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).

Matthew’s distinction between “called” and “chosen” (verse 14) suggests that he may be using these terms somewhat differently from the apostles Peter (cf. 2 Peter 1:10) and John (Revelation 17:14).

Saturday, April 10

1 Corinthians 15:20-34: Arguably among the earliest themes of Christian theology was a contrast between Christ and Adam. The letters of Paul are an obvious source of this contrast, chiefly in two places, the earlier being 1 Corinthians 15, and the second, Romans 5. These two texts differ, however, in emphasis and application.
Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 15, which may be called cosmological, has to do with the quality of created matter, the "dust" of Genesis 2-3. Paul's case here is largely centered on Adam's legacy of death and corruption, to which the Apostle contrasts the immortality of the body through the Resurrection of Christ. Adam was formed of dust, to which he returned. Because of Christ's Resurrection from the dead, nonetheless, this inheritance of corruption from Adam is not the final word about the human prospect, says Paul. Although humanity certainly shares in Adam's corruption, in Christ it is made to share in the incorruption of the Resurrection: "The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption (15:42). Thus, "as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man" (15:49).
In the later text, Romans 5, Paul returns to the contrast between Adam and Christ, but now with a different emphasis and application. He here develops the theme from an historical rather than a cosmological perspective. Whereas in Adam, Paul argues, "sin entered the world, and death through sin," through the obedience of Christ "many will be made righteous" (5:12,19). In short, "if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many" (5:15).
Each of these two contrasts between Adam and Christ serves the general concern of the specific epistle in which it appears. In 1 Corinthians, it is the Paschal Mystery (“Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us,” says 1 Corinthians 5:7), and in Romans it is Justification. The second, which treats of the obedience of Christ, reflects the theology of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The first, which is based on the Resurrection, pertains to the theology of Easter.

Sunday, April 11

John 20:19-31: The philosophy embraced by Thomas the Apostle was not of an academic brand. It was, rather, the peasant variety, a common type, the truly useful school of thought that aids an ordinary man to brace up in adversity, face disaster bravely, and cope with valor on the bitter day.

A philosopher of this sort is less interested in exploring how life is pieced together, and more concerned about how to get through life without falling to pieces. Thus, he emphasizes sobriety of soul and is deeply suspicious of anything even faintly resembling fun. His aspirations are modest, the better to soften the inevitable disappointments that life will bring. Ever resigned to the next unforeseen but inexorable tragedy, fairly certain that all will come to a bad end, this philosopher tightens the reins on enthusiasm and dissuades his heart from inordinate hope. The last thing he would trust is a bit of good news.
If such a school of thought can be summarized in two sentences, those sentences might be an hypothesis and an imperative: “If anything can go wrong, it probably will. Get used to it.” One could never be too cautious, after all, or he risked getting too rosy a picture of things. Therefore, be careful. Near every silver lining lurks a cloud. Some, I suppose, would call this philosophy pessimism, but those who espouse it usually think of themselves as realists.

Such a philosopher was Thomas the Apostle, significantly known to history as “Doubting Thomas.” One suspects, however, that the doubting of Thomas had less to do with his epistemological system than with his nervous system. Ever brave to drain the draught of sadness and misfortune, he dared to imbibe joy, if ever, only in small sips.

Thomas, therefore, was very cautious about all those miracles and healings that he witnessed. Things were going far too well. There had to be a downside to the whole business. All these blind people were receiving their sight, to be sure, but who could say what they would see before the thing was all over? The deaf received their hearing just in time, thought Thomas, to listen to the latest bad news.

It came as no great surprise to Thomas, then, when he learned that disaster lay just down the road. Indeed, Thomas was the first among the Apostles to embrace the imperative of the Cross. Unlike Peter (“Get behind Me, Satan!”), he put up no resistance to the news. When Jesus declared His intention of going to Jerusalem to “wake up” Lazarus, the other Apostles expressed their fear at the prospect. “Rabbi,” they answered, “lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” It was Thomas who found within himself the generous strength to say, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:8, 16). In this scene, Thomas is no skeptic. He is, rather, very much the realist, the man who discerns the stark realities awaiting His Lord at Jerusalem, and he is resolute with respect to his own course in the matter. When it comes to the prospects for tragedy, Thomas is not deceived by any inappropriate optimism. Nor, let it be said, by cowardice. If there is one thing he knows how to take with a stiff upper lip, it is bad news. It is, so to speak, his specialty.

