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, June 17, 2006

A Riddle: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 17 with poem by Godfrey Fox Bradby, In Hoc Signo

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 2 Judges 13 Ezekiel 17 Tobit 11

Daily Text: Ezekiel 17

A Riddle
The parable is a riddle with animals and plants as in a fable. It would be a delightful poem if the historical reality behind were not so sad. Nebuchadnezzar, the first eagle, takes king Jehoichin of Judah as a prisoner to Babylon, leaving in his place Zedekiah, the planted seed, who forms a covenant with him to remain loyal. Once Nebuchadnezzar is out of sight, Zedekiah, the grapevine planted by Nebuchadnezzar, reaches out to Psammetichus II, Pharoah of Egypt, the second eagle. At this point his loyalties are transplanted. But can those transplanted loyalties thrive? It will only take an East wind, a Babylonian wind, to cause this vine to now wither and die.

In the interpretation, Ezekiel 17:11-21, the additional information is given that Zedekiah’s rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar was fundamentally a rebellion against YHWH. Therefore, the judgement that the king faces in Babylon is the Lord’s judgement against him.

Whereas the topmost shoot of the first cedar in vs. 3 & 4 refers to the house of David, so the ‘sprig from the lofty top of a cedar’ in vs. 22 is a new David, and will come to be known as the Messiah. God will in his own way and in his own time rebuild his house.

In Hoc Signo
Godfrey Fox Bradby

The Kingdoms of the Earth go by
In purple and in gold;
They rise, they triumph, and they die,
And all their tale is told.

One Kingdom only is divine,
One banner triumphs still;
Its King a servant, and its sign
A Gibbet on a hill.

Collect for the Day
Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest.
To give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to sek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward
save that of knowing that we do thy will.
[475:515 Ignatius Loyola 1491-1556]

Friday, June 16, 2006

Fit to Be a Queen: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 16 with poem by John Milton, Paradise Lost

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 1, Judges 12, Ezekiel 16, Tobit 10

Daily Text: Ezekiel 16

Fit to Be a Queen
Chapter 16, the longest of Ezekiel’s prophecies, falls neatly into three sections: 1-43a, a narrative of a newborn tossed into the wilderness to die, but rescued by YHWH to grow up to be a beautiful woman, fit to be a queen, though totally wanton in all her ways; 43b-58 a pejorative comparison of Jerusalem with her sisters, Samaria and Sodom; and finally 59-63, the mortification of Jerusalem accepted back into covenant with an ever-loving God.

Overall, the story of this rescued waif is colorful, sensuous in the extreme, and somewhat difficult to relate metaphorically to Jerusalem. And yet we have other examples of the same sort, the closest and most extended being the story of the prophet Hosea who’s paramour is Israel, whereas in Ezekiel God’s is Jerusalem. In stripping his wife of her privilege Hosea 2:4-14 closely parallels Ezekiel’s intent in 35-43.

Jerusalem always considered herself more faithful than Samaria, while Sodom was considered to be the paramount entity of corporate sin. But here Ezekiel makes Sodom look good by comparison to Jerusalem, and Samaria positively righteous. Jerusalem has become in God’s eyes the most faithless and sinful city in human experience. Ezekiel’s prophecy cannot have been accepted gladly, to say the very least, and perhaps because of that this beautiful, though sobering narrative, is not very well known in Hebrew or Christian circles.

Paradise Lost
Book i
John Milton

With these came they, who, from the bord’ring flood
Of old Euphrates to the brook that parts
Ægypt from Syrian ground, had general names
Of Baalim and Ashtaroth, those male,
These feminine: for spirits when they please
Can either sex assume, or both; so soft
And uncompounded is their essence pure;
Nor tied or manacled with joint or limb,
Nor founded on the brittle strength of bones,
Like cumbrous flesh; but in what shape they choose,
Dilated or condensed, bright or obscure,
Can execute their airy purposes,
And works of love or enmity fulfil.
For those the race of Israel oft forsook
Their living strength, and unfrequented left
His righteous altar, bowing lowly down
To bestial gods; for which their heads as low
Bow’d down in battle, sunk before the spear
Of despicable foes. With these in troop
Came Astoreth, whom the Phœnicians called
Astarte, queen of heaven, with crescent horns;
To whose bright image nightly by the moon
Sidonian virgins paid their vows and songs,
In Sion also not unsung, where stood
Her temple on th’ offensive mountain, built
By that uxorious king, whose heart though large,
Beguiled by fair idolatresses, fell
To idols foul. Thammuz came next behind,
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allured
The Syrian damsels to lament his fate
In amorous ditties all a summer’s day,
While smooth Adonis from his native rock
Ran purple to the sea, supposed with blood
Of Thammuz yearly wounded: the love-tale
Infected Sion’s daughters with like heat,
Whose wanton passions in the sacred porch
Ezekiel saw, when by the vision led
His eyes survey’d the dark idolatries
Of alienated Judah.

