Friday, July 16
Matthew 12:38-42: Both biblical examples given here—the Ninevites and the queen from southern Arabia—are from among the Gentiles, those of whom Matthew has just been speaking in 12:18-21: “He will declare justice to the Gentiles. / He will not quarrel nor cry out, / Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. / A bruised reed He will not break, / And smoking flax He will not quench, / Till He sends forth justice to victory; / And in His name Gentiles will trust.”
The figures of Jonah and Solomon should also be understood here as representing the prophetic and sapiential traditions of Holy Scripture.
Jesus is the “greater than Jonah,” whose earlier ministry foreshadowed the Lord’s death and Resurrection and also the conversion of the Gentiles. The Lord’s appeal to Jonah in this text speaks also of Jonah as a type or symbol of the Resurrection. The men of Nineveh, who repented and believed, are contrasted with the unrepentant Jewish leaders who refuse to believe in the Resurrection (cf. 28:13-15). Matthew will return to the sign of Jonah in 16:2. Jesus is also the “greater than Solomon,” who was founder of Israel’s wisdom literature and the builder of the Temple.
The Queen of the South, that Gentile woman who came seeking Solomon’s wisdom, likewise foreshadowed the calling of the Gentiles. She was related to Solomon as the Ninevites were related to Jonah—as Gentiles who met the God of Israel through His manifestation in the personal lives of particular Israelites.
First Kings 10: We know the names of five of the queens of Sheba. As all of these lived in the eighth and seventh centuries, however, none of them can be identified with that Queen of Sheba who came to visit Solomon in the mid-tenth century before Christ. A pity, in truth, for some of us would dearly like to know the lady’s name.
Doubtless her appearance in Solomon’s court was related to the latter’s recent entrance into the powerful circles of international commerce. Through his extensive dealings with the Phoenicians, whose ships docked in harbors on all three continents bordering the Mediterranean basin, Solomon’s port at Elath on the Gulf of Aqaba became an important link in a new mercantile chain that now stretched from Ceylon in the southeast to Gibraltar in the northwest. The queen’s arrival at his court, then, was clear evidence that Solomon had become a “player” on the big scene.
The event surely signified more, however. After all, Solomon was still far from being the queen’s equal in the world of international commerce. Indeed, his recently gained status in this respect depended entirely on his hegemony over the land of Edom, which contained the port of Elath, for this was Solomon’s sole connection with the Gulf of Aqaba. If royal visitations, therefore, depended on “rank” among the international powers, we would expect Solomon to be visiting the Queen of Sheba rather than vice versa.
Holy Scripture is clear that this was not the case. We are told that the Queen of Sheba, who could have handled her commercial relationship with Solomon through the usual business channels, was prompted solely by a desire to see for herself whether this new king was as wise and discerning as his reputation proclaimed. Nor was the lady disappointed at what she saw: “I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard” (1 Kings 10:7).
Sheba’s magnificent lady is a figure of Mother Church, standing rapturously in the presence of the wiser Solomon. We make our own her praise and proclamation before the throne of Christ: “Happy are your men and happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel!” (1 Kings 10:8–9).
Saturday, July 17
Acts 19:1-10: After Apollos leaves Ephesus for Corinth, Paul arrives at Ephesus in the summer of 52 (19:1). He finds more disciples of John the Baptist, whom he in turn brings into the fullness of the Gospel (19:2-6). There is reason to believe that some disciples of John the Baptist were to be found at Ephesus even for decades to come. When the apostle John wrote his gospel in that city near the end of the first century, he took special care to relate the ministry of John the Baptist entirely to Jesus, even informing us (nor would we otherwise know it) that some followers of John the Baptist were to be found even among the first apostles of Jesus (cf. John 1:29-37).
Although the explicit evidence is sparse, it appears that many of John the Baptist’s disciples, and perhaps most, joined the Christian Church within the next generation or so. Their presence in the Church would go far to explain the great reverence and devotion in which that greatest of the prophets has always been regarded in Christian piety from the earliest times. Without exception, an icon of John the Baptist is found in all the Eastern Orthodox places of worship.
