Friday, September 19

Luke 8:41-56: Twice in this Gospel reading we learn something about touch in connection with Christ our Lord: First, we read, with respect to Jesus, that a certain woman “touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.” Second, we are told, with respect to a little girl, that Jesus “took her by the hand and called, saying, ‘Little girl, arise.’” In each case something physical happened. Touch is, after all, a very physical thing!

Let us reflect, then, on the mystery of the divine touch, and let us consider this subject under three headings:

First, God touches us all the time. It is His touch that holds us in existence. What does Holy Scripture say with respect to our creation? “Your hands have made me and fashioned me,” wrote the Psalmist (119:73). Job tells the Lord, “Your hands have fashioned me and formed me” (10:8).  This image is drawn, of course, from the creation account in Genesis: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” 2:7). All three of these passages use the same verb, yasar, which means to mold, to form, to give shape to. Indeed, in Hebrew the participle of this verb, yoser, is the word for “potter.”

It is important to consider that our first contact with God, in other words, is physical. God physically touches us all the time. If He did not, we would cease to be. Our first contact with God is through our bodies.

It is necessary to stress the point, because this biblical idea is not especially common in much of popular American religion. Most Christians in this country seem to think that their relationship to God is first of all spiritual, non-corporeal. I believe this may be a residual Platonism in our culture, the retention of a cosmological hierarchy in which the material world is the furthest thing from God, who is pure spirit.

This is not the perspective of Holy Scripture, which speaks of God’s hands shaping our very bodies. Notice that Genesis speaks of man’s body before it speaks of his spirit: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” 2:7). We observe here a certain logical priority of the body (not chronological).

Thus, the Psalmist prayed, “For You formed my inward parts; / You covered me in my mother’s womb. . .  . My frame was not hidden from You, / When I was made in secret, / And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.”

How God physically touches us in Creation we do not know. Indeed, it is humanly unknowable, because Creation is a mystery. This is why it is contained in the Creed. We do know, however, that He physically touches us into being and continues to hold us in being, for this is what the Bible teaches.

Second, God’s Son assumed our physical condition. This is the reason the sick woman in the Gospel is able to touch Him. This is the reason He can reach for His hand and touch the daughter of Jairus. In the assumption of our humanity, God’s Son shares the same physical substance as ourselves. He is put together as we are. The divine and the human are joined in His flesh.

That is to say, in the Incarnation God has found the means of touching us in a new way. A desperately sick woman, in touching the hem of Jesus’ robe, receives an infusion of divine power. “Someone touched Me,” said Jesus, “for I perceived power going out from Me.” Yes, power indeed, for according to St. Paul, in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col 2:9). By His touch, Christ drives out sickness and restores the lady to wholeness.

The touch of Christ drives out, not only sickness, but also death. Thus, when His hand took hold of the hand of the dead girl, says the sacred text, “her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.”

This detail is very important, because God’s Son assumed the fullness of our humanity precisely to drive out death. What He does in this Gospel story–raising the little girl to life–is an enacted prophecy of His own resurrection, and also ours. He assumed our mortal flesh in order to confer on it the power of the Resurrection.

Third, the mystery of the divine touching has been incorporated in the Sacraments, because in the Sacraments Christ still touches us physically. He takes bread into His hands, the same hands that raised up the daughter of Jairus, and He identifies this bread with His own flesh. And we receive that risen flesh of Christ physically into our own bodies. If the mere touch of His hand can raise up the daughter of Jairus from the dead, what is the effect of our receiving His whole and entire being into the substance of our own bodies?

The Sacraments of the Church are thus extensions of the Incarnation and the Lord’s Resurrection. He first touches our flesh in Baptism, where the water itself becomes the medium of divine power received in faith. He touches our flesh in the anointing with Holy Chrism, which becomes the instrument for the transmission of the Holy Spirit. His hand applies to our bodies the sacrament of healing, as surely as He healed the woman with the issue of blood. The hands of the bishop are but extensions of the arms of Christ, when a priest or deacon is ordained. It is the hand of Christ that places the crowns on the head of the bride and groom in Holy Matrimony. This double story of the sick woman and the dead girl is an account of what happens among us in the sacraments.

Saturday, September 20

2 Corinthians 10:1-18: We come now to the lengthy self-defense for which it is arguable that this epistle is most remembered. If Paul had inappropriate partisans at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12-13), so he had his critics, and now he will proceed to answer them.

He begins with irony, perhaps even sarcasm, apparently referring to those who think him humble only in his personal presence but overly bold as a writer (verses 1,10). His critics regard him as sinful (“walk according to the flesh”) in this respect (verse 2).

