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

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Color of Fire: II Esdras 14 with poem by John Dryden, Inspiration of the Bible

Daily Readings
Psalm 146, Esther 9, II Esdras 14, Revelation 12

Daily Text: II Esdras 14

The Color of Fire
In the seventh vision, II Esdras 14, Ezra under inspiration rewrites the holy Scripture in twenty-four books, and writes 70 books of apocalyptic writings. The twenty-four are what we know as the Hebrew Scriptures, the seventy put emphasis on the many Hebrew apocalyptic texts, which were then in dispute. Obviously, the author feels that they are full of wisdom and ought to be retained and studied by the wise. Ultimately, these were rejected by the Pharisees of this author’s time [cf. 539:272].

Ezra is seen as a second Moses in this passage, God speaking to him from the bush, and then taking forty days to write the 94 books of Scripture. Only Ezra writes in a field, while Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. (Fascinating, that in Matthew 5 ff. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is also seen in Luke 6 as the Sermon on the Plain.) In this chapter Ezra is translated as were Enoch and Elijah and perhaps Moses as expressed in the pseudephigraphic book, The Assumption of Moses. The cup of liquid, something like water, but the color of fire, puts Ezra into an ecstatic state that lasts day and night for forty days. References like ‘tongues of fire’ in Acts two seem to be in correlation with this ecstatic note. Ezra is ever after credited with inventing the modern square Hebrew letters, even by Jerome [cf. 543:623]. While, Ezra’s attitude has changed from being critical in chapter 3 to trusting God in everything in chapter 14, still his purpose in requesting that he be able to reproduce the Scripture was to give his fellow Israelites a ‘map’ for negotiating the evil world, death, and judgment. He wants humankind to have every opportunity for doing what is right and ending in the presence of the Most High. We should feel in concert with his concern.

Inspiration of the Bible
John Dryden

Whence, but from Heaven, could men unskill’d in arts,
In several ages born, in several parts,
Weave such agreeing truths? or how, or why,
Should all conspire to treat us with a lie?
Unask’d their pains, ungrateful their advice,
Starving their gain, and martyrdom their price.

If on the book itself we cast our view,
Concurrent heathens prove the story true:
The doctrine, miracles; which must convince,
For Heaven in them appeals to human sense;
And though they prove not they confirm the cause,
When what is taught agrees with nature’s laws.
Therefore the style, majestic and divine,
It speaks no less than God in every line:
Commanding words; whose force is still the same
As the first fiat that produc’d our frame.
All faiths beside, or did by arms ascend;
Or sense indulg’d has made mankind their friend:

This only doctrine does our lusts oppose:
Unfed by nature’s soil, in which it grows;
Cross to our interests, curbing sense and sin;
Oppress’d without, and undermin’d within,
It thrives through pain; its own tormentors tires,
And with a stubborn patience still aspires.

Collect for the Day
God our creator and redeemer, inspire your people, in prosperity or adversity, to turn always to you, eternal source of life, health, and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:905:146 Psalm prayer]

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Breath of Our Life: Lamentations 4 with anonymous poem, Lament for Zion

Daily Readings
Psalm 137, Jeremiah 42:1-43:7, Lamentations 4, Baruch 3

Daily Text: Lamentations 4

The Breath of Our Life
As in the second and third poems, Lamentations 4 has reversed the acrostic with the letters Ayin and Pe so that Pe comes first (cf. vss. 16 and 17). While this could have been a scribal reversal, and the verses could make sense in the opposite direction, it is unlikely that scribes would make the same error in three poems running. Why it is that way is completely unknown. Could Pe have preceded Ayin in the alphabet in some faraway time?

This poem is that one that says very clearly that mothers ate their children, so fearsome was this siege. This is not unusual in these desperate circumstances, but it generally is thought to occur among those with bad character to begin with. However, Deuteronomy 28:53-57 predicts this sort of horrific behaviour in the midst of a terrible siege.

