[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary—30 March, Monday in Passion Week, Fifth Week of Lent
[The image is of a Bas Relief from Milan’s Cathedral]
Numbers 12:16 – 13:3, 17-33
Scouts are Sent into Canaan
After that the people set out from Hazeroth and encamped in the wilderness of Paran.
The LORD said to Moses, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I give to the people of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers shall you send a man, every one a leader among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the LORD, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel.
Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb yonder, and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there is wood in it or not. Be of good courage, and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes.
So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near the entrance of Hamath. They went up into the Negeb, and came to Hebron; and Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) And they came to the Valley of Eshcol, and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they brought also some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the men of Israel cut down from there.
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”
But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once, and occupy it; for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.” So they brought to the people of Israel an evil report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone, to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim); and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”
Letter 140.13-15 (Patrologia Latina 33:543-544)
When the time came for the grace of the New Testament to be revealed through the man Christ Jesus, there was no question of his attracting us to himself with the promise of earthly happiness. This explains our Lord’s willingness to undergo suffering, to be scourged, spat upon, mocked, nailed to the Cross, and to accept death itself like one conquered and humiliated. All this he endured so that those who believed in him might learn what recompense for their dutiful service they could ask for and expect from God who had made them his children They had to learn to serve him without any eye to earthly prosperity, for to value their faith at so low a price would be tantamount to rejecting it and trampling it underfoot.
By his great human compassion and by appearing among us in the form of a servant, Christ, who is both God and man, meant to teach us what we should spurn in this life and what we should hope for in the next. It was accordingly at the very height of his Passion, when his enemies thought they had won such a mighty victory, that he gave voice to our human weakness which was being crucified together with our former selves to set our sinful bodies free; and his cry was My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
In taking up this expression of our frailty our Head is praying the psalm: My God, my God, look upon me: why have you forsaken me? Here the suppliant feels abandoned; his prayer seems to be of no avail. Jesus made these words his own; they are the words of his Body, that is, of the Church which must endure the travail of conversion from unregenerate human nature into the new creation. His is the voice of our human weakness, which has to be weaned from the good things of the Old Testament and taught to long after and hope for those of the New.