Paul admits to fleshly limitations (verse 3), an admission earlier conceded in his image of the clay vessels (4:7) and later described as a thorn in the flesh (12:7). Being “in the flesh,” however, is no worse than being “in the world” (1:12). It is simply the human condition of frailty.

Paul shifts his metaphor from walking to warring (verse 3) (or from the Odyssey to the Iliad, as it were, from life as journey to life as struggle). Combat is the more appropriate metaphor for what Paul has to say (verses 4-6). If no evil forces were arrayed against us, walking might be an adequate metaphor for life, but this is not the case.

The real enemy is intellectual arrogance, a trait that Paul addressed at depth in First Corinthians. This intellectual arrogance is what renders impossible the true “knowledge of God” (verse 5; 2:14; 5:6). Hence, a person’s first obedience to Christ is an obedience of the mind. The context of this point is Paul’s authority as an apostle, an authority on which he is prepared to elaborate at some length in the rest of the epistle (verses 7-8). To prepare for this elaboration, Paul devotes the second half of this chapter to a consideration of true and false boasting (verses 12-18). This section sets up the remaining chapters of this book.

Paul starts with obvious irony (verse 12) that one scholar translates as “Well, I really cannot muster the courage to pair myself [enkrinai] or compare myself [synkrinai] with certain persons who are distinguished by much self-commendation [synistano--3:1; 4:2; 5:12; 10:12,18; 12:11].” Unlike these persons, nonetheless, Paul has special claims on the Corinthians as the founder of their congregation (verse 14; 1 Corinthians 3:6,10).

Sunday, September 21

2 Corinthians 11:1-15: Paul here begins his self-defense against the criticisms of certain roaming preachers who have stirred up controversy at Corinth since his last visit to the place. From Acts and 1 Corinthians we know that Apollos and Cephas had done some evangelization in the city, but it is clear that Paul does not have these men in mind. It is impossible to determine who his critics were.

Was Paul accused of jealousy with respect to those critics? Evidently so, but he explains the motive, nature, and justice of this jealous (verse 2). This jealousy is for Christ, not himself; it is an expression of loving pastoral concern, for he fears the spiritual seduction of the Corinthians (verse 3). After all, the latter have shown themselves disposed to receive and accept new versions of the Good News (verse 4), preached by these itinerant evangelists whom he mockingly call “hyper-apostles” (verse 5; 12:11) and, more seriously, “false apostles” (verse 13).

It appears that Paul’s humble demeanor at Corinth, where he was supported by his own labor (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:18) and the financial support received from Macedonia (verse 9; Philippians 2:25; 4:10-20), made him the object of derision among his critics (verse 7). This suggests that Paul’s critics at Corinth may have enjoyed a higher social status, even as they accepted the support of the Corinthians. Since Paul did, in fact, accept support from other churches, it would seem that he had early sized up the spirit of the Corinthians and concluded that to accept their support would not be prudent in this case. Sometimes, after all, financial support comes with certain undisclosed obligations that will eventually render the recipient a debtor.

Paul’s language concerning his critics contains some of the harshest expressions to come from his pen.

Monday, September 22

2 Corinthians 11:16-33: Paul commences his autobiographical apologetic, recounting at length the various sufferings and trials attendant on his ministry. He is aware that his readers may regard his comments only as an exercise in foolishness (verse 16).

With sarcasm Paul comments that the Corinthians are already accustomed to tolerate foolishness, themselves being so wise (verse 19; 1 Corinthians 4:10). Their tolerance is so great that they have already been outrageously treated by these false itinerant teachers (verse 20). Their enslavement (katadouloi) at the hands of these teachers puts us in mind of the earlier situation in Galatia, where “false brothers” brought free Christians back under the slavery of the Law (katadoulousinGalatians 2:4). The Corinthians have been similarly mistreated.

It becomes clear that Paul’s opponents are Jews, but so is he (verse 22; Philippians 3:5). They claim to be servants of Christ, but Paul’s credentials are stronger and more credible, and he proceeds to list them. Not only has he been beaten and imprisoned (Acts 16:22-23); he has also often been in danger of death (verse 23. Paul’s list here contains some details not found in the Acts of the Apostles. From the latter work we would not have suspected, for instance, that Paul had already suffered shipwreck three times (verse 25) prior to the occasion described in Acts 27.

Eight times Paul speaks of “dangers” (verse 26) to describe the circumstances of his many travels. The culminating danger is that of betrayal by “false brothers” (cf. Galatians 2:4), a term that may include the critics he is answering.

