Good Friday, April 2
John 18:1—19:42: The description of the Lord's death in the Gospel of John shows every sign of conveying the word of an eyewitness. Indeed, the Sacred Text itself calls attention to the first-hand reliability of this testimony: "And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe" (John 19:35). Two details in John's testimony seem worthy of special examination.
First, in its description of the Lord's death, John's very suggestive wording is unique among the Four Evangelists: paredoken to pnevma (John 19:30). Generally, alas, that uniqueness is obscured in the standard English translations. They usually run something like this: "And bowing his head, he gave up his spirit" (NKJV). I confess that I have not found an English translation that substantially differs from this.
Leaving aside the tender detail about the bowing of the Lord's head in death, nonetheless, such a translation is seriously inadequate. Paredoken to pnevma, wrote John. To translate this as "he gave up His spirit" deprives the sentence of more than half of its meaning. Taken literally (which is surely the proper way to take him), John affirms that He "handed over the Spirit."
That is to say, the very breath, pnevma, with which the Lord expired on the Cross becomes for John the symbol and transmission of the Holy Spirit that the Lord confers on His Church gathered beneath. Support for this interpretation is found in the risen Lord's action and words to the apostles in the upper room in John 20:22, "He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit (labete pnevma hagion).'"
Consequently, John's description of the death of Jesus-"He handed over the Spirit"-portrays the Holy Spirit as being transmitted from the body of the Lord hanging in sacrifice on the altar of the Cross. It is John's way of affirming that the mission of the Holy Spirit is intimately and inseparably connected with the event the Cross.
This interpretation, besides being faithful to the verb's literal sense, is consonant with John's theology as a whole. It was the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord-what John calls His glorification-that permitted the Holy Spirit to be poured out on the Church. John told us earlier that "the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (7:39).
Second, John records another detail of the scene not mentioned by the other Evangelists: "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out" (19:34 NKJV).
Taken together, then, John records three things as issuing forth from the immolated body of Jesus: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These have to do with the gathering of the Church at the foot of the Cross, because this is the place where the Lord's identity is known: "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM" (8:28 my translation).
These components appear also in the covering letter for John's Gospel as the "three witnesses" of the Christian mystery: "And there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are one" (1 John 5:8 my translation).
Speaking of the gathering of the Church, the Lord had declared, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." John went on to comment, "He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die" (John 12:32-33 ESV). It is the gathered Church, then, that receives the witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood at the foot of the Cross, thereby knowing the Son of Man's identity as "I AM". This is the revelation given in the testimony.
This threefold "witness" to Jesus has particular reference to the Sacraments of Initiation, those mystic rites by which believers are gathered into the Church: the water of Baptism, the Holy Spirit conferred in the seal of Chrismation, and the Blood consumed in the Holy Communion. These three things are theologically inseparable; that is to say, "these three are one."
In this threefold initiation into the mystery of the Cross believers are "once enlightened" in Baptism, become "partakers of the Holy Spirit" in Chrismation, and "taste the heavenly gift" in the Eucharist (Hebrews 6:4).
This threefold benediction is inseparable from its source, which is the Son of Man's body hanging in sacrifice. Each component of this grace derives from that same font.
Holy Saturday, April 3
Matthew 27:62-66: The teaching of Jesus was inseparable from His person. In the Gospel we do not find our Lord appealing to universally available religious truths, truths that could stand on their own, truths accessible to man’s mind apart from His teaching of them, truths that could outlive the person who spoke them. It is essential to grasp this fact, because it indicates an essential difference between Jesus and other “religious founders.”
To illustrate this difference we may take the example of Siddartha Gautama some six centuries earlier. When Gautama gathered his disciples to listen to his Dear Park Sermon, he certainly appealed to his own experience of a “revelation.” He referred to his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and expounded to his followers the meaning of that experience. He defined Dependent Causation and explained how to be delivered from it.
Some historians of comparative religion are of the opinion that this is essentially what Jesus did. Although they recognize a difference in the objective content of the two efforts, they imagine that the Deer Park Sermon and the Sermon on the Mount have this in common—that both preachers were simply expounding their religious theories. According to this view, the difference between a Christian and a Buddhist would result solely from the decision about which religious teacher was believed to have “gotten it right.”
The problem here is that neither Gautama nor Jesus would agree with this assessment of the matter.
With respect to Gautama, it is important to observe that he never thought of himself as essential to his own message. Indeed, he made a point of saying that his religious experience was available to anyone who followed in his footsteps. He asked no one to take his teaching on faith. He never claimed to have discovered truths otherwise unavailable for discovery. He asked no one to believe in him as the exclusive channel of his teaching.
On the contrary, Gautama was persuaded that the Four Noble Truths would be just as true if he had never discovered them. What he had to say about the Chain of Causation would be just as valid, he believed, if he had never mentioned it. Gautama claimed to teach truths independent of himself and transcendent to his teaching of them. In short, Gautama never claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life.
When we look at Jesus, we are faced with something radically different. All that heard Him recognized that He taught as “One having authority.” Jesus expounded no truths transcendent to Himself. What He taught was otherwise unknowable and inaccessible.
Indeed, how would we know that we have a heavenly Father who loves and cares for us, except on the testimony of Jesus? Is that an obvious or otherwise available truth? Again, if Jesus had not mentioned the fact, how would we know that the very hairs of our head are all numbered? Is it really self-evident, after all, that God has even the slightest regard for every sparrow that falls? Or that a loving Father clothes in beauty the flowers of the field? We know these things for one reason only—that Jesus told us so.
Thus, the religious message of Jesus is inseparable from the authority of His own person, His own “I.” This “I” is central to His message and permeates the whole of it. The essential
feature to note about Jesus’ teaching is that it is founded on the proclamation, “But I say to you.” This “I” is the foundational component of the message, because Our Lord’s doctrine stands or falls with Himself. Jesus not only taught us that we have a Father in heaven, but He also claimed to be, in His own person, the sole access to that Father. He alone, He said, actually knew the Father.
This inseparability of Jesus and His teaching was, I submit, a major part of the crisis of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. While His dead body lay in the tomb, none of what He said could stand on its own. The authority that Jesus had claimed, to all human appearance, died with Him. If death were the last word about Jesus’ life, the Sermon on the Mount would be nothing but religious theory or plain old make-believe.
This was part of the crisis of the Cross. The teaching of Jesus, as well as the faith of those who believed that teaching, seemed radically discredited by the event of Calvary. The Apostle Paul perceived this clearly when he wrote that if Christ was not raised, we of all men are the most to be pitied.
Easter Sunday, April 4
Luke 24:13-35: The story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus on the afternoon of the day of the Lord’s Resurrection (Luke 24:13–35) is of great importance to biblical exegesis and the structure of Christian worship.
First, with respect to biblical exegesis, it may be said that the conversation of the risen Christ, as He walked with Cleopas and his unnamed companion and interpreted the Holy Scriptures for them, was the Church’s first formal course in the proper Christian interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. From time to time, as we know, Jesus had interpreted individual passages of Moses, Isaiah, David, and other Old Testament writers, normally in reference to Himself. In that discourse on the road to Emmaus, however, Jesus devoted the entire effort and time to this theme, laying the foundation for the proper Christian understanding of the Bible. It may be said that all orthodox Christian exegesis goes back to that conversation, and we are surely correct in going to the writers of the New Testament as illustrating the interpretive patterns put forward in that conversation.
The “allegory” (Galatians 4:21–31) or “spiritual sense” (1 Corinthians 2:6–16; 2 Corinthians 3:18) of God’s holy Word is that Word’s underlying Christological reference, its relationship to the Incarnate Lord who brings it to historical and theological fulfillment. Clothed in the literary forms of history, parable, and poetry, the Bible’s deeper doctrinal message is ever its reference to the Mystery of Christ, who is at once God’s only path to us and our only path to God. Thus, every line of the Bible, every symbol and every story, every prophecy, proverb, and prayer bears its deeper significance in Christ, its meaning conveyed in the catechesis of the Church and sacramental sharing in the Christian Sacraments. It is this more profound Christological “sense” of Holy Scripture that separates the Christian from the Jew.
We may also say, in this respect, that all of Christian doctrine is rooted in our Lord’s paschal discourse to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. The timing of that discourse is likewise significant, for it took place on the very day of His rising from the dead; on that day “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,” demonstrated that He “was worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals.” He was worthy to do this because He was slain and had redeemed us to God by His blood (Revelation 5:5, 9). Jesus interprets Holy Scripture—indeed, He is the very interpretation of Holy Scripture—because He “fulfills” Holy Scripture by the historical and theological events of His death and Resurrection. His blood-redemption of the world is the formal principle of biblical interpretation.
Second, in the paschal experience of those two disciples we have the initial paradigm of proper Sunday worship as the Apostles handed it down to us. The experience of those men, hearing and understanding God’s Word while their hearts burned within them, led to their recognition of Him in the breaking of the Bread. Holy Church has always understood this intricate combination of Word and Sacrament to indicate the structure of correct Sunday worship. This is the format we find in the New Testament (Acts 20:7–11) and in the earliest explicit description of Christian Sunday worship left us from the second century (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 67).
Figures of the Resurrection: Among Old Testament figures of Easter, let us consider three, whom the mind especially associates with the Netherworld, where our Lord descended in triumph:
First, there is Ezekiel, whose prophecies we begin to read this week. He was given a vision of the Netherworld. He not only records the vision, but he tells us the exact date on which he had the vision: March 3, 585 B.C. Ezekiel writes in chapter 32 of his book of prophecies. In this vision of the Netherworld, Ezekiel beholds the diverse nations of the world lying in death, their glory laid in the grave.
“It came to pass,” he writes in chapter 32 of his book of prophecies, “it came to pass in the twelfth year, on the fifteenth day of the month”—March 3, 585 by our calendar— “the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt, and cast them down to the depths of the earth, her and the daughters of the famous nations, with those who go down to the Pit.”
Ezekiel then proceeds to list all those who have gone down in death over the centuries, those delivered to the sword, the strong among the mighty. “Assyria is there and all her company,” he tells us, “Her graves are set in the recesses of the Pit, and here company is all around her grave. . . all of them slain . . . who caused terror in the land of the living.” There too is Elam, he says, who bear their shame with those that go down to the Pit. They have set her bed in the midst of the slain. There are Meshech and Tubal and all their multitudes. There is Edom, Her kings and all her princes, Who despite their might Are laid beside those slain by the sword. There are the princes of the north, All of them, and all the Sidonians. There too is Pharaoh and all his army.”
Ezekiel’s vision of the Netherworld, the world of the dead, the great, universal grave of history is readily likened to the similar visions of Hades in the Odyssey and the Aeneid—visions in which Odysseus and Aeneas descend into the abyss and behold the judgment of history. As Homer and Virgil portrayed the netherworld in the context of the fall of Troy, Ezekiel portrays it in the context of the fall of Jerusalem, which had taken place in 587.
Hell is the place where Jesus goes to preach the Gospel to those in prison, to bring up those who belong to Him. This is where Jesus goes to declare that death has been trampled down by His own death. This is where He goes to break down the gates and render asunder the brazen bars.
Second, let us look at Habakkuk. The Church has ever regarded the third chapter of Habakkuk as a prophetic vision of Jesus' triumphant descent into hell to preach the Gospel to the spirits in prison and to bring forth the ancient saints who so eagerly awaited His arrival. The object of Habakkuk's vision is central to the Church's faith—the descent of Christ to the nether world—so central that the event itself is included in the Nicene Creed.