Collect for the Day
O Lord our God, you know who we are; men with good consciences and with bad, persons who are content and those who are discontented, the certain and the uncertain, Christians by conviction and Christians by convention, those who believe and those who half-believe, those who disbelieve.

And you know where we have come from; from the circle of relatives,
acquaintances and friends, or from the greatest loneliness; from a life of quiet prosperity, for from manifold confusion and distress; from family relationships that are well ordered or from those disordered, or under stress; from the inner circle of the Christian community or from its outer edge.

But now we all stand before you, in all our differences, yet alike in that we are all in the wrong with you and with one another, that we must all one day die, that we would be lost without your grace, but also in that your grace is promised and made available to us all in your dear Son, Jesus Christ. [489:209 Karl Barth, 1886-1968]

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Worth of the Wood: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 15 with poem by Catherine of Siena, And From What Source

Daily Readings
Psalm 88, Judges 10:17-11:40, Ezekiel 15, Tobit 9

Daily Text: Ezekiel 15

Worth of the Wood
Israel has for centuries referred to herself as a productive vine coming out of Egypt and filling the promised land with her fruit (cf. Psalm 80). But Israel’s fruit is obedience to the LORD and she has not been obedient. In Ezekiel 15 the prophet compares Israel as a fruitless vine to the mighty trees of the forest. Eichrodt suggests that the trees in the parable may actually be the surrounding nations [503:195]! But fruit is not the point of comparison, but the worth of the wood in a grape vine as compared to the worth of the wood in a great tree. Eichrodt makes the point that Ezekiel takes Israel’s, and the church’s, favorite agricultural metaphor, turns it on its head and makes the point of its uselessness apart from being faithful to the LORD. Understood in this way, the vine has no value at all.

It might be noted here since 15:1-5 is written in poetic form in many translations, that Eichrodt [503:193] clearly contends that there is no poetic structure here. It is strong, simple prose—no flowering structure at all.

And From What Source
Catherine of Siena

And from what source,
O tree—
since of yourself you are dead and barren—
do you get these fruits of life?
From the tree of life—
for unless you are engrafted into him
you would have no power
to produce any fruit at all,
because you are nothing.

Collect for the Day
O Lord, when we are plunged into the darkness of despair, make known t us the wonders of your grace, for you alone are God and from you comes all our help and strength. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. [476:823:88 Psalm prayer]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

God Stumbles: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 14 with poem by Johann W. von Goethe, As a Man Soweth

Daily Readings
Psalm 87 Judges 10:1-16 Ezekiel 14 Tobit 8

Daily Text: Ezekiel 14

God Stumbles
The growth of acceptance of Babylonian and probably Egyptian pagan idolatrous religious beliefs among the exilic community extends even into its leadership. Outwardly, pious and faithful to YHWH, they are inwardly embracing these new beliefs. In the 21st century American Church we have seen a similar move as cultural mores influence our thinking. Legion are those who no longer see Jesus as ‘the way, the truth and the life,’ but simply as one way among many. The prophet articulates that ‘they place their iniquity as a stumbling block before them’ (vss. 3, 4, 7). It is their own doing and God stumbles over it!

It is risky, the prophet is saying, to come with such explosive inner idolatrousness to inquire of God through His own prophet! The risk was real then; it is real today. God responds in two ways. Should he allow them to consult in this fashion? He concludes initially that ‘yes’ he should, but ultimately he will cut them off from the house of Israel. They are coming worried about what is happening in Jerusalem, but they themselves will also be lost.

In the second and final segment of Ezekiel 14, the figures of Noah, Daniel and Job, non-Israelites all, are used as examples of fathers that, though righteous themselves, would not be able to protect their unrighteous children from destruction. This would be true in any of the four catastrophes of famine, wild animals, military invasion and pestilence that will be coming upon Jerusalem. Behind these towering paternal paradigms of Noah, Daniel and Job are real fathers among the exilic community, fathers who have loved children in Jerusalem and fathers who will likewise be unable to protect their children [500:219]. Most of those children will die, but the survivors who reach the exilic community will demonstrate by their wickedness why God has had to act to bring about the destruction of the faithless community in Judah. Thus, in verse 23, God painfully justifies his own desperate actions in what was the holy city.