Thomas may also have been something of a loner, which would explain why, when the risen Lord paid His first visit to the assembled
Apostles, Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). He apparently had gone off to get a better grip on himself. It had been a very tough week. Just as Thomas had foreseen, Jesus’ life had ended in tragedy. This, the Apostle was sure, was the biggest tragedy he had ever seen. Yet he was coping with it somehow. Years of an inner docility to inevitable fate had schooled him in the discipline of endurance. Yes, he would get through this too. He was a man who could deal with misfortune and sorrow.

Thomas returned to the other Apostles in the “upper room” that evening, having wrestled his soul into a quiet acquiescence. It was the first day of a new week. He had faced down the disaster, and his control over life was starting to return. What he had not anticipated, however, was that the other Apostles, in his absence, would completely lose their minds. “Well, Thomas,” one of them announced, “fine time to be gone. We have seen the Lord, and you just missed Him!”

Thomas knew how to deal with sorrow. His real problem had always been how to handle happiness. And that problem was about to get a lot worse. A whole week the risen Lord would make him wait, sharing that room with the ten other men to whom he had hurled his challenge: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (20:25). As each day passed, the case for skepticism was strengthened.
But then it happened. The room was suddenly filled with a great light. New evidence had arrived and stood now undeniable on the scene. Doubting Thomas sensed that his long-established thinking was about to be rather deeply shaken. However embarrassed, he rose and turned
toward the entering light, bracing himself to learn a bit of good news.

Monday, April 12

Ezekiel 7: If the Bible likens good to a seed that grows, develops, and matures, the same is likewise true of evil. Like the enemy that Jesus described as sowing tares among the wheat, Ezekiel says that is Israel is about to behold the blossoming and fruit of many years of evil sowing.

The scene of the coming judgment portrayed in this chapter is marked by the same cataclysmic finality that characterizes Jesus’ own predictions of the fall of Jerusalem. The “land” of Israel cursed in this chapter is to be understood in a geographical, not just a political, sense. That is, the very earth is cursed, like the cursing of the ground in Genesis 3. Drawn from the earth himself, man pollutes that source by his accumulated sins. God’s patience is immense. But because it is related to times and seasons, it is not infinite. The end has come, says Ezekiel. When God is “fed up,” there is nothing in this earth that can prevail against His judgment.

Psalm 2: The Book of Psalms, having begun on a theme associated with Wisdom, next turns to messianic considerations. Psalm 2 commences: “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine something vain.” The “blessed man” introduced in Psalm 1, Jesus our Lord, is an affront to the wisdom of this world. The powers of this world cannot abide Him. The moral contrast described in Psalm 1 thus becomes the messianic conflict narrated in Psalm 2.

Psalm 1 had spoken of the “counsel of the godless,” and now Psalm 2 will go on to describe that counsel: “The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered in counsel, against the Lord and against his anointed [Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek].” The counsel of this world will not endure the reign of God and Christ. “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us,” they say.

The early Christians knew the meaning of these words, and they included them in one of their earliest recorded prayers: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the LORD and against His Christ.” And about whom are these things being said? The prayer goes on: “For truly against Your holy Servant [pais, also meaning ‘servant’ or ‘boy’] Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together” (Acts 4:24–27).

The context of this prayer was the persecution of the Church by the authorities at Jerusalem (cf. all of Acts 3—4). That is to say, the psalm’s meaning, to those Christians, was not something in the distant past; it was something contemporary to ongoing Christian history.

This psalm is not impressed by all the sinful revolution against the reign of God and his Christ. Like the first psalm, Psalm 2 will finish on the theme of the divine judgment, which blesses the just and condemns the wicked. Both psalms end much like the Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge.”

Indeed, the parallels of Psalm 2 with the “last days” described in the Bible’s final book, Revelation, are quite remarkable: the anger of the nations and the wrath of God (Rev. 11:18), the political conspiracy against God (19:19), the Messiah’s “rod of iron” inflicted on His enemies (2:27; 12:5; 19:15).

