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.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Secret Treaty: Bible Comment on II Chronicles 16 with poem by Robert Herrick, To God

Daily Readings
Sirach 1, I Kings 15, II Chronicles 16, Jeremiah 14

Daily Text: II Chronicles 16

A Secret Treaty
What is seen in II Chronicles 16 is a strange behavior for one of Asa’s life long trust in the Almighty. Even when Ethiopia came against him with a ‘million’ person army, Asa relied on God. He had himself led efforts in Judah to seek God with all one’s heart. Like Charles Colson, he had bragged that he would step over his mother on his way to carrying out his mission, well, Asa did not exactly brag about it, he did it! So why in the world does Asa panic over Baasha’s threat of building the city of Ramah even if it was close to Jerusalem? He serves the God of both Judah and Israel. Of all men he needs not fear. But he did, and relying on his own cleverness, rather than God, he makes a secret treaty with the king of Aram to come against Baasha from the North in order to deflect his purposeful opposition against Judah. What he did was not wrong, per se; it was evidence of a new lack of trust in the strength and commitment of Almighty God. As it was with Rehoboam, how easy it is to begin to rely on oneself when matters are going well. It is like saying, “I’ve worked hard for my money.” The problem with that is that when the crisis comes we are not likely to remember from ‘whence cometh our help.’ So after 35 years of faithfulness, Asa forgets God. When Hanani, the seer, upbraids him he angrily slaps him in stocks within the prison and begins also to act punishingly with his own people. Never again does he turn to the LORD, even in extremis. What a sad, strange tale.

To God
Robert Herrick

Lord, I am like to mistletoe,
Which has no root and cannot grow
Or prosper, but by that same tree
It clings about: so I by thee.
What need I then to fear at all
So long as I about thee crawl?
But if that tree should fall and die,
Tumble shall heaven, and so down will I.
505:183

Collect for the Day

I have just hung up; why did he telephone?
I don’t know…Oh! I get it…
I talked a lot and listened very little.

Forgive me, Lord, it was a monologue and not a dialogue.
I explained my idea and did not get his;
Since I didn’t listen, I learned nothing,
Since I didn’t listen, I didn’t help,
Since I didn’t listen, we didn’t communicate.

Forgive me, Lord, for we were connected,
And now we are cut off.

[286:357 Michel Quoist]

Friday, September 08, 2006

Too Comfortable: Bible Comment on II Chronicles 12 with poem by Francis Beaumont, Lines on the Tombs in Westminster

Daily Readings
Psalm 123, I Kings 14, II Chronicles 12, Jeremiah 13

Daily Text: II Chronicles 12

Too Comfortable
II Chronicles 12 spells out the results of becoming too comfortable with one’s position in life, especially if it results in abandoning the Torah and relationship with God. The Chronicler notes that all Israel likewise abandoned God with him. Evidently the priests and the Levites lose their heart for God. Is it because the king is no longer showing the way as did David and as did Solomon for much of his life? Shishak of Egypt invades the country, evidently in a wide regional foray, takes several of the fortified cities and comes against Jerusalem. Chicken and egg theology take over at this point. The man of God, Shemaiah, warns Rehoboam that the invasion is the result of his poor track record in serving the God of Israel and as a result Rehoboam along with his military officers repents, acknowledging that the LORD is just in this retributive move. Their repentance moves God to relent and he promises that Shishak will not take Jerusalem. But he does take spoils. Were they in the form of tribute payment? And was that what mollified Shishak or was it God’s leading him to be satisfied? In spite of Rehoboam’s twice recorded repentance, the judgement of the Chronicler was that Rehoboam was an evil man, “for he did not set his heart to seek the LORD” (12:14).

Lines on the Tombs in Westminster
Francis Beaumont
1584-1616

Mortality, behold and fear!
What a change of flesh is here!
Think how many royal bones
Sleep within this heap of stones;
Here thy lie had realms and lands,
Who now want strength to stir their hands;
Where from their pulpits sealed with dust
They preach, ‘in greatness is no trust.’
Here’s an acre sown indeed
With the richest royal’st seed
That the earth did e’er suck in,
Since the first man died for sin;
Here the bones of birth have cried,
‘Though gods they were, as men they died.’
Here are sands, ignoble things,
Dropt from the ruined sides of kings.
Here’s a world of pomp and state,
Buried in dust, once dead by fate.
407:1831

Collect for the Day
King of love, rule in the hearts of all people on earth through your Son Jesus Christ, that we may become one family and one kingdom serving you by serving each other. We ask this in his name.