Third, there is Jonah, whose story we finish today. This enigmatic, stubborn, self-willed, and rebellious prophet went to the Netherworld, or at least we would think so from his experience in the belly of the whale. Jonah’s canticle says, “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the Pit.”
In his own person Jonah descended as a prophecy and type of Jesus Himself, and the authority I cite on this point is none other than Jesus, who declares, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
In these three men, I submit, we discern an outline of the theology of death and resurrection. We perceive first the judgment of death on all of human history, which Ezekiel was given to behold in his vision of the netherworld. In Habakkuk we find that the man of faith, the prophet who insisted that the just man shall live by faith, is enlighte
ned by faith to behold the Savior of the world descending to the Netherworld to assert His own claims on history. And in Jonah we find the task of the Christian Gospel, whose preacher, having died and risen with Christ, journeys off to Nineveh, to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Such is the drama of this night, on which Christ rises from the dead, trampling down death by death.
Easter Tuesday, April 6
Ezekiel 1: This chapter describes Ezekiel’s call to be a prophet. In the second half of summer Ezekiel received his inaugural call by the banks of the Kabari Canal, a man-made waterway that flowed out of the Euphrates, through the city of Babylon, and then back to its mother river. This “fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiakin” is calculated to be the period between April 30 of the year 593 and April 18, of the year 592. The “fifth day of the fourth month” of this year was August 4, 593. Like the inaugural callings of Moses (Exodus 3:1-4) and Isaiah (6:1-6), the calling of Ezekiel is glorious and visionary. Above the “four living creatures” who support the vault of heaven, he sees “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” God’s glory, because it fills all of heaven and earth, can be revealed anywhere, whether in a burning bush in the Sinai Peninsula, or in the temple at Jerusalem, or, as now, by the banks of a waterway in Babylonia.
Psalm 114 (113a): From the perspective of style, this psalm is a perfect illustration of Hebraic parallelism, a feature found in so much of the Bible’s poetry and the aphorisms of its wisdom literature. The references to Egypt/barbarous people, mountains/hills, stone/flint, rams/lambs, sanctuary/domain, are synonymous parallels, in that they are roughly repetitious. They serve the function of slowing down our prayer, making us take a calmer, more contemplative pace.
Others of the parallelisms here, Red Sea/Jordan and Judah/Israel, are merismatic, the merismus being a device of dividing a whole into representative components and addressing them separately. This serves the function of making our prayer more discursive and analytical. Our psalm combines both techniques very effectively.
In all such cases, the intent of the literary construction is to slow down our reading of the poem, making us go over everything twice, forcing the mind to a second and more serious look at the line, prolonging our prayer, obliging us not to go rushing off somewhere. Such poetry is deeply meditative, and the reader who resists its impulse will find himself with acid indigestion of the mind, serious “heartburn” in a most radical and theological sense.
There are two events described in this psalm, the turning back of the Red Sea at the Exodus, and the identical phenomenon of the Jordan River at Israel’s entrance into Canaan. These two occasions, which are also juxtaposed in Joshua 4:23, form the psalm’s twin poles, Israel’s departure from Egypt and her entrance into the Promised Land. Between these two events lie the giving of the Law and the forty years’ wandering of God’s people in the wilderness. Whereas the two poles of that crucial period, the Red Sea and the Jordan, are marked by God’s removal of the waters from their native settings, the time in between them is marked by God’s miraculously given water for His people wandering through the dry sands of the desert.
God, in short, reverses the expected course of things. He makes wet places dry, and the dry places wet. As for mountains and hills, what could be better symbols of stability, standards of the normal and expected? Mountains and hills, it would seem, are not easily moved. Nonetheless, God moves them, as was demonstrated in the earthquake shaking Mount Sinai when the Law was given. Because of the face of the Lord, that face that Moses prayed to behold on Sinai, the mountains and the hills jumped around like sheep, as it were, the normal and expected state of things becoming unstrung before the awesome face of God. Hills go skipping about!
