Friday, October 9
1 Chronicles 21: With their nearly identical stories of David’s census, we perceive a great difference between the Chronicler and the author of Samuel. Whereas in 2?Samuel 24 the account of the census appears to be set apart, as it were, and treated outside the sequence of the narrative, the Chronicler puts it right here in the middle of David’s career.
This difference is only apparent, however. In Chronicles the story only seems to come earlier in the reign of David, because the Chronicler has skipped so much of that reign. On the other hand, in the next nine chapters he will include a great deal of material that is not found in 2?Samuel, material that relates entirely to David’s plan for the coming temple.
Comparing this chapter with its parallel in 2?Samuel 24, we note the Chronicler’s inclusion of angelic powers, both the evil angel “Satan” and the remark about the angel of the pestilence (v. 20).
The Chronicler thus ascribes David’s temptation to “Satan” (v. 1), a demonic figure with whom the Jews became familiar during the Babylonian Captivity and the Persian period. This “Shatan” is well documented in Zoroastrian literature of that time, and he appears in the postexilic books of Job and Zechariah. The name means “adversary,” as in Numbers 22:22. In due course Satan will be recognized as identical with the serpentine tempter who seduced our first parents (cf. Wisdom 2:24; John 8:44; Rev. 12:9; 20:2).
As an expression of David’s pride, ambition, and hubris, the census is regarded by both 2?Samuel and 1?Chronicles as something less than his finest hour. Even Joab—hardly a moral giant—recognizes that something is not quite right about it (vv. 3, 6; compare 2?Sam. 24:3).
With respect to the census itself, we observe that the tribe of Levi is not included. This exclusion may have to do with the purpose of the census, which was to provide a “database” for Israel’s military conscription. Members of the tribe of Levi were not subject to that conscription.
Benjamin’s exclusion evidently had to do with the fact that the census was not completed, because of the plague that came as a punishment.
The story of this plague, here as in 2?Samuel, leads directly to the site of the future temple (vv. 18–27). This is the point that is of greatest interest to the Chronicler. As we have noted, this interest in the “Father’s house” provides the basis for the Chronicler’s entire history.
The Chronicler alone identifies the site of the future temple as the place where Abraham went to offer Isaac in sacrifice (v. 18; 2?Chr. 3:1; Gen. 22:2).
Saturday, October 10
Psalm 137: It is probably easier to identify the original setting of Psalm 137 (Greek and Latin 136) than of any other psalm. The opening lines give it away: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows in the midst of it, we hung up our harps.” This is a psalm of exile, and the setting is the Babylonian Captivity of the sixth century before Christ.
That exile of ancient Israel in Babylon is usually dated from 586 BC, the year that Jerusalem actually fell and was destroyed (cf. 2 Kin. 25:1–11), to 538, when Cyrus the Mede, having conquered Babylon the previous year, permitted the exiles to return to Jerusalem (cf. Ezra 1:1–4). It is useful to bear in mind, nonetheless, that some Jews, the Prophet Ezekiel among them, had already been taken to Babylon as hostages eleven years earlier (cf. 2 Kin. 24:10–16). Moreover, not all of the captives were able to return home, and their descendants remain in the territory of Babylon to this day.
Babylon was a land of great rivers, tributaries and canals. Indeed, the Greeks referred to that territory as Mesopotamia, “the midst of the rivers,” a name reminiscent of the opening Greek words of our psalm, epi ton potamon. The major rivers of that region are the Tigris and Euphrates, but mention is made of other waterways. For example, the Prophet Ezekiel wrote of his inaugural vision “by the River Chebar” (Ezek. 1:1–3), a reference to the Kabari Canal that flowed out of the Euphrates, through the city of Babylon, and then back to its mother river. Such canals were essential to the mercantile economy of the Babylonian Empire. Another of these was known to the Greeks as the Eulaeus Canal, near the city of Susa. It was the site of an ecstatic vision given to another of Israel’s prophets, Daniel, who refers to it as the River Ulai (Dan. 8:2). Daniel also had a vision beside the great Tigris (10:4).
In sum, the reference to the “rivers of Babylon” in the first line of our psalm is very important as an historical fact. We shall see presently that it is also important as a literary and theological image.