[476:884:123 Psalm prayer]

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Behaving Wisely: Bible Comment on II Chronicles 11 with poem by Omar Khayyam, Worldly Wisdom

Daily Readings
Psalm 122, I Kings 13, II Chronicles 11, Jeremiah 12

Daily Text: II Chronicles 11

Behaving Wisely
Rehoboam has a change of heart and behavior won in the hard way through losing most of his kingdom. He began behaving wisely:
• he formed an army to retrieve his kingdom
• he listened to the word of LORD when God said not to attack his kindred
• he fortified many cities in Judah for the defense of Judah
• he welcomed the priests and Levites from all over Israel
• like David he selected an able son to succeed him
• he distributed his sons throughout his territory among the fortified cities and gave them enough provisions and wives to keep them happy
By so doing he ‘became’ his father’s son; he was teachable. And as a result he became an established and formidable monarch. Unfortunately, neither his wisdom or his strength was to last very long.

Worldly Wisdom
from The Rubáiyát
Omar Khayyám
1070-1123
tr. by Edward Fitzgerald
1809-1883

XXVII
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and saint, and heard great argument
About it and about; but evermore
Came out by the same door as in I went.

XXVIII
With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow’
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d—
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

XXIX
Into this Universe, and ?Why not knowing
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.

XXXI
Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
And many a Knot unravel’d by the Road;
But not the Master-knot of Human Fate.

XXXII
There was the Door to which I found no Key;
There was the Veil through which I might not see;
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There was—and then no more of Thee and Me.
407:1001

Collect for the Day
Lord Jesus, give us the peace of the new Jerusalem. Bring all nations into your kingdom to share your gifts, that they may render thanks to you without end and may come to your eternal city, where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.

[476:883:122 Psalm prayer]

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Folly Following Wisdom: Bible Comment on II Chronicles 10 with poem by James Clarence Mangan, Gone in the Wind

Daily Readings
Psalm 121, I Kings 12, II Chronicles 10, Jeremiah 11

Daily Text: II Chronicles 10

Folly following Wisdom
There was already a problem when Rehoboam went north to Shechem, for Shechem has not figured as a capital city previously; Jerusalem is the natural place to gather. However, there must have been widespread caution about massing in Jerusalem. Consequently, Rehoboam is forced to go to Shechem and without an army, for that would have nullified his coronation before it occurred. The people, represented by Jereboam, still are willing to crown him and to serve Rehoboam if he will treat them more justly, more mercifully than did his father, Solomon.

Interestingly, this is the first time we have heard of Solomon’s ill-treatment of the people in Chronicles. In chapter 9 the Chronicler tells us through the Queen of Sheba that everyone is happy! In chapter 8 the Chronicler tells us that no Israelite is engaged in forced labor. Not entirely so, obviously, for the people’s complaints are explicit.

Rehoboam, in II Chronicles 10, is represented as ‘not being his father’s son.’ That is, where the young Solomon is lauded as wise, Rehoboam is pictured as callow and foolish. How could this be? How could such folly follow wisdom; could such folly be possessed by the son of the wisest man on earth? The Chronicler says that it is the LORD’s doing [10:15]. Rehoboam receives good counsel, but chooses bad counsel. Rehoboam and his folly is the triggering incident, but the LORD is the cause. Solomon’s unfaithfulness, when it came to serving the false gods of his foreign wive’s, has caught up with his offspring. So naïve is Rehoboam that he believes that as King he will have the unlimited power of David and Solomon; so naïve that even after the people reject him he sends his overseer of forced labor without a sufficient military escort to impress citizens. Here is blind belief in the divine right of kings. When his overseer is stoned, Rehoboam ‘wakes up’, flees for his life and goes to Jerusalem to raise the necessary army. Finally, he is acting sensibly.

Gone in the Wind
James Clarence Mangan
1803-1849

Solomon! where is thy throne? It is gone in the wind.
Babylon! where is thy might? It is gone in the wind.
Like the swift shadows of Noon, like the dreams of the Blind,
Vanish the glories and pomps of the earth in the wind.

Man! canst thou build upon aught in the pride of thy mind?
Wisdom will teach thee that nothing can tarry behind;
Though there be thousand bright actions embalmed and enshrined,
Myriads and millions of brighter are sown in the wind.

Solomon! where is thy throne? It is gone in the wind.
Babylon! where is thy might? It is gone in the wind.
All that the genius of Man hath achieved and designed
Waits for its hour to be dealt with as dust by the wind.

