Friday, May 17
John 17:1-13: Here begins the prayer in which Jesus makes petition for himself (“Glorify Your Son”), for the disciples who are with him (“Keep through Your name those whom You have given me”), and for the whole People of God, those who “believe in me” through the testimony of the Apostles.
We may observe that the three-fold structure of this prayer of Jesus corresponds to the triple concern of the officiating priest on Yom Kippur, as prescribed in Leviticus 16: First—and second—the priest makes the sin offering (hahatta’th), “which is for himself, and to make atonement (kipper) for himself and for his household” (Leviticus 16:6, 11). Third, having sprinkled the blood of the victim on the mercy seat (kapporet), the priest offers another victim, “which is for the people” (16:14-15)
Exodus 40: Moses thus did “everything that the Lord commanded him” (verses 16,19,21,23,25,27,29,32).
The Israelites have now been at the base of Sinai for about nine months (verse 17) and have already received, as we saw earlier, their marching orders (33:1). They are nearly ready to depart.
Everything is to be anointed with consecratory oil (verses 9-15). The Christian will read these verses in the awareness that the tabernacle itself is a prefiguration of Christ, the Anointed One. The Son of God, anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, is the permanent presence of God to humanity.
The glory of the divine presence descends into the tabernacle (verses 34-38). This glorious cloud, associated with both the passage through the Red Sea and the giving of the Law on Sinai, is now a feature of God’s ongoing presence with His people. Both events become permanent and “institutionalized” in the Mosaic tabernacle. The divine overshadowing will in due course be transferred to the Solomonic temple at Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11), as well as to the second temple (Haggai 2:6-9).
All of these manifestations of the divine presence, as well as the rabbinical speculations regarding the cloud (shekinah), are properly taken as prophetic of the Incarnation, in which God’s eternal and consubstantial Word definitively “pitched His tent (eskenosen) among us” (John 1:14). Thus, all of the earlier overshadowings are but prefigurations of that by which the Holy Spirit effects the mystery of the Incarnation within the Woman who served as the tabernacle of God’s presence in this world (cf. Luke 1:35).
Saturday, May 18
John 17:14-26: The priestly quality of Jesus’ prayer is apparent in its references to consecration. Here the verb hagiazo, to “sanctify” or “consecrate,” appears three times in immediate succession: “Consecrate them in truth. . . . And for their sakes I consecrate myself, that they themselves, likewise, may be consecrated in truth.”
In the traditional Greek translation (Septuagint) of the Torah, the verb hagiazo (along with its nominal cognates) is frequently found in references to the consecration of the priests and of the appointments of the priestly ministry (for instance, twelve times in Exodus 29 and six times in Leviticus 22). The use of this same verb in Jesus’ prayer summons to mind those priestly associations in the Torah. The verb’s concentrated appearance in this prayer amply explains why Christians have long referred to it as “high priestly.”
The faith of the first Christians included the perception that the priestly self-consecration of Jesus was an essential component of our Redemption. That is to say, they believed that Jesus knew himself to be the priest and that, as the priest, he offered himself in sacrifice in an intentional way.
Leviticus 1: Because the English noun “sacrifice” is commonly employed to translate several quite different Hebrew words, readers of the Bible in English may not suspect how varied and complex is the Bible’s treatment of this subject.
For instance, the sacrifice treated here in the first chapter is quite distinct. One would not suspect just how distinct from its common English translation (King James, for example), “burnt sacrifice.” Since just about all sacrifices in the Bible, with the obvious exception of libations, were burnt, the expression does not tell us very much.
The Hebrew word employed for the sacrifices in this chapter is ‘olah, a participle meaning “ascending.” This term may originally have been connected with the ascending smoke released by the fire that consumed the victim. In the ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint), this term was rendered holokavtoma, which indicated that the whole victim, not just part of it, was consumed in the fire. This Greek word became the Latin holocaustum, whence is derived our English “holocaust.” Because it consumed the entire victim, the holocaust—the sacrifice envisaged in this opening chapter of Leviticus—was the most complete form of sacrifice.