Sad, homesick, and dejected, the exiles in Babylon have hung up their musical instruments on the weeping willow trees. Apparently, moreover, they were being taunted by their captors: “For those who took us captive sought from us some lyrics, and they who enslaved us asked to hear a song. ‘Sing for us,’ they said, ‘from the canticles of Zion.’”
And just how can this be done? That is, “How shall we sing a song of the Lord in a land far away?” Impossible? Well, not entirely. It is a striking irony of Psalm 136 that, having asserted the impossibility of singing a song of Jerusalem in the foreign land of Babylon, we nonetheless go on to do so! “Should I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be enfeebled! May I choke on my tongue, if I fail to think of you! If I do not hold Jerusalem as the wellspring of my joy.”
This is a psalm of two cities, Babylon and Jerusalem, nor were Ezekiel and Daniel the last visionaries to write of them. The beloved John likewise beheld both of these cities in mystic vision. The first, Babylon, he describes as the “great harlot who sits on many waters” (Rev. 17:1), the source of her great wealth and power. “The waters which you saw,” he was told, “where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (17:15). Such are the rivers where we sit and weep, when we remember Zion.
Babylon represents both exile and oppression, for John was told: “And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (17:18). Our psalm looks forward to the final downfall of that city, which St. John goes on to describe as the throwing of a millstone into the sea (18:21). On the willows of Babylon we did hang our harps, as though in prophecy of that day when the sound of the harp would be heard there no more (18:22). Should anyone feel daunted by the violent feelings Psalm 137 entertains with respect to Babylon, let him consult the rejoicing of the saints over the fall of Babylon in John’s mighty vision: “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!” (18:20).
And Jerusalem, the wellspring of our joy? Her too John beholds, likewise as a woman, the Bride of the Lamb, the Holy City, descending out of heaven. It is the city where singing and harps are heard forever, our exile over at last (21:9, 10).
Sunday, October 11
Galatians 1:11-24: Three points suggest themselves today apropos this text from Galatians: first, the Good News itself; second, the common substitutes for this Good News; third, the “living out”—the living experience—of the Good News.
First, there the content of the Good News, which Paul identifies in today’s reading: “it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me.” The Gospel consists in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Good News is not—in the first instance—a declaration of man’s duty, but of God’s bounty in the fullness of time. Paul tells the Galatians, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.? And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
The Good News is revealed in this twofold “sending forth” from the Father: God sent for His Son . . . God sent forth the Spirit of His Son.” This is the Gospel, through which human beings are assumed into God’s own life, becoming the children of Jesus’ own Father. The Apostle John differs not a whit when He describes the Gospel: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth . . . as many as received Him, to them He gave the ability (exousian) to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” This is the Good News: the incarnation of God and the divinization of man. This is the Gospel, says Paul, and “if anyone preaches any other gospel to you . . . let him be accursed!”
Second, what are the common substitutes for the Good News? Paul indicates these when he says, “I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.” Even in Paul’s own day, Christians had already begun to replace the Gospel with some other message “according to man.” That is to say, God’s work was already being superceded by some human project.
Substitutions of this sort remain a constant temptation for Christians. They are not usually bad things. Often enough they are good things, such as world peace, family values, economic stability, the sanctity of life, concern for the environment, or political activism for social justice. These are not bad things. These are very good things. Moreover, some of these concerns have taken their rise in the human conscience as a result of the Gospel. But they are not the Gospel, and they must not become substitutes for the Gospel.
It is easy to recognize evil things as inimical to the Gospel—things like murder, violence, theft, sexual immorality, economic collapse, and experimental liturgies. These things, while they are certainly opposed > to the Gospel, are less likely to replace the Gospel.
Only good things normally suggest themselves proper substitutes for the Gospel. It is rare that the Gospel is distorted by evil; it is much more likely to be corrupted by some lesser good. In Paul’s case, here in Galatians, that lesser good was the Mosaic Law!
Third, let us consider what it means to “live” in the Gospel. That is to say, what are the characteristics of the life in Christ, the life of the children of God? In this same epistle, Paul especially lists the moral qualities to be expected in the children of God. For example, he says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” And he goes on to spell out what this means: “the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
To these things Paul contrasts what he calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” There are several components to this fruit, but it is still just one fruit, because it comes from the one Holy Spirit at work in the human heart: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, self-control.” These are the things we expect to find in a child of God, who lives under the governance of the Spirit of God. And those who belong to Christ,” Paul says, “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
If we wish to know, then, whether we are living in the Gospel, these are the standards we should consult: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, self-control.