Reference to Zedekiah the king comes in verse 20, ‘the breath of our life.’ This is a very old phrase seen a thousand years before in the Tell Armarna letters [532:92]. The only question is who would have thought Zedekiah was this exalted, king or no. But the importance of the role, regardless of the person, is always real, and no more may be meant than the ritual recognition of the importance of the king.

Lament For Zion

We drew near to find out how our mother was faring.
We stood at her door and wept.
The watchmen found us, beat us, wounded us:
‘Away, unclean ones!’ they shouted.

Again we came but did not draw near;
from afar, we stood at the top of the Mount [of Olives].
The solitary one appeared before us;
she looked out from her prison as she faced us.

We raised our eyes to see her but could not recognize her,
so wasted did she look.
She had lost her shape, her form was gone;
she was bound in chains and weighed down by her fetters.

We raised our voices in lament
for the desecration of Mount Moriah
and for our poor mother,
who had nothing left to sustain her.

Our cries reached her ears and she too wept aloud.
She wept and implored and lamented:
‘How like a widow am I!

‘My children have gone into captivity,
my sanctuary is laid waste,
and I am left naked and bare—
for these things do I weep!’

Collect for the Day
God of courage and compassion, comfort the exiled and oppressed, strengthen the faith of your people, and bring us all to our true home, the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

[476:895:137 Psalm prayer]

The Sixth Vision: II Esdras 13 with poem by John Oxenham, The Coming Day

Daily Readings
Psalm 145, Esther 8.1-12, Addition E, 8.13-17, II Esdras 13, Revelation 11

Daily Text: II Esdras 13

The Sixth Vision
The sixth vision of II Esdras 13 is that of the dramatic appearance of the Messiah, Son of the Most High, rising out of the sea. As the depths of the sea cannot be plumbed so the mysteries of the Messiah likewise cannot be known before he is revealed. When his voice is heard by the warring nations, they stop fighting each other, unite and come as a mighty force to make war with the figure of the man. He calmly cuts out a mountain, Mt. Zion, the new Jerusalem prepared and fully built, and standing upon it raises no weapon of war against his adversaries. However, he reproves the assembled nations for their ungodliness with a storm full of sparks, reproaches them for their evil thoughts with his flaming breath and destroys them without effort by means of the fiery torah, the teaching of God. They are burnt to cinders.

This figure like a man then summons the ten lost tribes of Israel, here called the nine tribes, the former Northern Kingdom, to come back from the land to which they had trekked in order to live according to the statutes of God they had failed to follow in Samaria. In addition there seem to be Jews already within the borders, presumably southern kingdom Jews, and a host of others captive Jews and converted Gentiles. This a vision of fulfillment of all that the Hebrew people had ever hoped for. Note also that it reflects a Jewish understanding of the Messiah that could explain much of the misunderstanding surrounding Jesus in his own time. For here the Messiah, though not unlike Jesus in character, is very unlike him in exercised power.

The Coming Day
John Oxenham


Beyond the war-clouds and the reddened ways,
I see the Promise of the Coming Days!
I see His Sun arise, new charged with grace
Earth’s tear to dry and all her woes efface!
Christ lives! Christ loves! Christ rules!
No more shall Might,
Though leagued with all the Forces of the Night,
Ride over Right. No more shall Wrong
The world’s gross agonies prolong.
Who waits His Time shall surely see
The triumph of His Constancy;--
When without let, or bar, or stay,
The coming of His Perfect Day
Shall sweep the Powers of Night away;--
And Faith, replumed for nobler flight,
And Hope, aglow with radiance bright,
And Love, in loveliness bedight,
Shall greet the morning light!