Paul will spend the next three years (summer of 52 to summer of 55) in Ephesus, which becomes a center for the evangelization of neighboring cities in Asia Minor, such as Colossae, Laodicea (cf. Colossians 4:16; Revelation 3:14-22), Smyrna, Philadelphia, and elsewhere (cf. “churches of Asia” in 1 Corinthians 16:19). From Ephesus, during these three years, Paul will be directing the missionary activity of his associates, both in Asia Minor (such as Tychicus and Trophimus [Acts 20:4]) and elsewhere (such as Erastus [Acts 19:22; cf. also 2 Timothy 4:20], Epaphroditus [Philippians 2:25-30; 4:18] and Timothy [Acts 19:22; Philippians 2:19; 1 Corinthians 16:10]). He will write the Epistles to the Galatians in the earlier part of these three years and1 Corinthians toward the end (the spring of 55). These notes will also argue that he wrote the Epistle to the Philippians at some time during these three years.
Of these years in Ephesus, Paul spent three months regularly attending the synagogue (Acts 19:8) and two years lecturing daily in a rented hall (19:9-19). This activity, which accounts for twenty-seven months, leaves nine more months for which Luke gives no account. It is likely that Paul spent the remainder of that time in prison at Ephesus, the experience to which he seems to be referring in 1 Corinthians 15:32 and 2 Corinthians 1:8. Jailed at Ephesus, which was the capital of Asia, Paul would have been under the jurisdiction of a unit of “pretorian” guard, which was usual in capitals under a royal governor. His references to such a guard (Philippians 1:13; also cf. 4:22) seem to indicate that he wrote the Epistle to the Philippians while imprisoned in Ephesus sometime during these three years. (More will be said about this subject in our notes on Philippians in the autumn.)
Sunday, July 18
Acts 18:11-20: Paul’s extended missionary activity is undoubtedly helped by the working of miracles (verses 11-12), and the subsequent and amusing story of the sons of Sceva illustrates the dangers of attempting such spiritual exploits without the faith to sustain them (verses 13-16). The conversions prompted by this incident lead to a burning of books dealing with matters of the occult (verse 19). The study of Satanic theories was sometime prominent in Asia Minor (cf. Revelation 2:24). Since such books come from hell, fire seems the appropriate way of getting rid of them.
Psalm 44 (Greek and Latin 43): This is the prayer of an individual, or a people, being sorely tried with respect to faith. Were it not for such experiences of being abandoned by God, there would be no test for the important proposition that the just man lives by faith. Whatever the trial (and its possible forms are manifold), it is finally the voice of faith—albeit, little faith—that prevails in this psalm. We pray to the Lord with those other men that our Lord describes as “of little faith,” the frig
htened disciples on the stormy lake: “Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Rise up, and do not cast us off forever. . . . Arise and come to our help; deliver us for the sake of Your name.”
From Romans 8:35-36 we know how the Apostle Paul prayed this psalm, seeing in its lament a reflection of the sufferings in his own soul by reason of his fidelity to Christ: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: /‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; / We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’“
The prayer begins, however, with an appeal to Tradition: “We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us.” Such an appeal to the lessons of history is, of course, standard in the Bible, for the biblical God is, first and last, “the God of our fathers.” Thus, the message of Genesis has to do with God’s fidelity to Israel’s patriarchs, while Exodus tells of Israel’s redemption by that same patriarchal God. Other historical books of the Bible narrate the continued faithfulness of His promises to an unfaithful people. The prophetic literature, likewise, constantly looks back to God’s redemptive work throughout Israel’s history, as both paradigm and prophecy of what He will do for His people in the future.
A similar note is sounded strongly in the Wisdom literature of the Bible. The Book of Proverbs, for instance, is forever appealing to the moral lessons of history, that complex of disciplines and standards learned by experience, prescribed by the authority of Tradition and handed down through succeeding generations. In this case too, biblical religion is essentially an inherited religion, and its Lord is “the God of our fathers.”
Tradition is also the note on which our psalm begins, then, almost its entire first half being taken up with a review of past experience. But God is not only the God of the patriarchs in the past; He is also our own God, one and the same: “You are my king and my God, You who command victories for Jacob.”
Monday, July 19
Acts 19:21-29: While in Ephesus Paul conceives the idea of going to Rome, an idea that Luke ascribes to divine inspiration (verse 21). How Paul finally makes that journey to Rome will be, of course, one of the great ironies of the book! Meanwhile, he begins to make more immediate plans to visit Greece, in order to set things right in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 16:5-7; 2 Corinthians 1:15—3:3), and to Jerusalem, in order to convey much needed funds for the relief of the poor (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8—9; Romans 15:25-29; Acts 24:17). Luke makes a point of dating these plans before the Ephesian riot that he will now go on to describe.
