Friday, November 5
Isaiah 10: There are three parts to this chapter: (1) the final stanza of the poem begun in the previous chapter (verses 1-4); (2) an oracle about God’s use of Assyria to accomplish His purposes in history (verses 5-15); (3) an oracle on the theme of the remnant (verses 16-34).
The first section of this chapter (verses 1-4), then, is the fourth and final stanza of the long poem begun in chapter nine (9:8—10:4).
The radical selfishness described earlier (9:18-21), combined with the dissolution of political restraints (9:13-17), increased the misfortunes of those already disadvantaged by the losses of war, namely, the widows and orphans of the slain (verse 2). Indeed, even the powers of legislation are used against these poor, those powers now usurped by the unjust and avaricious (verse 1). Hence, the poverty of the poor is worsened, and the weakness of the oppressed increased.
Such injustices, however, are the harbingers of the impending and ineluctable reckoning of God, which will (verse 3) come “from afar,” that is, from the forces of Assyria in the distant east. Those currently abusing their local power will not escape. The sense in the difficult wording of verse 4 is reasonably preserved in the NIV: “Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain.”
The divine judgment prophesied in this poem is larger than the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722. Considered in the full context of the canonical Book of Isaiah, this prophecy points to the final judgment on history by the King that appears at the end of time to separate the sheep from the goats. Indeed, the social sins condemned here by Isaiah are the very ones of which Jesus speaks in His famous parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:41-43). The characteristics of the final Judge will be described in the third and final section of the Book of Isaiah, where we will read of the vindicating Warrior.
The second part of this chapter (verses 5-15) follows the imagery and theme of what immediately precedes it: the divine judgment implemented in history. This oracle is probably to be dated some time soon after 734, when Assyria began in earnest to menace the western half of the Fertile Crescent. Although the kingdom of Judah refused to join the local resistance to Assyria (the coalition of Syria and Israel, about which Isaiah had so much to say), the nation was bound to feel the geopolitical pressure of that great power coming from the east. This was especially the case after the fall of Samaria in 722 (verses 9-11).
This is, in short, an oracle on two views of history: the view of the Assyria, which imagined itself imposing its own political determination on the future, and the view of God, the Lord of history, who is using such nations to bring about His own purposes in the future. Who really governs history? asks Isaiah, and he is very clear on the answer.
The Assyrian conqueror, as he moved west and subdued Syria and Israel, did not think of himself as an instrument of the biblical God (verse 7). Indeed, it was the furthest thing from his thoughts (cf. 37:1-13). Nonetheless, from God’s perspective, and according to God’s purposed, the Assyrian was nothing more than an instrument in the divine hand (verses 5,14). He is nothing more than the rod of God’s indignation (verses 5,15), the ax in the grasp of the carpenter; effectively, the Assyrian had only the authority given him from above (verse 6; cf. John 19:11). The Assyrian was simply what one writer calls the agent of God’s “moral purpose.” (More than a century later this would be Habakkuk’s view of the Babylonians, and more than a thousand later this would be Augustine’s view of the Visigoths.)
At the same time, Assyria was morally responsible for the evil it inflicted on the peoples that it conquered. God’s sovereignty in history in no way excuses man’s moral responsibility in history (cf. Romans 9:17-19).
In a later part of Isaiah (37:28-29) this truth is expressed in the metaphor of the horse and rider. The Lord is the rider of whatever historical horse that He chooses. At the same time, that horse will simply do what horses do; it will act according to its nature. None of its horsiness is negated by the sovereign influence of the Rider. It is natural that the horse thinks of himself as the one in charge, but, says Isaiah, he is grievously deceived on the point.
Although Assyria’s invasion of Syria and Israel is the occasion of this oracle, Isaiah intended his words for Judah, which lies next in the path of the Assyrian boot. Indeed, the Assyrian already has Jerusalem in his sights (verses 10-12). Isaiah knows very well that the Assyrian will in a short time be pitching his tents in the siege of Jerusalem.
But Isaiah sees even further; he also prophesies that after the Assyrian has unwittingly served the historical purpose for which the Lord used him, he too will be cut off for his arrogance and cruelty (verses 12-15; cf. 14:13-16,25).
The third section of this chapter (verses 16-34) is an oracle on the theme of the remnant. This theme of the remnant follows logically from the preceding material about devastation and destruction.
As we begin this section it will be instructive to remark that St. Paul, as he begins his long treatment on the dialectics of biblical history (Romans 9—11), seems to be following the sequence in this chapter of Isaiah. As noted above, Paul met the objection of those who imagined that God’s sovereignty over history excused man’s moral responsibilities in history (Romans 9:17-23). Then Paul moved immediately from this topic to that of the remnant (Romans 9:27-29). In making this move, moreover, St. Paul explicitly quotes this tenth chapter of Isaiah, which is clearly his inspiration in Romans 9. