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, December 23, 2006

The Cup of Reeling: Zechariah 12:1-13:1 with poem by William Cowper, The Fountain

Daily Readings
Isaiah 60, I Maccabees 9, Zechariah 12-13:1, Luke 19

Daily Text: Zechariah 12-13:1

The Cup of Reeling
Baldwin [529:188] follows Lamarche in seeing this passage as poetic prose with little figures of speech related to each like the ‘the cup of reeling’ and the stone that cannot be lifted. The oracle itself requires the remainder of the book. In Zechariah chapter 12 the LORD is seen as the creator of the whole earth and he makes Jerusalem a cup of reeling, i.e., a source of inebriation for all of the surrounding nations that for some reason besiege the holy city en masse. Judah is part of this, caught up in the siege that ensues. Jerusalem is likened to a heavy stone that though the nations cooperate in trying to lift, all find themselves with hernias! Then in verse 4 there seems to be a cavalry charge and the LORD blinds the horses and drives the riders mad with the exception of warriors of Judah. Somehow Judah sees that Jerusalem’s strength is coming from the LORD, and they quietly change sides joining in the defense of Jerusalem. Like a blazing pot in a thicket they destroy their erstwhile allies right and left. The LORD allows Judah this victory so that she can join with Jerusalem as an equal partner and not be dominated by the city’s defenders. Meanwhile, the LORD seeks to destroy the other nations.

And now, beginning in verse 10, there is a curious matter that is almost impossible to sort out. Following Baldwin [529:194], a spirit of compassion and I suspect repentance is given to the house of David and the people of Jerusalem for one they have killed, pierced actually, one who is somehow related to the LORD himself. This was obviously a premeditated and deliberate killing. Remarkably, this spirit of compassion leads to a fountain of healing and forgiveness being opened on the Day of the LORD, to cleanse the people from this sin and to purify them (13:1).

The Fountain
William Cowper

There is fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, as vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved,--to sin no more.

E’er since, by faith I saw the stream,
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be,--till I die.

Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing thy power to save;
When this poor, lisping, faltering tongue
Lies silent in the grave.

Lord, I believe thou hast prepared
(Unworthy though I be)
For me a blood-bought free reward,
A golden harp for me!

‘Tis strung, and tuned, for endless years,
And formed by power divine,
To sound in God the Father’s ears
No other name but thine.

Collect for the Day
Almighty and eternal God, who drew out a fountain of living water in the desert for your people, as they well knew, draw from the hardness of our hearts tears of compunction, that we may be able to lament our sins, and may merit to receive you in your mercy.

[286:106:344 Latin, late 14th century]

Friday, December 22, 2006

Leadership: Zechariah 11:4-17 with poem by Virginia Fraser Boyle, Abraham Lincoln

Daily Readings
Isaiah 59, I Maccabees 8, Zechariah 11:4-17, Luke 18

Daily Text: Zechariah 11:4-17

Leadership is the theme of Zechariah 11:4-17 and the leadership is not good. The prophet is asked to become a shepherd (leader) of a doomed people and does so. In an allegory in which the prophet represents the Lord, he hires on as a leader (shepherd) and then decides not to continue. Breaking his staff he demonstrates that the Lord has ended his relationship with Israel his people, allowing them to be doomed. The merchants who pay the shepherd's salary are given the option of doing so or not since he has broken his covenant to care for them. They do pay him and he throws the money into the Temple treasury and walks away. This is a clear and dramatic rejection of their hold over the people, and paying tribute to the spiritual source of Judah's life. As he does this he breaks his second staff which represents the tie between Judah and Israel. In a final stanza the Lord asks the prophet to take on the characteristics of a worthless shepherd and he does so taking advantage of the people himself, like a shepherd who lives high on the meat of the animals he is supposed to protect. This kind of dishonest shepherd is to be broken himself becoming lame and blind. This last image of leadership is so like what we see in our own time. Not much has changed through the centuries.

Abraham Lincoln
Virginia Fraser Boyle

No trumpet blared the word that he was born,
Nor lightning flashed its symbols on the day;
And only Poverty and Fate pressed on,
To serve as handmaids where he lowly lay.

No royal trappings fell to his rude part,
A simple hut and labor were its goal;
But Fate, stern-eyed, had held him to her heart,
And left a greatness on his rugged soul.

And up from earth and toil, he slowly won,
Pressed by a bitterness he proudly spurned,
Till by grim courage, born from sun to sun,
He turned defeat, as victory is turned.

Sired deep in destiny, he backward threw
The old heredities that men have known;
And round his gaunt and homely form he drew
The fierce white light that greatness makes its own.

Nor flame nor sword nor silver tongues availed
To turn his passion from its steady flow;
The compact of the Fathers had not failed:
He would not let an angered people go.

Collect for the Day
Grant us, O Lord, loyalty of heart,
that as we demand that others should be faithful to us,
we also may be faithful to them;
for Jesus Christ’s sake.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Demise of the Bad Shepherds: Zechariah 10:2-11:3 with poem by Matthew Arnold, The Good Shepherd with the Kid

Daily Readings
Isaiah 58, I Maccabees 6, Zechariah 10:2-11:3, Luke 17

Daily Text: Zechariah 10:2-11:3

Demise of the Bad Shepherds
This passage, Zechariah 10:2-11:3, has two poems; the first, 2-3a, is against the false leaders of the people, while the second, goes back to the victory theme of chapter 9 and rejoices in the deliverance first of Judah and then of Ephraim, called Joseph here.

The people go in a wrong direction because their leaders consult false sources of direction. Today we would probably ignore all outside sources of guidance and try to rely on ourselves [529:171]. Because of such misdirected leadership, the people wander without leadership and God’s anger is directed at those leaders.

Immediately, in 3b the theme changes to God’s care for Judah and how he will bless her as if a proud army. This second poem is in two stanzas, 3b-8 and 9-12. The first stanza begins with Judah and her new leadership, transitions in verse 6 and ends with Israel’s return from exile. In both cases vs. 6 and vs. 12 projects a strengthening of these two tribal entities of God’s people.

A short poem, 11:1-3 concludes this section with reference to alien nations whose leadership likewise has been inadequate and therefore they are despoiled. Like lions whose habitat has been destroyed, these nations go on a rampage of disordered violence.

The Good Shepherd with the Kid
Matthew Arnold

He saves the sheep, the goats he doth not save.
So rang Tertullian’s sentence, on the side
Of that unpitying Phrygian sect which cried:
“Him can no fount of fresh forgiveness lave,
Who sins, once washed by the baptismal wave.”
So spake the fierce Tertullian. But she sighed,
The infant Church! of love she felt the tide
Stream on her from her Lord’s yet recent grave.

And then she smiled; and in the Catacombs,
With eye suffused but heart inspired true,
On those walls subterranean, where she hid
Her head ‘mid ignominy, death, and tombs,
She her Good Shepherd’s hasty image drew—
And on his shoulders, not a lamb, a kid.

Collect for the Day
Heavenly Father,
your light overcomes darkness;
take everything in my life that is dark
and transform it into glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Victory Banquet: Zechariah 9 with poem by Edward Taylor, Meditation Seventy-seven

Daily Readings
Isaiah 57, I Maccabees 5, Zechariah 9:1-10:2, Luke 16

Daily Text: Zechariah 9:1-10:2

A Victory Banquet
This second part of Zechariah may have been written in pre-exilic times, though no final determination is possible. Some evidence points in that direction and other evidence points later. Zechariah 9 is very hopeful for Israel. Ephraim and Judah are seen as being reunited and used by the Lord in His work. Rather than the nations coming from the north and descending upon Israel, we see God coming from the north and exercising his sovereignty over each nation in turn. First the northern nations in verses 1-4 and then the southern ones in verses 5-8 claim God’s attention. There is no question in the prophet’s mind, the Lord will be victorious and will reclaim all of his people, Gentiles and Jews alike [529:162].

Beginning in verse 9 we see the coming of the messianic king and the result will be peace for Judah and Israel and a consonant cessation of war. He will wield his own people, Judah and Israel, peacefully, but as effectively as if it were war. This king is just and salvation grace is with him. He will ride on the sometimes mount of kings, a donkey, and his dominion shall spread over the entire earth. These were obviously familiar words among the Jews in Jesus day, for they immediately knew and understood their implications when they heard them. Ephraim and Judah will be brought together at a great banquet. The warlike language of the RSV and NRSV does not fit with the total picture here of a victory banquet and peace in city and countryside. Even the weather will cooperate in chapter 10:1 to bring about a new abundance unheard of in war. All of this will be the result of the rule of the Messianic king.

Meditation Seventy-seven
Second Series
Edward Taylor

A state, a state, oh! dungeon state indeed.
In which me headlong, long ago sin pitched;
As dark as pitch; where nastiness doth breed:
And filth defiles: and I am with it ditched.
A sinfull state: This pit no water’s in’t.
A bugbear state: as black as any ink.

I once sat singing on the summit high
‘Mong the celestial choir in music sweet:
On highest bough of paradisal joy;
Glory and innocence did in me meet.
I as a gold-finched nighting-gale, tuned o’er
Melodious songs ‘fore glory’s palace door.

But on this bough I tuning perched not long:
Th’infernal foe shot out a shaft from Hell;
A fiery dart piled with sins poison strong:
That struck my heart, and down I headlong fell:
And from the highest pinnacle of light
Into this lowest pit more dark than night.

A pit indeed of sin: No water’s here:
Whose bottom’s furthest off from Heaven bright.
And is next door to Hell gate: to it near:
And here I dwell in sad and solemn night.
My gold-finched angel feathers dappled in
Hells scarlet dye fat, blood red grown with sin.

I in this pit all destitute of light
Crammed full of horrid darkness, here do crawl
Up over head, and ears, in nauseous plight:
And swinelike wallow in this mire and gall:
No heavenly dews nor holy waters drill:
Nor sweet air breeze, nor comfort here distil.

Here for companions, are fears, heart-aches, grief,
Frogs, toads, newts, bats, horrid hob-goblins, ghosts,
Ill spirits haunt this pit: and no relief:
Nor cord can fetch me hence in creatures coasts.
I who once lodged at Heaven’s palace gate
With full fledged angels, now possess this fate.

But yet, my Lord, thy golden chain of grace
Thou canst let down, and draw me up into
Thy holy air, and glory’s happy place,
Out from these hellish damps and pit so low.
And if thy grace shall do’t, My harp I’ll raise,
Whose strings touched by this grace, will twang thy praise.

Collect for the Day
Our favourite party-games are…
when we are so happy
that we don’t know what to do with ourselves,
keep your still peace at the centre of our hearts, Lord—please.


Monday, December 18, 2006

The Homely Example: IV Maccabees 18 with poem by Mamie Gene Cole, The Child's Appeal

Daily Readings
Psalm 74, I Maccabees 4, IV Maccabees 18, Luke 15

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 18

The Homely Example
Concluding his treatise, the author in IV Maccabees 18, summarizes the benefits of family life and honoring God, and goes on to recommend these patterns and these persons to the Hebrew population as worthy examples. The homely example of the father of the seven brothers reading to them the stories of Abel slain by Cain, of Isaac as sacrifice, of Joseph in prison and a number of others is a heartwarming ending to this emotionally disturbing work. His point about the exercise of reason as master of the emotions has been made over and over again, and yet here at the end it is simply mentioned in verses one and two, with humbler images capturing us at the end.

The Child’s Appeal
Mamie Gene Cole

I am the Child.
All the world waits for my coming.
All the earth watches with interest to see
what I shall become.
Civilization hangs in the balance,
For what I am, the world of tomorrow will be.

I am the Child.
I have come into your world, about which I
know nothing.
Why I came I know not;
How I came I know not.
I am curious; I am interested.

I am the Child.
You hold in your hand my destiny.
You determine, largely, whether I shall
succeed or fail.
Give me, I pray you, those things that make
for happiness.
Train me, I beg you, that I may be a blessing
to the world.

Collect for the Day
O God, when violence threatens and destruction seems at hand, help us to remember that you maintain your cause and still rule your universe through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

[476:802:Psalm 74 Psalm prayer]

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Five Metaphors: IV Maccabees 17 with poem by Robert Browing, Religion

Daily Readings
Isaiah 56, I Maccabees 3, IV Maccabees 17, Luke 17

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 17

Five Metaphors
IV Maccabees 17 is in praise of the martyrs and five metaphors are used to flesh out this encomium. The first is that of architecture, the mother being a roof set on the seven pillars of her son’s lives. The second is that of painting, a mural of the Hebrew religion including the facts of the martyrs. The third is a funerary inscription marking the exploits of the martyrs, and the fourth is an athletic contest. As athletes the martyrs are contestants, Antiochus, the tyrant, an adversary, and the world and the human race were spectators. The prize was immortality. There is a fifth metaphor, that of religious sacrifice. In this metaphor the martyr’s effectively purified their nation by their sacrifice becoming a ransom for the sin of the nation and an atoning sacrifice. So great was their honor that the antagonist used their courage and indomitability as examples for his own troops and they were strengthened by them, not against the Hebrews, but against their true enemies.

from “Mr. Sludge, ‘The Medium’”
Robert Browning, 1812-1889

Religion’s all or nothing; it’s no mere smile
O’ contentment, sigh of aspiration, sir—
No quality o’ the finelier-tempered clay
Like its whiteness or its lightness; rather, stuff
O’ the very stuff, life of life, and self of self.

Collect for the Day
O God, I know that if I do not love thee with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul and with all my strength, I shall love something else with all my heart and mind and soul and strength. Grant that putting thee first in all my lovings I may be liberated from all lesser loves and loyalties, and have thee as my first love, my chiefest good and my final joy.

[286:81:238 George Appleton]