All of these things have been endured in the context of Paul’s tireless ministry to the churches, a source of constant inner solicitude (verse 28). Inwardly identified with the plight of these churches, Paul suffers all that they suffer (verse 29; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

This mention of weakness (verse 29) brings the Apostle more directly to his theme—namely, power made perfect in weakness (verse 30). He recalls the humiliation and indignities endured in his ministry, beginning with his narrow escape while lowered over a city wall in a basket (verses 31-33; Acts 9:23-25). Hardly any man is weaker or more dependent (with apologies for the pun) than a man being lowered in a basket.

Tuesday, September 23

Job 35: Having addressed Job’s companions, Elihu turns again to Job himself and gives a fair paraphrase of Job’s position. Do not some of Job’s comments suggest that he thinks himself more righteous than God (verse 2)? Job may not have made so outlandish a claim in so many words, but what he has said amounts to the same thing (verse 3; cf. 4:17; 13:18; 15:3; 19:6–7; 21:15; 27:2–6). Now, asks Elihu, is this at all likely?

He turns Job’s gaze upwards, then, to the physical symbols of God’s transcendence, the clouds above his head (verse 5). God is not, in Himself, altered by either man’s virtue or his vice (verses 6–9). God does what He does, simply because He is free and righteous. He is not more or less righteous or free because of anything man does. How, after all, can human behavior touch God?

Is Elihu’s own presentation of the question entirely adequate, nonetheless? While there is a sense in which God is not, in Himself, affected by either man’s virtue or his vice, this is hardly a sufficient statement of the case. It is certainly not true that God is indifferent to man’s state, and the full context of Elihu’s comments show that he knows this very well.

Rather, the point Elihu has in mind to make in this chapter is that no one has a forensic claim on God; indeed, even to voice such a claim is, in some measure, to attempt to put oneself on God’s level. This, says Elihu, is what Job has done.

Is God indifferent to human suffering, or does He reject the cries of those in pain? No, but this does not mean that such cries are, in every case, really worthy of a hearing. Sometimes such pleadings are accompanied by the beating of a sinful heart (verses 12–13). Elihu’s point here is that not once has Job pleaded for forgiveness. His prayer has lacked humility. God hears man’s prayer because He is merciful, not because man deserves to be heard. If God seems to disregard Job’s prayer at the present, then, may it not be the case that there is still something wrong with Job’s prayer?

Job’s real trial, in fact, his true “temptation,” does not come from God. “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:13–14). The trial endured by Job has demonstrated, not that Job has deserved to suffer what he has been obliged to suffer, but that, in spite of this fact, all is not well with Job. This painful trial has shown that Job himself is not beyond improvement. His prayer has made it evident that Job does not yet love God for God’s own sake. Job’s pain has prompted him to argue that God both ignores the wickedness of evil men and neglects to reward just men (21:7–21). These are foolish words, retorts Elihu (verse 16). God has His own way of taking care of such matters, and things are not always as they appear, either with respect to God or with respect to ourselves.

God has not in anger punished Job for his words, nonetheless, and He has overlooked the foolishness of Job’s rebellious comments (verse 15). Job must now show the same patience that God has demonstrated. Job has complained that he does not see God, but Elihu insists that he must wait for God (verse 14).

(Taken from P. H. Reardon, The Trial of Job)

Wednesday, September 24

2 Corinthians 13:1-14: Throughout this letter Paul had played the theme of power made perfect in infirmity, a truth manifest in the condition and circumstances of his own life. The grasping of this truth is what prompted the Apostle, as he reflected on his ministry, to assume the extraordinary autobiographical style characteristic of this epistle.

Through this sustained experience of power made perfect in infirmity Paul learned, on his own pulses, the mystery of the Cross, and in the present reading he proclaims this mystery explicitly. The weakness in question is the weakness of Christ’s sufferings and death: “He was crucified in weakness.” The power in question is the power of Christ’s Resurrection: “He certainly lives by the power of God.” To live in Christ, therefore, is to test and live out the experience of that truth: “For although we are weak in Him, we shall certainly live with Him, with respect to you [eis hymas], by the power of God” (verse 4). When Paul will appear again before the Corinthians, he may seem weak to them, but they will experience in him the power of Christ (verse 3).

However, rather than simply wait for this godly disclosure, the Corinthians should meanwhile put themselves to the test. They should examine the evidence in their own lives to discern whether they are really believers, whether Christ is truly among them (verse 5). Paul is not anxious what other think of him; he is concerned, rather, with the spiritual health of his reader at Corinth (verse 7).