Everything is set on its head. It is this complete dominion of the Lord that is manifested in His great acts of redemption: the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the desert wandering, Israel’s crossing the Jordan’s rocky bed into the land flowing with milk and honey.
Holy Scripture often identifies the Church in terms of Israel’s experience in the Red Sea, at Sinai and in the desert, and in the crossing of the Jordan. The pattern is quite standard in the New Testament, and readers of the multiplication of the loaves, 1 Corinthians, and Hebrews will recognize this at once. Psalm 113a, then, is very much a psalm about ourselves and our life in Christ.
Wednesday, April 7
Ezekiel 2: After his inaugural vision in Chapter 1, Ezekiel now formally receives his call in Chapter 2. The Spirit (in Hebrew Ruach), of which Ezekiel spoke in 1:4 (where the same Hebrew word is usually translated as “Wind”), now enters into him, causing him to stand up. This is the same Ruach that will enliven the dry bones in Chapter 37.
It will be another six years before Jerusalem will be destroyed, and the exiles, to whom he is sent to preach, are rebellious. Ezekiel is exhorted not to be impressed by them, nor necessarily to expect positive fruits from his preaching. In terms very reminiscent of the calls of Moses and Jeremiah, Ezekiel is instructed to continue preaching to his contemporaries, no matter how they receive his word. It is God’s word, after all, that he will speak.
Toward the end of this chapter he will be handed a scroll of God’s word, which he is instructed to eat. This is one of several places in Holy Scripture where God’s Word is likened to food.
This image also indicates the prophet is to assimilate God’s Word and to preach it from within the digestive processes of his own mind and heart. It is always the word of man as well as the Word of God. According to Christian theology God speaks to man through the inner creative workings of his mind and heart. In that inspiration by which God caused the Holy Scriptures to be written, man himself was a co-worker with God, a synergos. God's word is likewise, then, the word of some human being who is properly called an "author."
Psalm 115 (113b): One way of approaching this psalm is through the consideration of space. It speaks of heaven, earth, and the nether world, and all of these references are related to the question, posed in an early verse, about where God is to be located: “So where is their God?”
This question, posed by the unbelievers as a mockery (“Why should the Gentiles say”), is answered by the psalmist: “But our God is in heaven.” The affirmation here is not merely spatial, so to speak, for he goes on immediately to draw an inference that becomes a theme of the psalm: God “does whatever He pleases.” The verb, to “do” or “make” (‘asah in Hebrew) appears now for the first time and may be seen as a key to the psalm’s meaning. This psalm is about a God who does things.
Nothing more is said about space until a dozen verses later, when the psalmist speaks of “the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” The word “made” here is ‘oseh, the active participle of the same verb as before; it could be translated even as a substantive—God is a doer. The Lord does things.
Here, then, is heaven once more, not simply a spatial reference but a symbol of God’s omnipotence. Just as, earlier, “heaven” had to do with God’s activity (“He does whatever He pleases”), so now the reference to God’s activity leads back immediately to the thought of heaven: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s.”
In contrast to heaven there is the earth: “But the earth He has given to the children of men.” God is in heaven; He is omnipotent. Men dwell on earth; they are not omnipotent. Indeed, they will die and “go down into silence,” and this brings
us to the psalm’s final reference to space—the nether world, where the “dead do not praise the Lord.” The “sons of men” are, in themselves, but creatures of a day. They are unlike God, for there are very strict limits to what they can do. And that was exactly the note on which our psalm began: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory.”
In contrast to God, what can men, on their own, do? They can make idols. In fact, left to themselves, making idols is exactly what they will do. These idols he calls “the work of men’s hands,” the noun “work” translating here ma‘aseh, a Hebrew passive participle of the same verb we have been examining all along. That is to say, idolatry is the only thing that the children of men, left to their own devices, can do. Once again, then, we continue the theme of man’s utter weakness contrasted with God’s omnipotent activity: “Not unto us, but to Your name give glory.”