The six steps involved in such a sacrifice are described in verses 3-9, which treat of a bovine sacrifice. Nearly identical steps were followed for the holocaust of sheep (verses 1-13) and birds (verses 14-17).
It is clear that a holocaust always involves the sacrifice of a living animal, not grain or any other form. Those other sacrifices are treated in the next chapter.
Sunday, May 19
Acts 2:1-21: It has long been the custom for the Church, during the season following Pentecost, to adorn herself in green, preeminently the color of life and hope. It is the color of chlorophyll. Indeed, this very interesting word is the combination of two Greek words, the adjective chlorós, which means “green,” and the noun phyllos, which means “leaf.” It is a normal sign by which we recognize plant life. Because this chlorine pigment, called chlorophyll, most strongly absorbs the red and blue wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum, it looks green. At Pentecost each year the Church puts on her chlorophyll. And she does so in order to absorb light in order to produce food.
This is, after all, what chlorophyll does. It is a catalyst for a process called “photosynthesis,” another Greek word that literally means, “joining things by means of light.” A major function of chlorophyll molecules is to absorb light and transfer the energy of light to the photo-systems of the living plant. It is by means of this light energy that the plant converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars. This process is the primary food source of all living things.
The Holy Spirit is the chlorophyll of the Church. He is the living principle that draws the diving light into the living structure of this true Vine, of which we are the branches. The Holy Spirit thus feeds us by uniting the components of our lives through a process of light.
The light of the sun is a resource of life only for plants—those creatures that are blessed with chlorophyll. The sun does not give life to rocks or dirt or even animals. That is to say, nothing receives life from the sun except those creatures endowed with chlorophyll.
The same is true of Christ our Lord, the true Sun that has arisen in our hearts. The light of Christ is life giving by reason of the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is through the agency of the Holy Spirit that the light of Christ joins together the sundry components of our existence in order to feed us.
This happens, first of all, by the Holy Spirit’s transformation of the processes of our thought and consciousness. In the Holy Spirit we are given a new atmosphere of self-consciousness. We are internally different by reason of the Holy Spirit’s presence as a cognitive principle in our minds.
Leviticus 2: The sacrifice treated in this chapter is the minhah, or grain offering. In this sacrifice, only part of the grain was burned, the remainder being reserved for the household of the priest (verse 2). In addition, the grain could be baked into bread (verses 4-13).
In these latter cases it was important not to use yeast in the baking process, probably because yeast produces fermentation, which was considered a form of corruption. There was the perceived need to remove all suggestion of corruption from the sacrifice offered to God. Salt, on the other hand, because it is a preservative, was a normal part of this form of sacrifice. Indeed, this aspect of salt rendered it an excellent symbol of the permanence and incorruptibility of God’s covenant with Israel. It was, in truth, a “covenant of salt” (Numbers 18:19). Holy Scripture contains a number of references to this symbolic value of salt (cf. Ezekiel 16:4; 2 Kings 2:20-22; Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49; Colossians 4:6).
Monday, May 20
Matthew 11:25-30: According to this text, what Jesus shares with us is his personal knowledge of the Father. This is, I submit, the font of Sacred Theology. It is an introduction, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, into the mind of Christ, a participation in his perception and understanding. Sacred Theology must embrace—yes, even begin with—the experienced reception of the knowledge of the Father into the human mind of Christ. Christ understood Holy Scripture from within his relationship to the Father.
This means that Holy Scripture, which is the stuff of Revelation, is not simply a record of what was divinely disclosed in the past. It is the energetic Word—the Son’s communicated knowledge of the Father—in the here and now. Sacred Theology is communion with God in His present and living Word, as we grasp it in the mind of Christ.
Leviticus 3: What most English translations of the Bible call the “peace offering” is, in the Hebrew text, known as the zebah shelamim, a term indicating an oblation which harmonizes or makes perfect. It is an offering in which there is some sort of communion through the shared eating of part of the victim. Hence, unlike the holocaust, the entire victim in this kind of sacrifice is not destroyed by fire; parts of it are eaten by the priests who offer it and by those individuals for whom it is offered.