The excavations at Ephesus, which is the world’s largest excavation site, show it to have been a tightly populated city, the sort of place where a riot could be easily incited and quickly spread. In addition, as we know from informal inscriptions carved into the flagstones of the streets, the silversmiths of the city had their shops concentrated in a area very near the amphitheater of Ephesus. This latter, which easily seats up to 25,000 people, is still in an excellent state of preservation.
The “Artemis” worshipped at Ephesus, in spite of her name, was not the virgin huntress of the Greeks but a fertility goddess, roughly the equivalent of the Phoenician Astarte and the Phrygian Cybele, portrayed with twenty-eight breasts, one for each day of the lunar menstrual cycle. She was often represented in figurines of silver and terra cotta, and, according to the present text, so was her famous shrine at Ephesus, recognized in antiquity as one of the seven wonders of the world (cf. Strabo, Geography 14.1.20).
Because Paul and his team have been so successful in their preaching (supported, as we have seen, by miraculous healings), the silversmiths understandably feel that their idol-making business is under threat. Moreover, because the shrine at Ephesus has for a long time drawn pilgrims from far and wide, a loss of interest in that city’s famous shrine would have an even more devastating effect on the municipal economy (verse 27).
Such a fear, of course, is identical to that expressed at Philippi in Acts 16:19, and the impact of the Christian Gospel on pagan religion was readily obvious to thoughtful pagans (cf. Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96.10).
So, two of Paul’s companions, who happen to be nearby, are abducted and dragged into the amphitheater, where the riot becomes concentrated. The situation grows tense and dangerous. Both of the apprehended Christians come from out of town, Aristarchus being a Thessalonian (Acts 20:4; 27:2; Philemon 24) and Gaius a Lycaonian from Derbe (Acts 20:4).
Tuesday, July 20
Acts 19:30-41: ). Paul’s various friends and the other Christians prudently restrain him from entering the amphitheater, which has meanwhile become a scene of utter confusion, many of the rioters unsure why are rioting. Fearing that this situation might pose some special threat for the Jews, who in any case were never popular at Ephesus (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 16.6.1), a Jew named Alexander endeavors to disassociate the Jews from the Christians (verse 33), but mobs do not readily recognize distinctions so subtle. Besides, one of the abducted Christians is a Jew (cf. Colossians 4:10-11)! The riot could have ended very badly, but the Roman insistence on common sense and good order saves the day (verses 35-41). (If, as I have earlier suggested, Paul spent some time in jail at Ephesus, this was surely the occasion.)
A single man’s ability to restore order amidst such confusion should be credited, in no small measure, to the extraordinary acoustics of that amphitheater. Some decades ago I began to read this entire account in the Ephesian amphitheater in a slightly elevated stage voice and saw, spread all throughout the place, a hundred or more tourists from all over the world—only a handful of them known to me—suddenly grow quiet, sit down, and listen to the story.
Psalm 47 (Greek and Latin 46): The Ascension of Christ into glory is the object of biblical prophecy, especially in several places in the Book of Psalms. One of the more notable places is Psalm 47: “God has ascended with jubilation, the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Oh sing to our God, sing! Sing to our King, sing!” This is an invitation to us on earth, a summons to join our voices in jubilation with the angels on high. The Ascension of Christ is the event where heaven and earth are joined forever.
David’s taking of the ark of the covenant into the Holy City may be seen as a figure and type of the Lord’s entry into the heavenly Jerusalem, and that long-distant day was likewise marked with the rapture of happiness at God’s approach: “Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet” (2 Sam. 6:14, 15). Our psalm calls for similar marks of celebration at the coming of Christ into the Holy City on high: “Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord most high is awesome; He is the great King over all the earth.”
What the Old Testament prophesied in narrative and psalm came finally to pass when God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:20, 21).
Our psalm of the Ascension, therefore, sends forth its invitation to all the peoples of the earth. By reason of His glorification, all of history and all of culture belong to Christ. All nations are summoned before His throne, to share His exaltation: “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the peoples are gathered together with the God of Abraham. For all the strong ones of the earth belong to God; they are greatly exalted.”