Pity thou, reader! the madness of poor Humankind,
Raving of Knowledge,--and Satan so busy to blind!
Raving of Glory,--like me,--for the garlands I bind
(Garlands of song) are but gathered, and—strewn in the wind!
407:981

Collect for the Day
Be present, merciful God, and protect us in times of danger, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:882:121 Psalm prayer]

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Blessing: Bible Comment on II Chronicles 8:1-16 with poem by Friedrich Rueckert, Solomon and the Sower

Daily Readings
Psalm 120, I Kings 11, II Chronicles 8:1-16, Jeremiah 10

Daily Text: I Chronicles 8:1-16

The Blessing
For the Chronicler Solomon’s completion of the temple was the act of his reign, par excellence. Out of that achievement, a signal work of obedience, flowed all of his significance. Since the Chronicler obviously follows Kings, his departures from Kings take on important significance. Here, it is clear, that his emphasis on Solomon’s obedience is meant to highlight not Solomon, but God’s faithfulness. It is about God, not Solomon, so even though every one knows about Solomon’s failures, as well, only his achievements are crucial for it those achievements that reflect God’s faithfulness. He builds the temple and follows all of David’s instructions concerning an operational liturgy and the result is blessing—the ability to rule his entire life the United Kingdom, the ability to build whatever and wherever he wishes having the wherewithal and the respect of foreign kings (and Queens) to assist his efforts. II Chronicles 8:16 sums all of this up: “Thus all the work of Solomon was accomplished from the day the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid until the house of the LORD was finished completely.”

Solomon and the Sower
Friedrich Rueckert
1788-1866
translated by Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham
1793-1870

In open field King Solomon
Beneath the sky sets up his throne;
He sees a sower walking, sowing,
On every side the seed-corn throwing.

What doest thou there?” exclaimed the king;
“The ground here can no harvest bring,
Break off from such unwise beginning;
Thou’lt get no crop that’s worth the winning.”

The sower hears; his arm he sinks,
And doubtful he stands still, and thinks;
Then goes he forward, strong and steady,
For the wise king this answer ready:--

“I’ve nothing else but this one field;
I’ve watched it, labored it, and tilled.
What further use of pausing, guessing?
The corn from me,--from God the blessing.”
411:218

Collect for the Day
Eternal Source of truth and peace, guard your people from the folly of rash and slanderous speech, that the words of our mouth may not cause hurt and rejection, but rather healing and unity; through Christ our Lord.

I

Monday, September 04, 2006

Visiting Queen: Bible Comment on II Chronicles 8:17-9:31 with poem by Robert Browning, Solomon and Balkis

Daily Readings
Psalm 119:161-176, I Kings 10, II Chronicles 8:17-9:31, Jeremiah 9

Daily Text: II Chronicles 8:17-9:31

Visiting Queen
The visiting queen was quite impressed with Solomon. Likely, she was motivated to make the visit because one of Solomon’s trading routes passed through or near her nation in South West Arabia on the Red Sea. Ophir, the fabled source of Solomon’s gold, was likely adjacent, or, if not, nearby her homeland of Saba. There is a link through this Queen to Ethiopia. Legend has it that she and Solomon produced a son who became the founder of a royal dynasty in Ethiopia, just across the Red Sea from the Sabeans. Whether or not this is accurate, somehow a link was forged with Ethiopia that led to converts. In the New Testament in Acts 7, Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch, treasurer to Queen Candace, who was obviously a God-fearer, having visited Israel for religious reasons. Already worshipping Israel’s God, he reflects this traditional connection, and was very open to Philip’s message about Jesus.

Solomon and Balkis
Robert Browning

1812-1889

Solomon King of the Jews and the Queen of Sheba Balkis
Talk on the ivory throne, and we well may conjecture their talk is
Solely of things sublime: why else has she sought Mount Zion,
Climbed the six golden steps, and sat betwixt lion and lion?

She proves him with hard questions: before she has reached the middle
He smiling supplies the end, straight solves them riddle by riddle;
Until, dead-beaten at last, there is left no spirit in her,
And thus would she close the game whereof she was first beginner:

“O wisest thou of the wise, world’s marvel and well-nigh monster,
One crabbed question more to construe or vulgo conster!
Who are those, of all mankind, a monarch of perfect wisdom
Should open to, when they knock at spheteron do—that’s his dome?”

The King makes tart reply: “Whom else but the wise, his equals
Should he welcome with heart and voice?—since, king though he be, such weak walls
Of circumstance—power and pomp—divide souls each from other
That whoso proves kingly in craft I needs must acknowledge my brother.

“Come poet, come painter, come sculptor, come builder—whate’er his condition,
Is he prime in his art? We are peers! My insight has pierced the partition
And hails—for the poem, the picture, the statue, the building—my fellow!
Gold’s gold though dim in the dust: court-polish soon turns it yellow.

“But tell me in turn, O thou to thy weakling sex superior,
That for knowledge has traveled so far yet seemest no whit the wearier,--
Who are those, of all mankind, a queen like thyself, consummate
In wisdom, should call to her side with an affable ‘Up hither, come, mate!’”