Monday, October 12
Luke 11:37-54: Jesus refers here to the “blood of Abel,” the man first slain on earth. The key to the discernment of the first murder is the prior moral fissure dividing Abel and his brother Cain. Murder was the fruit, not the root, of Cain's offense. St. John tells us that "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer" (1 John 3:15). Antecedent to the killing itself, then, the killer was already "of the evil one" (3:12).
According to Theophilus of Antioch in the second century, it was Satan who "moved his brother, called Cain, and made him kill his brother Abel. And thus the beginning of death (arche thanatou) came into this world" (To Autolycus 2.29). In the following century the Alexandrian Origen remarked that "evil did not begin in Cain when he slew his brother." On the contrary, he said, he was a bad man all along, and "God read his heart." It was simply the case that Cain's "evil became manifest (eis phaneron elthen) when he slew Abel" (On Prayer 29.18).
While we easily perceive that Cain killed because he was a bad man, it is important to see also that Abel was slain precisely because he was a good man. His goodness was the very reason that Cain took his life. St. John affirms it: "And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous" (1 John 3:12). While it is said of Cain that "he perished in the fury wherewith he murdered his brother" (Wisdom 10:3), of Abel we are told that "he obtained witness that he was righteous" (Hebrews 11:4).
Thus commences the Bible's reading of history as a prolonged chronicle of "all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel" (Matthew 23:35). The saga of persecution begins with "The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground" and ends with "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Genesis 4:10; Revelation 6:10).
Abel, then, though dead since the dawn of history, "still speaks" (Hebrews 11:4). Origen commented: "Let us recognize that what was said of Abel, who was slain by the homicidal and unjust Cain, pertains to all whose blood is unjustly shed. We may consider as pertinent to each of the martyrs the words, 'Your brother's blood cries out to me from the earth,' because from the ground their blood shouts out to God" (Exhortation to Martyrdom 50).
If Adam is the Old Testament's first type (typos) of the Christ to come (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45), the death of Abel is rightly regarded as the first foreshadowing sign of Christ's death on the Cross. Jesus Himself laid the foundation for this symbolism by declaring that "all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel," would come upon the generation of those who crucified Him (Matthew 23:35). For this reason, St. Augustine believed that the death of Christ was represented in the figure of Abel (The City of God 15.18).
The author of Hebrews, who described Abel's blood crying out to God from the earth, went on to invoke this same image with respect to Jesus' own blood. The blood of Jesus, he wrote, "speaks better things than that of Abel" (12:24). Whereas Abel's blood cried out demanding revenge, the blood of Jesus, who is called here "the Mediator of the new covenant," invokes the divine mercy for sinners. Such is the blood in which we have access to "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (12:23).
Tuesday, October 13
Galatians 2:11-21: A first thing to be noted about this text is its reference to “the faith of Jesus Christ.” In a strict adherence to the Greek text, verse 16 should read, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” The KJV got it correctly.
This simple, clear statement has somehow proved too much for modern English translators. For instance, the NKJV, the RSV, the TEV, the JB, and the NIV read, “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ.” The NEB and Philips are substantially the same: “faith in Jesus Christ.” The ESV is nearly identical, except for its politically correct alteration of God’s Word: “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” These inaccurate translations of this simple phrase are really quite misleading.
The clear problem with these mistranslations is, of course, that they are unable to deal with the notion that we are justified by the faith of Christ. They reflect a loss of perspective traditional in the Christian Church and contained in the KJV. Namely, the faith of Jesus. These new translators are unable to look upon Jesus as a man of faith. They think of faith as something that Christians have, but somehow Jesus had no need for.
This is clearly not the view of St. Paul, according to whom we are justified before God by the faith of Jesus Himself. What Paul affirms here is not that we are justified by our own faith. We are justified by Jesus’ faith. Jesus’ faith was the source of His redemptive obedience to the Father. Our faith comes from Jesus’ faith, and this is what renders us just.