God, meanwhile, may laugh at His enemies: “He that thrones in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord will hold them in derision.” His Chosen One and Heir is already anointed. In the verse that explains the Church’s partiality to this psalm at Christmas time, the Messiah proclaims: “The Lord said unto Me: ‘You are My Son; this day have I begotten You.” These words, partly reflected at the Lord’s Baptism (Matt. 3:17) and Transfiguration (Matt. 17:5; 2 Pet. 1:17), came to express the essential Christological faith of the Church. This verse is cited explicitly in the apostolic preaching (cf. Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5; also 1 John 5:9) and directly answers the major question posed by Christian evangelism in every age: “What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He?” The (most likely) earliest of the Gospels thus commences: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).

“This day,” God says, “today have I begotten You.” So early in the Book of Psalms is the Christian mind elevated to eternity, that undiminished “today” of Christ’s identity—“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). No one knows the Father except the Son and he to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Matt. 11:27). That “blessed man” introduced in the first psalm is now proclaimed in the second psalm to be God’s only-begotten Son, the sole Mediator between God and man, the Man Jesus Christ. His is the only name under heaven given men by which we may be saved. Therefore, “Be wise now, you kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. . . . Blessed are all that put their trust in Him.”

Tuesday, April 13

Ezekiel 8: This startling, detailed, and dramatic vision of Ezekiel occurred on September 17, 592 B.C. He is carried “in the Spirit” to Jerusalem to witness the abominations for which the city was to be punished with the wrath and the inevitability that we observed in the previous chapter. The material of this vision will occupy Ezekiel through Chapter 11, at the end of which he will be returned to Babylon. Prior to Jerusalem’s downfall in 586 many of the prophets fellow exiles in Babylon maintained the hope of returning home soon. The purpose of this and other visions of Ezekiel was to destroy such a hope by showing it to be groundless.

In this vision there are four scenes, each illustrating a discrete abomination in the temple. The first scene is at the north gate of the wall that separated the outer court of the temple from the outside world (8:3-6). (Ignore and omit the word “inner” from verse 3, in accord with the more accurate Greek text of the Septuagint. The received Hebrew text of this chapter is notoriously corrupt.) Ezekiel finds a pagan shrine in this place, an affront to the Lord’s presence in the temple.

In the second scene (8:7-13) he goes through the wall of a chamber adjacent to the gate, where he finds Israel’s elders worshipping images of animals.

In the third scene (8:14f) he crosses the outer court toward the temple’s inner court. Not yet entering the latter, Ezekiel beholds Israelite women crying for the death of Tammuz, a Mesopotamian god of vegetation. Even this alien cult is found in God’s temple.

Finally, in the fourth scene (8:16-18), Ezekiel enters the inner court, where he discovers sun-worshippers. Israel’s idolatry is complete. These men have turned their backs to God and are giving adoration to a creature.

John 21:15-25: The Greek word anthrakia (cf. the English derivative “anthracite,” a type of coal), meaning a charcoal fire, is found only twice in the New Testament, both times in the Gospel according to St. John. The first instance is in 18:18 and designates the courtyard fire where the officers and servants of the high priest stood warming themselves through the chilly night of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Simon Peter likewise came to that place and stood near a cousin of Malchus, a servant of the high priest. It was there by the charcoal fire that Simon thrice denied even knowing our Lord, going so far as to confirm the denials with an oath.

It is most significant, surely, that that event, so embarrassing to the chief of the Twelve Apostles, is narrated in detail in each of the four canonical Gospels, for it is thus made to stand fixed forever in the memory of Holy Church.

The second charcoal fire in John’s Gospel is the one in its final scene
, the fire kindled by the Lord Himself, over which He prepared breakfast for His dispirited Apostles (21:9). After breakfast it was at this fire that Jesus would put to that same Simon Peter his threefold question: “Do you love Me?” The Apostle understood, of course, why the question was asked of him three times, for it was the very number of his own denials. At this point the chastened Peter, no longer trusting himself, relies completely on the Lord’s knowledge of his heart (21:17).

Wednesday, April 14

Matthew 23:1-12: Although individual verses of this chapter correspond to verses in the other gospels, this chapter’s construction as a whole and its setting in the last week of Jesus’ life are peculiar to Matthew. It fittingly follows the long series of altercations between Jesus and His enemies in the two previous chapters.

The present chapter commences with a warning that the Lord’s disciples are not to imitate the hypocritical, self-absorbed religion of the Pharisees (verses 1-10). It is instructive to observe that this censure is not extended to the chief priests, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the elders. Only the scribes and Pharisees are criticized here.

This restriction of the censure indicates the setting in which Matthew wrote, sometime after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, at which point the priests, the Sadducees, and the Herodians were no longer part of the Jewish leadership. The Judaism with which Matthew was dealing was that of the Pharisees and the scribes, the only ones left with the moral authority to lead the Jewish people. Those other social and religious elements, though powerful at an earlier period, were not of immediate concern to Matthew. Although the priestly class are Jesus’ chief enemies in the story of the Passion, they do not figure here in chapter 23, because Matthew has in mind his own contemporary circumstance, in which the priestly class is no longer significant.

This discourse is directed to Jesus’ disciples, who are warned not to follow the example of the scribes and Pharisees (verses 1-3). The “seat of Moses” is a metaphor for the teaching authority of these men. We observe that Matthew regards these men as still having authority, very much as we find the Apostle Paul recognizing the authority of the high priest and the Sanhedrin. This authority, says the Sacred Text, is to be respected. It is the men that hold that authority who are not to be imitated!

In what respect are they not to be imitated? They lay heavy burdens on men’s backs. In context these are the burdens of legalism, a weight that makes the service of God onerous and unbearable (verse 4). This is a form of religious oppression. These “heavy burdens,” which contrast with the “light burden” of the Gospel (11:30), consisted of the numerous rules, regulations, and rubrics that governed the lives of their fellow Jews. Matthew is at one with Paul that these myriad matters were no longer essential.

It is worth mentioning, in this context, that legalism tends to return to the Christian Church from time to time, though no longer associated with the Mosaic Law. We are seldom short of Christians who like to oppress their brethren with an endless recitation of rules and rubrics. This sort of mentality renders the service of God a dreadful burden. It constitutes a scandal in the strict sense of turning men from the love and service of God.

The real motive of the Pharisees, however, was nothing but unsubtle self-aggrandizement (verses 5-7). A phylactery is a small leather box containing passages from Holy Scripture. These were worn strapped to the forehead and the arm during morning prayers, a rather literal interpretation of Exodus 13:1-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; and 11:13-22. The rabbis referred to these as tefillin. The fringes are the tassels that adorn the prayer shawl, in accord with Numbers 15:38-39; Deuteronomy 22:12.

By implication Matthew encourages Christians to avoid this sort of preoccupation, and he explicitly rejects the use of certain honorific titles (verses 8-10). With respect to the title of “Rabbi” (“my lord”), it is worth noting that in Matthew’s Gospel only Judas addresses Jesus by this title (26:25,49).

For Christians, who are to serve one another humbly as members of the same family, these displays are negative examples.

Thursday, April 15

Ezekiel 10: The wooden statues of the Cherubim, with their wings spread over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, were but symbols of the angels of the Presence, the heavenly Cherubim who serve to support the Throne of God.

Now Ezekiel sees these heavenly spirits themselves, and they are identical with the Four Living Creatures that he had beheld in his inaugural vision in Chapter 1, where they bore, as here, the Cloud of the divine Presence. They will appear again, of course, in Revelation 4.

The burning coals from within their whirling wheels, full of the divine holiness, are destructive of those whose brows have not been marked by the angelic scribe, who also appears again in this chapter.

Besides destroying the wicked, this divine fire purifies God’s loyal servants (cf. Isaiah 6:6f). As the chapter closes, the action moves to the east gate of the temple, facing the Mount of Olives. It is at this gate that Ezekiel will receive the two oracles in Chapter 11.

Psalm 18: The dramatic quality of Holy Scripture is most obvious in the Psalms, I believe, because of their enhanced sense of immediacy. In the Psalter, biblical narrative takes on a more personal and existential quality. Praying the Psalms—speaking to God in those words—renders drama inescapable.