The sacrificial victims offered in this sort of oblation were the ox, the sheep, and the goat; animals of both sexes were acceptable. The sacrifice of the ox is described in verses 1-5, in which special attention is given to the animal’s blood. Because blood especially symbolizes life, it could not be ingested. It had to be sprinkled on the altar, as a sign that all life belongs to God. Similarly, those internal organs more especially associated with the processes of life, such as the intestines, the liver, and the kidneys, were burned in the sacrificial fire. Much the same procedure was followed for the offering of the sheep (verses 6-11) and the goat (verses 12-17).
For reasons that are not clear, the fat of these sacrifices could not be eaten, though there are no proscriptions against eating fat outside of the sacrificial context.
Tuesday, May 21
Leviticus 4: The “sin offering” of this chapter is an expiatory sacrifice that could be made for the priest (verses 1-12), the whole congregation (verses 13-21), the leader (verses 22-26), or any individual who might need it (verse 27 to 5:23).
The Hebrew name for this sacrifice, ’attata’t, literally means “sin,” but the meaning is extended to include the consequences of sin and, hence, the sacrifice offered to expiate sin (this noun, in the priestly code, always meaning offenses against God), and thus signifying even the victim offered in that sacrifice. Here in Leviticus the normal meaning of ’attata’t is “sin offering.”
With the term understood in this specific way and special sense, we can see that when the Apostle Paul said that God made Jesus “sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21), he meant that Jesus became the victim of that expiatory sacrifice by which atonement was made for our sins. Jesus Himself became the ’attata’t, the “sin offering,” fulfilling the prophetic dimension of the sacrifices with which this chapter deals.
Here in Leviticus the verb used to “make” this sin offering is ‘asah (three times in verses 8-9), which is a normal verb connoting the performance of many sacrifices (cf. 5:10; 6:15; 8:34; 9:7,16,22; 14:19; 15:15,30; 16:9,15,24; 19:9; 22:23; 23:12,19). In the Greek text of the Septuagint this ‘asah is translated as poiein. This is the verb used by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where he says that God “made [Jesus] a sin offering” (hamartian epoiesen).
It should be further noted that these particular sacrifices, although expiatory, are not substitutionary (in contrast to the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, which was substitutionary but not expiatory). The Bible invariably distinguishes between substitutionary and expiatory sacrifices. It is a fact that the Old Testament system of sacrifice prescribed no substitutionary mactation of a sacrificial victim to atone for a sin that deserved death. That is to say, in the sacrificial system of the Bible, no animal is ever sacrificed to atone for the sin of someone who, because of that sin, deserved to die.
With respect to the death of Jesus on the Cross, we say that He died to atone our sins. In this regard His death was an expiatory sacrifice. When we speak of His death, however, as a substitutionary sacrifice, we indicate that He acted as the true Paschal Lamb, of which those earlier lambs were but symbols and types. Thus, the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was both expiatory and substitutionary; He fulfilled both of these sacrificial types, each in a way proper to itself. The death of this “Lamb of God” did what the substitutionary sacrifice of the ancient Paschal lambs was never intended to do — namely, take away the sins of the world.
Thus, Jesus fulfilled all of these ancient sacrifices of the Old Testament: the ‘olah, or holocaust (Chapter 1), by being a complete sacrifice; the minhah, or grain sacrifice (Chapter 2), by granting us, in the breaking of the Bread, to “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26); the zebah shelamim, or “peace offering” (Chapter 3), by sharing with us his own communion with God; and the ’attata’t, or sin offering (the present chapter), by taking away the barrier that human sins created between God and the human race.
The sprinkling (hizzah) of the blood purifies the curtain (paroketh that covers the Holy of Holies (verses 6,17). This verb, (hizzah), is also used in Isaiah 52:15 with reference to the Suffering Servant: “So shall He sprinkle many nations,” meaning that the blood of the Servant cleanses the sins of the nations.
Wednesday, May 22
Leviticus 5: For the forgiveness of sins it was necessary to “confess” what one had done (verse 5). In context this confession was made to the priest, who was then charged to offer the sacrifice specific to the offense (verses 1-4). Thus, even in the Old Testament, priests were already “father confessors.” Such confession of sins pertained to the regular liturgical worship of God’s people (Psalms 32:5).
These sins, being confessed, were then forgiven through the Old Testament sacrament of the sin offering. The priest thus made “an atonement for him concerning his sin” (verse 6). The expression “concerning his sin” (mehatta’to was translated into the Septuagint Greek as peri hamartias. This same Greek expression is later found in Paul’s description of the sacrifice of Jesus, concerning whom he wrote, “what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin (peri hamartias): He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).
Thus, in Leviticus, through the rite of the sin offering God “forgives” the sins of those for whom the sacrifice is offered. There are three points to be made about this verb salah, “to forgive.”
First, it is the very purpose of this sacrifice for sin, which is offered “so that they may be forgiven” (4:20). This formula appears only in connection with the sin offering (verses 10,13; cf. 4:26,31,35; Numbers 15:25,28) and the peace offering (verses 16,18,26; cf. 19:22).
Second, in the Bible the meaning of salah is never legal, forensic, or judicial. Unlike the corresponding English verb, salah is used only of God—not of a human judge or court. The term is theological in the strict sense and means a release from punishment.
Third, in Leviticus salah is not used apart from certain liturgical, sacrificial rites. That is to say, without the shedding of blood, there is no remission. Through these sacrifices the people were restored to communion with God, thus enabled to share in the divine worship. Otherwise the worship would be defiled by their participation.
Acts of unintentional desecration of something holy or the inadvertent violation of an oath were not covered by the sin offering, but by a separate sacrifice traditionally called a “guilt offering,” ’asham (verses 15-26 in the Hebrew text, 5:15—6:7 in most English translations). Of necessity this offering was for an individual, not the congregation. It bore something of the character of a reparation or compensation, a feature that explains why the prescriptions for this sacrifice, unlike the others, take note of the value of the sacrificial victim (verses 15-16,20,24-25). Some authors prefer to translate ’asham as “reparation offering.”
With respect to the holy things covered by these prescriptions, we observe that Sacred Scripture distinguishes degrees of consecration (21:22; Numbers 18:8-19). The “most holy things,” consecrated by actual physical touch (6:18,27; Exodus 29:37; 30:29), could be handled only by the priests.
We likewise bear in mind that the desecrations covered in these laws were unintentional offenses. Deliberate sacrilege carried the death penalty (Numbers 4:19-20).
Inadvertent or unintentional perjury was also covered by the legislation in this chapter (verses 20-26; 6:1-7 in most English translations), inasmuch as it involved desecration of God’s name. Intentional perjury was covered by very different legislation (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11).
The fulfillment of the Old Testament’s ’asham is, of course, the sacrifice of the Cross, where the Suffering Servant gave his soul (nephesh) as an ’asham for our sins (Isaiah 53:11; cf. Matthew 20:28; 26:28).
Thursday, May 23
Ruth 2:1-23: The brief conversation of Boaz and Ruth in this chapter serves to outline the man’s character, which the reader perceives to be gracious, concerned, generous, and kind. He is also subtle in his generosity. The tone and wording of the conversation also suggests that Boaz is significantly older than Ruth.
In this dialogue, Boaz uses the word “wing” in 2:12. The underlying Hebrew word here is kanaph, which can also mean “skirt,” which is how the word will be translated in 3:9. In both cases it indicates protecting care, as though God is permitting Boaz to fulfill his own prayer on behalf of Ruth.