Thus, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as “the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame . . . who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself.” (12:2,3). This is the faith that justifies us, the faith of Jesus in all His service to God and man, but especially His endurance of the Cross. This is what we see when we behold the wondrous Cross, where the young Prince of Glory died. The crucifixion is the supreme symbol of the faith of Jesus.
A second feature of this text is its description of redemption in personal terms. In the New Testament most statements about redemption tend to lay emphasis on the universality of what God has done in Jesus; the terms tend to be plural and collective: “God so loved the world,” says John 3:16. Similarly, Paul wrote that God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Paul also wrote, “There is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6). The words of Jesus over the covenant-cup also stress a universal perspective: “This is My blood of the new covenant which will be shed for you and for the many.” Earlier the Lord had said that “the Son of man came not to served but to serve and to give His life for the many” (Mark 10:45). Texts of this sort abound in early Christian literature, all insisting that the blood of Jesus was shed for all of mankind. That is to say, the New Testament teaches universal, not limited, atonement.
More rarely does the NT speak of Jesus’ love for each person. For example, the parable of the Good Shepherd tells how He goes out in search of the one lost sheep. In the Gospel of John, the Good Shepherd says that He calls each of His sheep by name. When the Gospel of John speaks of the Holy Eucharist, the emphasis once again is on the singular: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” This same accent is found in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone opens, I will come unto him and eat with him.”
Such expressions of personal intimacy with the Lord are not as common in St. Paul, but today’s text from Galatians is an exception: “The life I live now in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” This text is evidence that Paul, like John, knew the love of Christ to be directed as him personally. He too is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
St. John Chrysostom comments on this passage: “Each person justly owes as great a debt of gratitude to Christ, as if [Jesus] had come had come for his sake alone, because He would not have grudged this His condescension though but for one, so that the measure of His love to each is as great as to the whole world.”
Chrysostom’s comment is remarkable. It says that Christ loves each of us as much as He loves all of us. Perhaps this is less surprising if we reflect that we ourselves tend to love our families in the same way. Within our families, we love each as much as we love all. This is how Christ loves each of us, and this is why He died, not only for all of us, but also for each of us.
A third feature of this passage is its inclusion of our identification with Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The acceptance of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ into our hearts places there a new source of life and identity. I must die, in order for Christ to live in me. That is the hardest of messages—I must die. Not “I must be fulfilled.” Not “I must be satisfied.” Not “I must reach my full potential.” No, very simply “I must die.”
Christ’s own faith is the model, exemplar, and source of my own. These are hard words: “It is no longer I who live.” The self must go. In the pursuit of Christ, selfishness, self-centeredness, self-preoccupation, and self-absorption are the enemy. The destruction of these things in our hearts is what Paul calls a crucifixion: “I have been crucified with Christ.”
This crucifixion of the sinner has particular respect to the flesh and to the world. With respect to the flesh, Paul writes somewhat later in this same epistle, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” And again, with respect to the world, Paul writes in this epistle’s final chapter, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” To embrace the faith of Christ, to embrace the Cross of Christ, is to experience crucifixion in regard to the flesh and the world.
The flesh and the world comprise what St. Paul calls “the old man,” and he writes of it in the Epistle to the Romans: “We know that our old man was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (6:6).
We Christians have no hope but in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. He is our one confidence in life and in death. We place all our faith in Jesus’ faith. We cling to His cross as our strength and solace. For His sake we put to death the ways of the flesh and of the world, in order to conform our lives to the pattern of His cross. In doing all of this, we are justified. Jesus has replaced the Law. He is our only Law. We Christians, once and for all, have placed all our eggs in one basket. It is the Easter basket.
Wednesday, October 14
1 Chronicles 26: The ministry of the gatekeeper (vv. 1–19), was not so humble and insignificant as the name may suggest. These men, in fact, enjoyed considerable prestige as ministers of the sanctuary, serving in such functions as did not require the ministry of a priest.
Indeed, for many centuries and differing somewhat from place to place, the Christian Church revived this ministry as one of the minor orders and graced it with a rite of ordination. Analogous to the porters of the Old Testament, these Christian “porters” were charged with such responsibilities as the locking and unlocking of the church doors (hence their name, from the Latin word for door, porta), the ringing of the bells for the sacred services (and therefore care of the church clocks), the maintenance of certain material elements used in those services (such as prayer books and hymnals), and the general upkeep of the sanctuary.