In verse 11 all the imperative verbs are in the present tense, the tense that in Greek signifies repeated or continuous action. That is to say, this is an exhortation to sustained effort with respect to moral renewal and the cultivation of the common Christian life. This is the only verse in Holy Scripture that contains the expression “the God of love.”

Thursday, September 25

Titus 1:1-16: This very solemn introduction (verses 1-4) rivals those of the longer epistles, which were addressed to whole congregations. In this respect the Epistle to Titus may be contrasted to the other epistles addressed to individuals only (Timothy, Philemon).

God’s promise was made at the dawn of history (verse 2), but now it is manifest in the preaching of the Gospel (verse 3). All of history was guided by that original promise, so the Gospel embraces all of history in its scope and interest.

Paul’s directions for the choice and ordination of ministers (verses 5-9) correspond to those that he had given to Timothy a year or so earlier (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Such a minister is called both an “elder” (presbyteros —verse 5) and an “overseer” (episkopos —verse 6). In these two Greek words we discern the etymological roots of the English words “priest” and “bishop.” Only in the very early second century, it would seem (as our first extant witness, Ignatius of Antioch, wrote in 107), did the two terms come to signify two distinct offices. (This reasonable hypothesis argues only that there was a development in terminology, not a development in the ministry itself.)

It is imperative to observe that the authority of these men comes from their choice and ordination by Titus (and Timothy and so on), who ithemselves were authorized by Paul. The New Testament knows of no legitimate ordained ministry except by an historical continuity traceable to those eleven men who received the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

That is to say, Christian ordination is an historical institution, literally “handed down,” conferred by the laying on of hands by those authorized to do so; the notion of a “succession” is essential to this ministry.

Paul is strict with respect to the moral and domestic lives of these ministers (verses 6-8), whose service he describes chiefly in terms of teaching (verse 9). In this respect they are contrasted with Jewish heretics (verses 10). The latter, he suggests, Titus was likely to meet because of the large Jewish community on Crete (Josephus, Antiquities 17.12.1-2, §323-331; The Jewish War 2.7.1, §103; Ad Gaium 282). The ideas of these Jewish teachers, Paul explains, can likely expect a better hearing among the Cretans! (verse 12) According to Clement of Alexandria, the poet quoted here by Paul was Epimenides (Stromateis 1.14; cf. Tatian, Oratio 27), a writer from the sixth century before Christ.

These Christian ministers must not be like those who profess God with their lips but not in their lives (verses 15-16).

Friday, September 26

Titus 2:1-15: In the previous chapter Paul had spoken about being “sound in the faith” (hygiainosin en tei pistei-—1:13). Such “soundness” is the mark that he further inculcates in the present chapter, exhorting Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (hygiainousei didaskalioi-—verse 1), so that mature men may be “sound in faith” (hygiainantes tei pistei-—verse 2) and of “sound speech” (logon hygie-—verse 8). This “soundness” (in the Greek root of which, hygi, we recognize our English words “hygiene” and “hygienic”) is a noted theme also in the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3). Christian teaching, that is to say, should carry the marks of intellectual, moral, and emotional health. It will not recommend itself if it encourages thoughts, sentiments, and behavior that are manifestly unhealthy.

In verse 2 we observe the triad of faith, love, and patience. This conjunction, common to the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:10), is also found earlier in Paul (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).

In verse 5, as elsewhere in Paul (1 Corinthians 14:35; Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:11-14), wives are exhorted to be subordinated (hypotassomenas, from the verb tasso, “to set in order,” “to arrange”) to their husbands. With respect to this exhortation, the Baptist exege,te E. Glenn Hinson, observes: “The initiative is to be with the wife. . . . Paul did not tell husbands to subdue their wives.” Even with this sage caveat, nonetheless, it is obvious that Paul’s exhortation runs directly counter to the contemporary egalitarian impulse.

Like Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12), Titus is exhorted to set a good example (verse 7). We recall that Paul rather often referred to his own good example. Pastors and missionaries surely teach more by example than they do in any other way.

The “great God” in verse 13 is identical with the “Savior Jesus Christ,” because in the Greek text a single article covers both words, God and Savior, and the rest of the sentence speaks only of Christ. It is He whose appearance we await (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Timothy 6:14-15; 2 Timothy 4:1).

Christ’s self-giving (verse 14) is a typical Pauline reference to the Lord’s Passion and blood atonement (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; Ephesians 5:2,25; 1 Timothy 2:6).