessing
Deuteronomy 33 begins (vs. 1-5) and ends (26-29) with two stanzas of an ancient Hebrew hymn. Enclosed between its stanzas Moses’ Blessing on the Twelve tribes falls, Joseph being the one with the greatest honor.

Verses 11 and 21 are apostrophe’s within the ‘Blessing’ poem, the first referring to Levi, and likely also to Simeon, who is not explicitly mentioned, in reference to their treacherous genocide of the men of Shechem in Genesis 34. In that regard this verse may be translated ‘Curse O YHWH his strength, but the work of his hands you shall accept favorably’ (498: 841, 850

My Peace I Give Unto You
G. A. Studdert-Kennedy


Blessed are the eyes that see
The things that you have seen,
Blessed are the feet that walk
The ways where you have been.

Blessed are the eyes that see
The Agony of God,
Blessed are the feet that tread
The paths His feet have trod.

Blessed are the souls that solve
The paradox of Pain,
And find the path that, piercing it,
Leads through to Peace again.

Collect for the Day
O God, whose grace and mercy flow like an endless river from your great being, help me now to place myself in the path of your rushing love and limitless compassion, that I may find my spirit renewed. Amen. [479:280]