With all the candles and incense consumed by fire, vestments soiled, oil inadvertently spilt, penitential ashes accidentally dispersed, bay leaves and rose petals scattered for special feasts, and so forth, it is no small work to keep a church building clean.
As these duties were gradually taken over by others (which would always be the case in those congregations that did not have an ordained porter), the Christian order of porter eventually disappeared. (The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, stopped ordaining porters in the early 1970s.) Even if they are no longer ordained, a special respect and honor is due to those who take care of a church building, mend its vestments and linens, polish its candlesticks, maintain the appointments of its worship, clean its floors and windows, arrange its flowers, tune its organ, dust its pews, replace its light bulbs, and adorn it for the special services of feast days. These folks, the spiritual progeny of those who cared for the temple of David and Solomon, are especially respected in that temple made without hands.
The higher office of Levite in the Old Testament became the model for the office of deacon in the Christian Church. In particular, we may note that Christian deacons, like the Jewish Levites (vv. 20, 24, 26–28), have traditionally been charged with the oversight of the Church’s material resources, becoming the successors to those original seven who served at table in the early Church (Acts 6).
As they managed the physical and financial assets of the Church, it often happened that deacons became very powerful. In some places it was not unusual for a deacon to succeed the bishop he served. Among the more famous deacons who did so was St. Athanasius of Alexandria in the fourth century.
Thursday, October 15
Luke 12:13-21: This brief parable of the rich man’s barns, which introduces the straightforward didactic section on trust in God (verses 22-34), is proper to the Gospel of Luke. It is consistent with Luke’s constant attention to the needs of the poor and his caution about the dangers of wealth. Luke is eloquent and dependable on both of these themes.
The parable is given in response to a request that Jesus intrude His influence in an inheritance dispute between two brothers (verse 13). Prior to presenting His parable the Lord disclaims authority to settle such a dispute: “Then one from the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?”
Such is the context of the parable, and it properly introduces the first of three points that may be made with respect to it.
This point, aside from its function of introducing the parable, already conveys an important lesson respecting the Gospel and the world. Jesus refuses to take sides or arbitrate in a domestic and financial dispute in which, presumably, an arguable case could be made for either side. This sort of thing is simply not what He does. He refuses to be made an authority in matters of purely secular dispute.
If this restraint was exercised by the Son of God and the font of justice, how much more should it apply to the Church and her ministries. This story provides no encouragement to those who imagine that the Christian Church should intrude her influence in social, economic, civil, and political controversies on which plausible arguments can be made, whether in theory or in fact, for either side of a case. This is not the vocation of the Church, for the same reason that it was not the vocation of Jesus.
In the societal settings in which the life in Christ is lived, there are certainly circumstances where it is incumbent on the Church and her ministries to speak clearly and fearlessly and decisively. The Church’s intervention in social and political controversies, however, should be limited to those discernible cases. With respect to the other myriad concerns of society and the political order, prudential concerns about which it is legitimate for godly men to disagree, the proper response of the Church should be, as it was for Christ, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”
This message will necessarily be disappointing to those who imagine the Church is some sort of social arbiter, with immediate, practical solutions to all the world’s problems.
Second, Jesus goes to the root of the problem. He attacks the root of the dilemma presented by His questioner. That root is greed, or covetousness: “And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (verse 15). Once again, the Lord does not go into particulars. His is, rather, a word of “caution” (“keep on guard,” phylassesthe) and the stating of a principle (“a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”). The purpose of the parable is to reinforce that caution and to illustrate that principle.
How to apply that principle and how to implement that caution will vary a great deal according to the circumstances in which a person finds himself. What is essential is to be on guard and to bear in mind that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
Third, the message of the parable itself is self-evident, laying a sensitive finger on the shortness of life and the unreliable nature of all things temporal and material.
He dialogued with himself, says Luke: dielogizeto en heavto. He addressed his soul. “Soul,” he said, “you have many goo
ds laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” This was the soul of which Jesus inquired, “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) As in the case of the rich man and Lazarus, this is the story of how to lose your soul. It is precise outline for how to accomplish the task.