Collect for the Day
Almighty God, give us grace to know you more and more, that knowing we may love and loving we may praise, that the whole world may hear your name and worship you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:905:145 Psalm prayer]

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Despised: II Esdras 12:3b-51 with poem by Arthur B. Rhinow, Victory

Daily Readings
Psalm 144, Esther 6:14-7:10, II Esdras 12:3b-51, Revelation 10

Daily Text: II Esdras 12:3b-51

Chapter 12 is the interpretation of II Esdras 11, and it assumed that it made perfect sense in 100 A.D. Today, however, it is about as obscure as the vision itself. Some matters are clear. Twelve Roman emperors are a parallel to twelve Greek kings in Daniel’s vision. Generally, they are thought of as the Julian emperors beginning with Julius Caesar, and Augustus, who ruled the longest. The three heads are generally, thought to be the Flavians, Vespasian, the middle head, Domitian, the right one and Titus, the left head [cf. 540:300ff]. These last were the emperors who pursued the Jewish wars and destroyed Jerusalem by the hand of Titus in 70 A.D. Vespasian was the larger in that he was father to Domitian and Titus. They were particularly despised and that comes through in this text, 12:22-28.

The people seek out Ezra who has been absent for the seven days of preparation for this vision, fearful that he has left them for good. He is the last of the prophets, the only one left to them. And they express that if that he had indeed abandoned them they might better have died with the others in Jerusalem and been spared the following terrible years. Ezra reassures them and sends them back to their homes to wait until he finishes seeking mercy for them and the loss of their sanctuary.

Arthur B. Rhinow

I…… What a fine statue!
Myself It is Victory.
I Proud figure!
Myself We won the war.
I Why, there’s a tear in her eye!
Myself I know. We did not win the enemy.

Collect for the Day
Generous and bountiful God, give compassion to the prosperous and comfort to the needy, that all people may come to love and praise you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:903:144 Psalm prayer]

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Wars Continue: II Esdras 11:1-12:3a with poem by Homer, The Trojan Camp at Night

Daily Readings
Psalm 143, Esther 6:1-13, II Esdras 11:1-12:3a, Revelation 9

Daily Text: II Esdras 11:1-12:3a

The Wars Continue
The eagle arises out of the sea, the Mediterranean Sea, that is, the western sea, the evil sea. For Ezra, no good comes of it. Its wings cover the world, ruling, oppressing, universally dominate without significant challenge. With rapidly changing leaders, the voice heard comes from the middle of the body, in this case, perhaps, the Roman Senate, for while the leaders are changing, Rome continues, the wars continue.
The lion found in II Esdras 11:1-12:3a is the Messiah, the one who will address the eagle and bring it to judgment and to death, this cruel and unjust master. The end of the eagle’s rule is foreseen as a consequence both of God’s intention and the eagle’s evil action. And that end comes in flames of fire as did the end of the fourth kingdom in Daniel 7, with which this beast, this eagle is associated, reinterpreted (cf. 11-13) and identified.

The Trojan Camp at Night
from “Iliad VIII”
Translated by Alfred Tennyson

So Hector said, and sea-like roared his host;
Then loosed their sweating horses from the yoke,
And each beside his chariot bound his own;
And oxen from the city, and goodly sheep
In haste they drove, and honey-hearted wine
And bread from out the houses brought, and heaped
Their firewood, and the winds from off the plain
Rolled the rich vapor far into the heaven.
And these all night upon the bridge of war
Sat glorying; many a fire before them blazed:
As when in heaven the stars about the moon
Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,
And every height comes out, and jutting peak
And valley, and the immeasurable heavens
Break open to their highest, and all the stars
Shine, and the Shepherd gladdens in his heart.
So many a fire between the ships and stream
Of Xanthus blazed before the towers of Troy,
A thousand on the plain; and close by each
Sat fifty in the blaze of burning fire;
And champing golden grain the horses stood
Hard by their chariots, waiting for the dawn.