As a Man Soweth
Johann W. von Goethe

We must not hope to be mowers,
And to gather the ripe gold ears,
Unless we have first been sowers
And watered the furrows with tears.

It is not just as we take it,
This mystical world of ours,
Life’s field will yield as we make it
A harvest of thorns or of flowers.

Collect for the Day
God of eternal light, open our eyes to the vision of your holy city coming down from heaven; make our hearts sensitive to your presence, and our wills eager to join in the comfort and healing you bring to all the world. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. [476:821:87 Psalm prayer]

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Peace Where There is No Peace: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 13 with poem by George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron, Bryde of Abydos

Daily Readings
Psalm 86, Judges 8:33-9:57, Ezekiel 12:21-13:23 Tobit 7

Daily Text: Ezekiel 12:21-13:23

Peace Where There is No Peace
In the beginning of our passage YHWH is dealing with the tendency of the people to put little stock in Ezekiel’s and other’s visions, for they did not seem to come to pass—‘every vision comes to nothing’ (12:22). The LORD is not pleased. He will change that so that they do come to pass and come to pass in the lifetime of the hearers. Chapter 13 then deals with those prophets and soothsayers who have no word from God and exacerbate the problem. Ezekiel is to prophecy against both male false prophets and female soothsayers or magicians. Necromancy is not too strong a word for the females for they are trusting to wrist bands, veils, scattering bread crumbs and handfuls of barley and then ‘reading’ the omens and putting people to death or letting them live on the basis of the ‘signs.’ All in all, the LORD is addressing the entire context of this problem of visions and ‘words’ from God not being taken seriously. In the end, foolishness, such as lies like saying “Peace where there is no peace,” must come to an end. Such prophets will be banned from the people of God, they will be banished from the land, some of them will die in their own foolishness, foolishness such as whitewashing a weak wall rather than strengthening it with real mortar and heavy plaster coatings. They will fall, says the LORD and the prophets will be trapped beneath them. And because Ezekiel is giving my words concerning deluges of rain, hailstones and storm winds, the prophets, if not the people, will know that I am God and that their failure to truly represent me is the cause of their demise.

Bryde of AbydosC. I. xx
George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron

Mark! Where his carnage and his conquests cease!
He makes a solitude, and calls it—peace.

Collect for the Day
God of mercy, fill us with the love of your name, and help us to proclaim you before the world, that all peoples may celebrate your glory in Jesus Christ our Lord.
[476:820:86 Psalm prayer]

Monday, June 12, 2006

Deaf and Sightless: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 12 with poem by Emily Bronte, The Prisoner

Daily Readings
Psalm 83, Judges 8:4-32, Ezekiel 12:1-20, Tobit 6:1b-18

Daily Text: Ezekiel 12:1-20

Deaf and Sightless
Ezekiel has not been heard! It is as if the people were both deaf and sightless, but God hints in Ezekiel 12:3 ‘Perhaps they will understand.’ At any rate, a new sign to be acted out by the prophet is given. He is to put together an exile’s pack, display it during the day and then shoulder it and leave from his place for another place at evening. Day and night he is to be seen by the exile community. Such a pack would have been known to him, because he himself went into exile in 597 B. C. Greenback describes such a pack [502:209] from the literature. “An exile’s pack is represented in Egyptian and Assyrian pictures of victories. It must have contained the barest necessities; R. Hiyya bar Abba (third-century C.E. Palestinian tanna) said a skin, a mat, and a bowl, each doing double-duty--the skin for holding flour … and for use as a pillow; the mat for sitting and lying; the bowl for eating and drinking….” The implications were meant for the Jerusalem community, and presumably they heard about it rather promptly. But the exilic community was the receiving one and needed to understand those implications.

A second sign to be enacted by Ezekiel is that of an anxious meal eaten with great trepidation, for great evil has come upon the city. There are no words given with this sign, or the previous one, for his actions would have been understood by his community if they actually watched and took the sign in. And presumably they did for they asked questions and Ezekiel interpreted for them, vs. 8.

The Prisoner
Emily Brontë

Oh! dreadful is the check—intense the agony—
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again;
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.

Collect for the Day
Lord, dispel from us the error of pride and the illusions of greatness, and help us to abandon every vice and stand in awe of you, for you alone are the Most High over all the world now and for ever. [476:817:83 Psalm prayer]