The psalmist seems to enjoy meditating on the futility of these idols, “the work of men’s hands,” for he spends considerable effort in describing their impotence. Using the mystical number seven, a standard biblical symbol of perfection, he goes on to tell what these idols cannot do: (1) “They have mouths, but they do not speak;” (2) “Eyes they have, but they do not see;” (3) “They have ears, but they do not hear;” (4) “Noses they have, but they do not smell;” (5) “They have hands, but they do not handle;” (6) “Feet they have, but they do not walk;” and (7) “Nor do they mutter through their throat.” There you have it. These idols, “the work of men’s hands,” are perfectly imperfect. They are infinitely nothing; there is simply no limit to their imperfection and nothingness.
And what becomes of the men who devote their lives to the making of these idols? They too become nothing: “Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them.” The makers of idols (which includes any one of us who insists on going his own way) will, in the end, have nothing to show for their efforts and their lives: “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence.” The silence of the idols becomes the unending silence of eternal loss. Those who make them become like them.
The children of men, therefore, must not put their trust in the works of their own hands, which are destined to perish with them. Where, then, put our trust? “O Israel, trust in the Lord . . . O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord . . You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.”
Thursday, April 8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11: This reading, concerned with the meaning of the Lord’s Resurrection, might be considered under three headings:
First, the foundational principle of the event itself—the Christian religion is the world’s only religion based on a single historical fact: the historical fact of the Resurrection of Christ.
If He is not risen from the dead, wrote St. Paul, then we, of all men, are most to be pitied. If He is not raised from the dead, then everything that we do counts for naught. If his dead and crucified body fell into decay in some Palestinian tomb, then we are utter fools. If the tomb is not empty, then the Gospel is empty.
The Gospel is not a religious philosophy; it is the proclamation of a fact. The first summary of the Gospel is: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. . . . Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:32,36).
Hence, "Christ is risen" is another way of saying, "Jesus is Lord." His lordship and His resurrection are synonymous, forming the fundamental thesis of the faith, through the confession of which we are saved. "If you confess with your mouth," wrote Paul, "that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). These two salvific assertions are substantially identical.
It is by virtue of Jesus' Resurrection that we receive justification. In fact, the first time the noun "justification" appears in the New Testament, Paul proclaims that Jesus "was raised because of our justification" (Romans 4:25). He had earlier written, "For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" (1 Corinthians 15:17) No Resurrection, no justification.
Second, the Resurrection of Christ, as the object of prophecy, is the fulfillment of history. Paul declares in today’s reading, “He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
That is to say, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was not an event isolated the historical expectations of Israel. It was, rather, the fulfillment of those expectations. We observe this quality of the Resurrection in the very mandate the risen Lord gave to the Church. The evangelist Luke portrays this conviction near the end of his Gospel:
“Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise , and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:44-48).
It is at this point in the story that Jesus dispatches the Apostles to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Their proclamation includes both the event itself and the Hebrew Scriptures that that event fulfilled. Through the Resurrection of Christ, the writings of the Hebrew people became the foundational literature of all mankind.
Third, the Resurrection of Christ becomes the formal principle of Christian thought and Christian moral behavior, which Paul refers to as having “the mind of Christ” and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This principle is what Christian theology calls humanity's anakephalaiosis, or "re-Heading" (in Latin, recapitulatio). This term means that God's Son, who became man, took unto Himself the fallen race of men, in order to re-create all humanity through the reality and personal experience of His own humanity. He did this by passing through every stage of human experience and development—-the First to do so—restoring to union with God what had perished in Adam.
An early expression of this theology comes from St. Irenaeus, a second century bishop of Lyons, who wrote of God's Word, "when He became incarnate and was made man, He re-headed in Himself the long line of human beings, providing us with salvation in a brief, comprehensive manner, so that what we had lost in Adam we might recover in Christ Jesus–that is, our being in the image and likeness of God" (Against the Heresies 3.18.1).