Collect for the Day
God of our hope, when we are distracted by care and sickness, help us to recognize your image in ourselves and others, that we may be made whole and the world become the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

[476:902:143 Psalm prayer]

Abandon Us? Never: II Esdras 9:26-10:59 with poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, My Own Heart

Daily Readings
Psalm 141, Esther Addition D, 5, II Esdras 9:26-10:59, Revelation 8

Daily Text: II Esdras 9:26-10:59

Abandon Us? Never
Somehow, in II Esdras 9:26-10:59, Ezra relaxes incrementally with the tension he has felt between his own grief about the children of men proceeding hell-bent to torment, and God’s ability to give humankind true freedom to choose Him or to spurn Him. By this passage Ezra has come back to focus upon Israel alone and through his experience with the woman who has lost her son, he comes to accept God’s will as best in every experience. How often we change after we more objectively see another’s grief and foolishness. That seems to be Ezra’s experience, for he gets downright angry at the woman who grieves her son’s untimely death to the point of threatening a pious suicide.

Intriguing how God brings Ezra around as his dream vision of the woman-cum-Jerusalem enables him to see that the destruction of Jerusalem is already accounted for in God’s prescient provision of a New Jerusalem. The implication for Israel is that Jerusalem may be destroyed, either in 587 B.C. or 70 A.D., but God has no intention of giving up on his people. He has already provided a new city, a new locus for the presence of God among humankind. Abandon us? Never. Ezra felt abandoned and cried out in panic for Uriel in this text, and then realized that he had not been alone for a moment. All the while God had been there, in his experience, in his present, in his future. That was eminently true in the coming of Jesus, and is eminently true in the apocalyptic Christian text of Revelation. Note in chapter two verse one that Jesus is the one who walks among the churches. We, along with Ezra, may be heartened.

My Own Heart
Gerard Manley Hopkins

My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst’s all-in-all in a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
’s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather – as skies
Betweenpie mountains – lights a lovely mile.

Collect for the Day
Gracious God, in times of sorrow and depression, when hope itself seems lost, help us to remember the transforming power of your steadfast love and to give thanks for that new life we cannot now imagine. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

[476:812:79 Psalm prayer]

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wind and Fire: II Esdras 8:19b-9:25 with poem by Abu-al-'ala'al-Ma'arri, Bill of Sale

Daily Readings
Psalm 140, Esther 4, Addition C, II Esdras 8:19b-9:25, Revelation 7

Daily Text: II Esdras 8:19b-9:25

Wind and Fire
As a note in the superscription to Ezra’s confession, we read “before he was taken up.” This is the first reference in II Esdras to Ezra’s translation without going through death. The regard with which the man is held compares with that of Enoch and Elijah, the two men in the Hebrew Scriptures that were taken up to the presence of the divine without dying.

The confession itself is radically beautiful. It lists among a number of divine attributes the ability on command to change angels to ‘wind and fire’, and not surprisingly, asks God to forgive the sins of the wicked even without their cooperation. It is the mercy of God for which Ezra pleads. His insistence about the tragedy of sinful man’s demise through the judgment which is to come never wavers throughout these three visions, and we must confess, neither does God’s commitment to free will and righteous behavior. Ezra may not love the creation as much as God, but the author is not terribly convincing on that score. Ezra declares that the goodness of God will be fully recognized when he has mercy on those for whom there is no store of good works. Fascinating that this is exactly the claim made by Jesus and his followers. God so loved the world that he died for humankind even while they were in their sin and rebellion against him. No store of good works is needed, only faith in the work completed by Jesus. But that faith continues to be required.

The righteous in II Esdras, however, will be saved on the basis of their good works or their faith. Both are desirable.

Bill of Sale
Abu-al-‘Alā’ al-Ma’arri
Translated from the Arabic by George Wightman and Abdullah al-Udhari

God help us, we have sold our souls, all that was best,
To an enterprise in the hands of the Receiver.
We’ve no dividends, or rights, for the price we paid.
Yet should our wills choose between this corrupt business
And a paradise to come, rest assured they’d want

The world we have now.

Collect for the Day
Save us, Lord, from all terror and oppression; strengthen us to maintain the cause of the poor, that justice may roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.

[476:899:140 Psalm prayer]