When Ruth returns home with so much grain at the end of her first day at work, Naomi immediately becomes suspicious about her good fortune. The reader observes that the conversation between the two women that night was about Boaz, not barley. It becomes clear that Naomi perceives forces at work beyond the human; a plan slowly begins to take shape in her mind. By the end of the chapter, the story has moved into the month of June, but nothing further has happened. Naomi begins to consider that perhaps some bolder move is required.
Leviticus 6: These next two chapters treat of the sacred food by which the Israelites shared in various prescribed sacrifices. The verb ’akal is found five times in these chapters.
This participation, an integral part of Old Testament religion, is correctly thought of as sacramental, inasmuch as it was a physical means, established by God, by which His people communed with Him in grace. In the history of salvation, this participation prepared God’s people for the sacraments of the New Testament, chiefly the Holy Eucharist.
The five sacrifices treated in these two chapters include both daily offerings and sacrifices prescribed for special occasions. The daily offerings of participation were the burnt offering (verses 8-13) and the grain offering (verses 14-23). The special sacrifices of participation were the sin offering (verses 24-30), the guilt (or reparation) offering (7:1-10), and the peace offering (7:11-36). These five sacrifices give structure to these two chapters.
Because of the nature of the subject, the style in these two chapters abandons the case law procedure of the previous chapters and adopts that of instruction, or torah. Indeed, each of these five instructions is called a torah (verses 9,14,25; 7:1,11), giving us, as it were, a small Pentateuch. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are also five “speeches” given to and through Moses (verses 8,19,24; 7:22,28).
Friday, May 24
Ruth 3:1-18: According to Israel’s ancient levirate law, the brother-in-law of a widow was obliged to take her to wife in order to beget children in the name of his deceased brother. An extension of this law to “next of kin” is obviously operative in Naomi’s thinking in the bold project narrated in this chapter. She contrives a plan for Ruth to make this matter unavoidable in the mind of Boaz, in circumstances that will heighten a romantic interest that Naomi suspects to reside in Boaz’s heart. The execution of her plan is the stuff of one of the most sensitive stories in the Bible.
In the course of this account, we then learn that Naomi was correct in her suspicion. Indeed, he is already one step ahead of his future “mother-in-law”; he has researched the matter and learned that he is not, in fact, the next of kin. Thus, nothing happens that night. There is still one more step that Boaz must take.
In this second dialogue between Boaz and Ruth, we detect certain delicate features of both of the man: Boaz’s sensitivity to the age difference between him and Ruth, his consequent reluctance to initiate any previous advance toward her, his gratitude for her interest in him, his continued solicitude for her well-being by not obliging her to walk home in the dark, his discreet concern for her reputation, the shrewdness of his ability to read the mind of Naomi. As he lies there on the granary floor that night, Boaz realizes that he has been “set up” by Naomi; this proceeding had not been Ruth’s at all. So Boaz ttells her, “Do not go empty-handed to your mother in law.”
Naomi’s response, in turn, shows that she perfectly understands the thoughts of Boaz. It is a marvelous account of two very shrewd individuals who comprehend one another perfectly.
Leviticus 7: All the blood sacrifices in this chapter (and 6:24-30) have the identical ritual structure, consisting in the mactation of the animal, the use of the sacrificial blood for atonement, the burning of the animal’s flesh on the altar, and the subsequent ritual meal of meat and grain. It is significant that the meal, since it is a means of communion with God in grace, follows the rite of blood atonement.
The Christian reader will see in this ritual the outline of theological truth. These ritual sacrifices, all fulfilled as prophecy in the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 7:27; 10:12), indicate that communion with God in Christ requires the shedding of His blood for atonement. The sacrifice of the cross, that is to say, and Christ’s entrance into the holy place with His sacrificial blood are necessary required for our sharing in His Eucharistic meal.
Whereas in the Old Testament sacrifices of communion a strict distinction was made between priests and other Israelites with respect to this participation, no such distinction is made in the Eucharist of the New Testament. All Christians participate in the same Sacred Food. Through this Eucharistic meal, believers become the holy people of God. The Food itself is the means of this communion in grace. It is through this physical Food of this sacrificial meal that the Church is rendered holy.