Wednesday, July 21
Acts 20:1-16: At the end of three years in Ephesus, Paul returned to Macedonia in late 55, his journey apparently taking in also the large region northwest of Macedonia, known as Illyricum or Dalmatia (cf. Romans 15:19). While traveling in Macedonia, Dalmatia, and Greece during the year 56, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians (perhaps from Philippi, where he received a report on the Corinthian congregation from Titus — 2 Corinthians 2:13; 76-14), 1 Timothy, and Titus. Sometime during that year he apparently journeyed with Titus to Crete as well (cf. Titus 1:5).
Although Paul planned to spend the winter of 56/57 at the Greek city of Nicopolis, a port on the Adriatic Sea (Titus 3:12), at the beginning of January he returned to Corinth, not far eastward, where he lived during the first three months of 57 (Acts 20:2-3). While there, he wrote the Epistle to the Romans.
Intending to return to the Holy Land with the money collected for the needs of the poor there (Romans 15:25-27), he journeyed north to Macedonia one last time, where he celebrated Easter (Pascha) with his beloved Philippians (Acts 20:6). Luke, who had been pastoring that congregation since the year 49, now joined Paul’s company for the trip to the Holy Land. (Luke will be with Paul for the rest of the latter’s recorded life. We will find Luke with him during the two years’ imprisonment at Caesarea [Acts 24:27; Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24] and during Paul’s house-arrest in Rome [Acts 28:30; 2 Timothy 4:11].)
Traveling in two separate companies over to Troas, Paul needed several extra comp
anions to carry and protect the money collected for Jerusalem. Their names are enshrined forever in Acts 20:4. Paul’s trip from Macedonia to Troas required five days (Acts 20:6). His company remained at Troas an entire week in order to share in the Sunday Eucharistic worship (20:7). Perhaps Paul had intended to be present for that worship on the previous Sunday but had simply not arrived early enough. In any case, we suddenly find him pressed for time.
When Paul finally left for Troas that Sunday morning, after losing a night’s sleep for the all-night vigil of worship, he decided to walk overland to the port of Assos while the others sailed around the small cape from Troas (20:13). It was a warm April day, and Paul, tired, preoccupied, and in a bit of a hurry, inadvertently left his heavy winter cloak at Carpus’s house in Troas, along with some other items (2 Timothy 4:23). Anxious to be in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter (20:16), he met his companions at Assos on Monday, landing on the island of Lesbos on Tuesday (20:14), rounding the island of Chios on Wednesday, reaching Samos on Thursday, and landing at Miletus (the modern Balat) on Friday. Messengers were immediately dispatched to Ephesus, thirty miles inland, so that the presbyters of that church could come to Miletus to worship with Paul on Sunday (20:17). Paul will give his last sermon in Asia Minor.
Thursday, July 22
Saint Mary Magdalene: From ancient times the whole Church, east and west, has celebrated this feast day on July 22.
In Paul’s list of official witnesses, there is not a single word about the Lord’s appearances to the women. On the contrary, he says that the risen Jesus “was seen by Cephas” (1 Corinthians 15:5). Now when we turn to the Gospels themselves, quite a different emphasis shows itself. Indeed, here we read: “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene” (Mark 16:9). In the official list in 1 Corinthians 15, she is not even mentioned. The contrast is striking.
In the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection we find stories which are not so much concerned with the Church’s witness to the world, but, rather, with the Church’s inner memory, as it were, her devout and tender meditation on that first Easter morning and the ensuing days. In these accounts, the first apparitions are made to the women (Matthew 28:9; Luke 20:11–18). Indeed, the women are not even believed by the Apostles when they announce the empty tomb and the vision of angels (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:1–11).
In stories of this sort, we are dealing less with official testimony than with a kind of prayerful meditation. Thus, the Lord is not necessarily recognized right away. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus and the seven disciples out at the Sea of Galilee do not know Him until some crucial point in the account. And the context of the recognition has something very spiritual about it: the disciples on the road recognize Him in the act of the breaking of the bread, and the seven on the lake once again share a meal of bread and fish. In these stories we are not dealing with the Church’s testimony to the world, but with the Church’s inner life of communion with the risen Lord.