For example, when I read of his fight from Saul, I may manage to put some distance between David and me. To recite his psalm on that occasion, however, places my feet directly into David’s sandals. I am no longer safe from the machinations of Saul! David’s words become my script: “The sorrows of the nether world surrounded me, the snares of death confronted me” (Psalm 18 [17]:5; 2 Samuel 22:6).

In praying this psalm, I assume the voice of David. I take on—in dramatic form—the character of that persecuted just man, and I identify myself with the Suffering Servant, of whom David was a prefiguration—the Man who “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20).

When I recite the lines of this psalm, in short, its reference is not reduced to the things that happen to be going on in my individual life. I am playing a part, rather, in the larger and transforming drama of redemption. The paltry circumstances of my own existence are taken up, through this prayer, into the ongoing history of God’s People. I may study the Psalms as gramma, but I must pray them as drama.

Friday, April 16

1 Corinthians 16:13-24: There are the closing lines of First Corinthians. In addition to personal greetings, Paul makes one last mention of some Christian basics.

The first of these is faith, of which Paul says simply, “Stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” I draw you attention to the fact that all three of these imperative verbs are in the plural: Stand fast, be brave (literally “be manly”—andrízesthe), be strong.

Obviously the plural is required, inasmuch as Paul is addressing all of the Corinthians. Nonetheless, the use of the plural also indicates that he has in mind a joint effort. These are the things that a commander says to soldiers who are about to be attacked: stand fast, be brave, be strong. The survival of all of them depends on the combined efforts of each of them.

Yet, those combined efforts are more than a mere accumulation. It is not as though the faith of ten believers is ten times as strong as the faith of one believer. It is more likely the case that the faith of ten believers is closer to a hundred times as strong as one believer.

The reason for this is sim
ple: Believers not only believe for themselves, they also support the faith of one another. For this reason, a community of faith has vastly more than the accumulated faith of individual believers. The spiritual chemistry of each believer affects the spiritual chemistry of those around him.

The major sin of those Corinthians was their failure to support the faith of one another. Each of them was acting without regard for the others. It is a plain fact that Christians cannot live that way and very long remain Christians, because the Christian faith is a corporate concern.

It is a “corporate” concern according to the etymological sense of the Latin root corpus, which means “body.” We observe that it was in First Corinthians that the Apostle Paul first introduced the image of the Christian congregation as a “body”: “or as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”

It is this corporate nature of the Christian faith that requires that we stand fast, be brave, and be strong. In the matter of the faith, each of us depends on all of us.

The second “basic” in this text is love, which we would expect from the corporate nature of faith: “Let all that you do be done with love”—pánta hymón en agápe ginéstho. Such is Paul’s summary of chapter 13 of this epistle, the famous list of the qualities of agape, the godly love God has for us, and we have for Him, and we have for one another in Him.

In this final chapter of First Corinthian, Paul especially mentions the affective quality of this love: “The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.”

Christian love is more than affection, of course, but affection—the shared joy of friendship—is one of the ways in which it is expressed, and there are numerous indications of this in the Bible. For example, one thinks of that scene in the upper room of a house in a house at Joppa: “And all the widows stood by [Peter] weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them.”

The sorrow of these grieving women—who are all identified as having lost their husbands—is then turned into joy, as we see in the closing line of this scene: “Then [Peter] gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive.” Luke is careful to mention, not only that the woman was restored to life, but also that she was returned to the arms of those who loved her.

The third “basic” in this text is hope. This hope is expressed in a short Aramaic prayer that was common in the ancient Church: Marana tha. Mar is the Aramaic word for “Lord.” The ending ana is first person plural possessive, “our Lord.” Tha is the singular imperative, “come.” It is very short prayer for the Lord’s return and the end of the world. It is the summation of Christian hope.

For Christian believers the end of the world is not “doomsday.” It is the return of Christ, the Lord Jesus who went away promising to come back.

At the end of the first chapter of the earliest extant work of Christian literature, the Apostle Paul summarized the Christian life. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the coming wrath.”

This ancient liturgical prayer quoted by Paul, Marana tha, is the voice of hope. This hope, on which our lives are established, is the source of the strong faith in which Paul tells us to stand. Hope is the bright horizon that gives luster to our love for one another.

These, then, are the basics, the three things of which 1 Corinthians 13 declares that the “abide” no matter the order in which we name them.