Patristic Lectionary – Third Sunday of Lent – 20 March 2022

Patristic Lectionary – Third Sunday of Lent – 20 March 2022

[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, this is a series of occasional selections from a 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.  R. M. Healey’s edition is also used if there are lacunae in the Durham edition.  Click here for the link to Healey’s formatting of the lectionary.]

[ Image: 12th-century icon – St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai.  Inspired by St. John Climacus’s 6th-century manual, _The Ladder of Divine Ascent_, that presents stages of spiritual development.  Inspired in part by Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12), this idea of a ladder as a metaphor for steps/degrees in spiritual development recurs in monastic literature, including Chapter 7 (Humility) in the _Rule of St. Benedict_ and St. Bernard’s _Degrees of Humility and Pride_. ]

[ Preceding selection of readings in this lectionary.  Next selection of readings in this lectionary. ]

Exodus 22:20 – 23:9

Laws About the Stranger and the Poor; The Book of the Covenant

“Whoever sacrifices to any god, save to the LORD only, shall be utterly destroyed.

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

“If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be to him as a creditor, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbour’s garment in pledge, you shall restore it to him before the sun goes down; for that is his only covering, it is his mantle for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

“You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

“You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses.

“The first-born of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do likewise with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its dam; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.

“You shall be men consecrated to me; therefore you shall not eat any flesh that is torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.

“You shall not utter a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man, to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; nor shall you bear witness in a suit, turning aside after a multitude, so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his suit.

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the ass of one who hates you lying under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it, you shall help him to lift it up.

“You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his suit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.

“You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

The Degrees of Humility and Pride 3.6 ( Opera Omnia, 3:20-21 [1963] )

Knowledge of the truth comprises three degrees, which I will try to set out as briefly as possible. In the first place we seek truth in ourselves; then we seek it in our neighbour, and last of all we search for truth in its own essential nature. We discover truth in ourselves when we pass judgment on ourselves; we find it in our neighbour when we suffer in sympathy with others; we search out its own nature by contemplation in purity of heart.

Notice not only the number of these degrees, but also their order. Before we inquire into the nature of truth, Truth itself must first teach us to seek it in our neighbour. Then we shall understand why, before we find it in our neighbour, we must seek it in ourselves. The sequence of beatitudes given in the Sermon on the Mount places the merciful before the pure in heart. The merciful are those who are quick to see truth in their neighbour; they reach out to others in compassion and identify with them in love, responding to the joys and sorrows in the lives of others as if they were their own. They make themselves weak with the weak, and burn with indignation when others are led astray. They are always ready to share the joys of those who rejoice and the sorrows of those who mourn.

Men whose inner vision has thus been cleansed by the exercise of charity toward their neighbour can delight in the contemplation of truth in itself, for it is love of truth which makes them take upon themselves the misfortunes of others. But can people find the truth in their neighbour if they refuse to support their brothers in this way – if on the contrary they either scoff at their tears or disparage their joys, being insensitive to all feelings but their own? There is a popular saying which well suits them: A healthy person cannot feel the pains of sickness, nor can one who is well-fed feel the pangs of hunger. The more familiar we are with sickness or hunger, the greater will be our compassion for others who are sick or hungry.

Just as pure truth can only be seen by the pure in heart, so the sufferings of our fellow men and women are more truly felt by hearts that know suffering themselves. However, we cannot sympathize with the wretchedness of others until we first recognize our own. Then we shall understand the feelings of others by what we personally feel, and know how to come to their help. Such was the example shown by our Saviour, who desired to suffer himself in order that he might learn to feel compassion, and to be afflicted in order that he might learn how to show mercy. Scripture says of him that he learned the meaning of obedience through what he suffered. In the same way he learned the meaning of mercy. Not that the Lord whose mercy is from age to age was ignorant of mercy’s meaning until then; he knew its nature from all eternity, but he learned it by personal experience during his days on earth.

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