Such a story is that of Mary Magdalene in John 20:11–18. Like the bride in the Song of Solomon (3:1–4), she rises early while it is still dark and goes out seeking Him whom her soul loves, the one whom she calls “my Lord.” In an image reminiscent of both Genesis and the Song of Solomon, she comes to the garden of His burial (19:41). Indeed, she first takes Him to be the gardener, which, as the new Adam, He most certainly is. Her eyes blinded by tears, she does not at once know Him. He speaks to her, but even then she does not recognize His voice. The dramatic moment of recognition arrives when the risen Jesus pronounces her own name: “Mary.” Only then does she know Him as “Rabbouni,” “my Teacher.”
In this story, then, Christians perceive in Mary Magdalene an image of themselves meeting their risen Lord and Good Shepherd: “the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name . . . , for they know his voice” (John 10:3–4). This narrative of Mary Magdalene is an affirmation that Christian identity comes of recognizing the voice of Christ, who speaks our own name in the mystery of salvation: “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, emphasis added). This is truly an “in-house” memory of the Church; it can only be understood within the community of salvation, for it describes wisdom not otherwise available to this world.
Friday, July 23
Acts 20:17-38: This discourse of Paul to the “presbyters” (elders) of Ephesus, serves at least two functions in the Lukan narrative. It is a sort of final testament in which Paul gives an account of his ministry. In this respect it may be compared with the final testaments that closed the ministries of Joshua (Joshua 24) and Samuel (1 Samuel 12). Paul sensed that this was his last time to speak to a local church that he had inaugurated (20:25), and Luke, when he recorded the sermon for posterity, knew it very well.
Second, Paul’s discourse at Miletus adds his voice to the emerging theme of the “apostolic succession,” the thesis that the ordained ministry of the Church derives its authority, not from the local congregations, but from a direct, historical, and Spirit-intended continuity with the authority of the apostles. This theme of the apostolic succession was a major motif in two of the epistles that Paul had written during the previous year, 1 Timothy and Titus. (The modern reluctance to accept either the early dating or the Pauline authorship of those epistles, or even the historicity of this sermon in Acts 20, is based, not on a careful study of the texts themselves, but on a highly questionable theory that refuses to regard the “apostolic succession” as truly apostolic. This dubious and fairly recent theory tends to dictate a serious misunderstanding of the biblical text with respect to the history of the early Church.)
The beginning of Paul’s discourse (20:17) speaks of the “elders” (presbyteroi, the root word of our English “priests”; cf. also 11:30; 14:23; 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4; 21:18), whereas in 20:28 Paul speaks of “overseers” (episkopoi, the root word of our English “bishops”). Our earliest interpreter of this passage, Irenaeus of Lyons, writing about 180 and himself a native of Asia Minor, believed that both groups were present (Against the Heresies 3.14.2). Some modern interpreters are reluctant to find an unmistakably hierarchical ministry so early in church history, but there it is.
These presbyters (and/or overseers) are to be shepherds; or, to use the Latin word for shepherd, “pastors” (20:28; cf. also 1 Peter 2:25; 5:1-3). The image of the priest as shepherd comes from the Old Testament (cf. Ezekiel 34:1-6; Zechariah 10:2-3). The sheep do not “employ” the shepherd; God does, and his appointment through the apostolic succession, governed by the Holy Spirit, is the channel of his authority to shepherd the Lord’s flock. He is answerable to the One whose blood was poured out to purchase that flock. Nor can the shepherd properly keep watch over the sheep, unless he keeps watch over himself (cf. 1 Timothy 4:16; 1 Corinthians 9:26-27; 1 Peter 5:1-3).
Paul’s warning about the wolves evidently made a deep impression on the Ephesian presbyters. Earlier in the story we already saw the zeal of the Ephesian church for the preservation of sound doctrine (19:19), and documents from early church history further testify to the care taken at Ephesus to preserve doctrinal purity. The Lord would tell that church, not many years in the future, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Revelation 2:2); “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (2:6).
Indeed, it is significant that, of all Paul’s epistles, his Epistle to the Ephesians is the only one that does not mention a single doctrinal error that needed correction. (Contrast this with the letters to Thessaloniki, Philippi, Galatia, Corinth, Colossae, and Rome.) One of the earliest pastors of the Ephesian church had earlier been warned by Paul on this very matter (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3-7,18-20; 4:1-3; 5:17; 6:3-5,20). In the year 107, Ignatius, the second bishop of Antioch, wrote a letter to the Ephesians in which he commented on their well known tradition of doctrinal orthodoxy (6.2; 9.1).