“The Good are my mates—how else? Why doubt it?” the Queen upbridled:
“Sure even above the Wise,--or in travel my eyes have idled,--
I see the Good stand plain; be they rich, poor, shrewd or simple,
If Good they only are. . . .Permit me to drop my wimple!”

And, in that bashful jerk of her body, she—peace, thou scoffer!—
Jostled the King’s right-hand stretched courteously help to proffer.
And so disclosed a portent: all unaware the Prince eyed
The Ring which bore the Name—turned outside now from inside!

The truth-compelling Name!—and at once “I greet the Wise—Oh,
Certainly welcome such to my court—with this proviso:
The building must be my temple, my person stand forth the statue,
The picture my portrait prove, and the poem my praise—you cat, you!”

But Solomon nonplussed? Nay! “be truthful in turn!” so bade he:
“See the Name, obey its hest!” and at once subjoins the lady
--“Provided the Good are the young, men strong and tall and proper,
Such servants I straightway enlist,--which means. . .” but the blushes stop her.

“Ah, Soul,” the Monarch sighed, “that wouldst soar yet ever crawlest,
How comes it thou canst discern the greatest yet choose the smallest,
Unless because heaven is far, where wings find fit expansion,
While creeping on all-fours suits, suffices the earthly mansion?

“Aspire to the Best! But which? There are Bests and Bests so many,
With a habitat each for each, earth’s Best as much Best as any!
On Lebanon roots the cedar—soil lofty, yet stony and sandy—
While hyssop, of worth in its way, on the wall grows low but handy.

“Above may the Soul spread wing, spurn body and sense beneath her;
Below she must condescend to plodding unbuoyed by æther.
In heaven I yearn for knowledge, account all else inanity;
On earth I confess an itch for the praise of fools—that’s Vanity.

“It is nought, it will go, it can never presume above to trouble me;
But here,--why, it toys and tickles and teases, howe’er I redouble me
In a doggedest of endeavours to play the indifferent. Therefore,
Suppose we resume discourse? Thou hast travelled thus far: but wherefore?

“Solely for Solomon’s sake, to see whom earth styles Sagest?
Through her blushes laughed the Queen. “For the sake of a Sage? The gay jest!
On high, be communion with Mind—there, Body concerns not Balkis:
Down here,--do I make too bold? Sage Solomon,--one fool’s small kiss!”
411:217

Collect for the Day
As of old, O Lord our God, you gave commandments to make one nation just and true, so by your incarnate Word you make all peoples one in grace and in the perfect freedom of your service. We give thanks to you through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:881:119 Psalm prayer]

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Dance of Prayer and Sacrifice: Bible Comment on I Chronicles 7 with poem from the Persian, Lord, Who Art Merciful

Daily Readings
Psalm 119:145-160, I Kings 9, I Chronicles 7, Jeremiah 8:4-22

Daily Text: I Chronicles 7

The Dance of Prayer and Sacrifice
The results of Solomon’s prayer is direct and immediate. In I Chronicles 7 fire falls from heaven to burn the sacrifice and the temple fills anew with the glory (kabod) of God. It is as if God’s glory displaces all else, everyone else. It is His place indeed. The people respond with our sacred text
The Lord is good
For his steadfast love
Endures forever.

In a personal word to Solomon, the LORD accepts both Solomon’s prayer and his sacrifice. They are inextricably bound. Even today in Christianity we continue to hold them together [cf. Selman 524:337]. Christ’s sacrifice for us and our prayer dance eternally before God—both continue to be necessary. God spells it out to Solomon in a deservedly well-known phrase (vs. 14) that “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The conditions are clear and are as eternal as the promises. The God-human relationship is always a two-way street, but one so well marked that if we miss the way it is only because of our need to explore every crossroad, every alley, every open door, forgetting the road to God for every secondary and tertiary temptation.

The house of God is important for its value in leading us to repentance, confession, sacrifice (Jesus) and prayer in the circle of like-minded others. The Temple solidified this for all time; the Church continues it without surcease.

Lord, Who Art Merciful
from the Persian;
tr. by Robert Southey
1774-1843

Lord, who art merciful as well as just,
Incline Thine ear, to me, a child of dust.
Not what I would, O Lord, I offer Thee,
Alas! but what I can.
Father Almighty, who hast made me man,
And bade me look to heav’n, for Thou art there,
Accept my sacrifice and humble prayer:
Four things, which are in Thy treasury,
I lay before Thee, Lord, with this petition:
My nothingness, my wants, my sin, and my contrition.
407:120

Collect for the Day
God, as your only Son revealed you still at work in your creation, so through Christ your living Word enable us to know your love and to share it with others. We ask this in his name.

[476:881:119 Psalm prayer]