In His assumption of our humanity, God's Word sanctified our personal histories by gaining a human, first-hand, personal familiarity with life and death, adding thereto the utterly new experience of eternal life gaining victory over death. This total assumption of human history is the basis for a new and transformed humanity. We live in the Resurrection.
Friday, April 9
Matthew 22:1-14: Comparing Matthew’s version of this parable with that of Luke (14:15-24), we note striking differences.
The first is the historical setting. In Luke the story comes much earlier—long before Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem—whereas here in Matthew it is contained among the controversy stories that immediately precede the Lord’s sufferings and Death.
The second is the literary setting. In Luke it follows other teaching sitting at table (“When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him”) and inviting the poor to meals (“when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind”). Indeed, the parable of the invited guests is immediately preceded by a verse that reads: “Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, ‘Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!’” All this is to say, Luke represents a tradition in which various teachings of Jesus about meals were handed on in a sequence determined by subject.
In Matthew, on the other hand, this parable immediately follows the parable of the servants sent to the vineyard. The link between these two parables is clearly the repeated sending of the servants. There are other similarities between the two parables, as we shall see presently.
The third difference is in the details of the parable. Whereas in Luke this is simply the story of a great supper hosted by “a certain man,” in Matthew it is the wedding celebration of the king’s son. This context, of course, links the parable to the one preceding, which was also concerned with the “son” of the owner of the vineyard.
The present parable, as it appears in Matthew, is tied to the previous parable in other ways. Once again, for example, a series of servants is sent, and in this parable, too, the servants are badly received and ill treated. The treatment and death of these servants is unique to Matthew’s account and bears the same historical meaning as verses 35-36. These servants are the prophets.
Likewise, Matthew’s version of the parable emphasizes the detailed, meticulous preparations for the festivities (verses 4 and 8, contrasted with Luke 14:18). This thorough, extensive preparation corresponds to the detailed appointments of the vineyard in the previous parable (21:33, contrasted with Luke 20:9).
Similarly, in the present parable the king punishes the offenders and burns down their city (verse 7, contrasted with Luke 14:21), just as the owner of the vineyard punished the offender in the earlier parable (21:41). Both descriptions of the punishment and destruction are prophecies of the downfall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 70.
Just as the vineyard is given to new vine-growers in the previous parable (21:41), so here the invitation to the marriage feast, declined by the first recipients of it, is extended to new people that are glad to receive it (verses 9-10). In both cases we are dealing with prophecies of the calling of the Gentiles to the Church (28:18-20).
To continue the allegory that is manifest in Matthew’s version of the parable, this final group of “servants” (verse 10) should be identified with the Apostles themselves, who traveled all the highways and byways of the world’s mission field, extending to all nations the King’s invitation to the wedding. Matthew, then, clearly discerned in this parable a narrative of the history of the Church in his own lifetime, the second half of the first century.
But Matthew is, as usual, especially interested in life within the Church, and for this reason he attaches to the present parable a shorter one (verses 1-13), not found in Luke. This is an account of an unworthy recipient of the invitation to the wedding feast, who is found improperly dressed. As the banquet begins, this unworthy person is mixed in with the rest of the guests, like the tares among the wheat (13:36-40), a bad fish among the good (13:47-50), both parables found only in Matthew. This feature of a “mix” also corresponds to the experience of the Church known to Matthew, which contained, like the Church at all times, “both bad and good” (verse 10, contrasted with Luke 14:23).
When the king approaches the offender, He addresses him as “friend” (hetaire — verse 12), the same word used by the employer to address his unjust critics (20:13) and the Savior to address His betrayer (26:50). In all these cases the address is met with silence.
Those charged with expelling this unworthy person should be seen as the angels of judgment (13:49). Only at the end is the judgment expected, separating good from bad (13:30; 25:32).
The “outer darkness” and the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (verse 13) are Matthew’s standard metaphors for eternal damnation (8:12; 13:42,50; 24:51; 25:30).