And what is that prescription? “Relax! Don’t be vigilant. Don’t be cautious. Do not keep on guard.” This is the reliable and true path to the fires of hell. Many have tried it, and it always works.
This lesson the “fool” of a rich man learned after it was too late. Jesus explains, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” This is a business question, isn’t it, much like the question, “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Put it all down on a ledger, says Jesus, and count it up. What is the cost, the gain, the loss, the profit? Use your business head, and you will come up with the right answer every time: “Who gets all this stuff that you have accumulated, while you have nothing profitable to show God for all the years He gave you on this earth.”
There is an irony, then, in the Lord’s referring to this man as a “fool,” because in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament the fool is someone who fails to take care of his financial resources. He is saying, in fact, that this was not really a man of business, because he did not understand the true worth of things. He imagined that his soul was worth less than his possessions. He suffered the confusion that leads to the loss of one’s soul.
Consequently, at the end of his selfish life this man had nothing to show for his efforts. He was “not rich with respect to God.” He had failed in elementary vigilance. He had not heard the warning of Christ: "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."
Friday, October 16
Psalm 17: Psalm 17 (Greek and Latin 16) pertains to the hope of Christ in the context of His death and burial. Its final line is the key to its interpretation: “But I will appear before Your face in righteousness; at beholding Your glory will I be satisfied.” Such was the hope of Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2).
The Gospel of John especially portrays Jesus as God’s perfect servant, doing “always . . . those things that please Him” (8:29). He could assert, therefore, in full serenity of soul, “I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do” (14:31). Such obedience was the very reason for His journey to earth: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (6:38). Furthermore, this sustained obedience to the Father was for Jesus the very channel of His sustenance: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (4:34). At all times, then, was He able to say: “I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (5:30).
This obedience to the Father was, of course, costly. As Jesus prays to Him in this psalm, “Because of the words of Your lips, I have adhered to the hard ways.” And just what were these words of God for which Jesus adhered to the hard ways? Surely they were the words of “all that the prophets have spoken,” for “ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25, 26).
These, then, were the words that governed the life of Jesus: words about Isaac’s burden of wood in Genesis, words about the paschal lamb in Exodus, words about atonement for sin in Leviticus, words about Samson giving his life for the people in Judges, words about David suffering opprobrium in Second Samuel, words about someone being pierced in Zechariah, words about the Lord’s Suffering Servant in Isaiah, and, indeed, these very words of the suffering just man in the Book of Psalms.
When Jesus took up Isaac’s wood on His shoulders, and became the paschal lamb, and made atonement for sins, and gave His life for His brethren, and suffered opprobrium, and was pierced with a spear, and all the rest—in doing all these things, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). All of the Hebrew Bible consists of prophetic words about Jesus, for the sake of which He adhered to the “hard ways.”
And just what were those hard ways to which our Lord adhered for the sake of God’s words? They were the hard ways of obedience to the Father’s will, for “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). St. Paul, about two decades after Holy Friday, quoted a line from a very primitive hymn of the Church, according to which Christ “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).
It was in His Passion, then, that Jesus was put to the trial, and Psalm 17 is one of those psalms expressing His supplication to the Father in that setting. Jesus suffered and died in the divine service, committing His entire destiny into the Father’s hand: “You have proved my heart; You have visited me in the night. You have tried me with fire, nor was wickedness found within me.”
As this last line shows, the prayer of Jesus was that of a righteous man. Indeed, Psalm 17 so stresses this quality of righteousness that no other member of the human race could pray this psalm in such literal truth. Jesus says to the Father: “Attend to My righteousness, O Lord; give heed to my supplication. Hear my prayer from lips that are not deceitful. Let my judgment come forth from Your face, and let mine eyes behold uprightness.”
Becoming “in all things . . . like His brethren” (Heb. 2:17), Jesus prays for the Father’s protection in words that we are correct and prompt to make our own: “Manifest the wonders of Your mercy, O You that save those who hope on You. But from those who resist Your right hand, guard me as the apple of Your eye. In the shelter of Your wings will You hide me, from the presence of the godless who oppress me.”
Himself sinless, God’s Son became one with us in our fallen humanity, knowing fear and dread, but likewise trusting in God as a man. He assumed all that we are, in order that we, by Him, may be partakers of who He is.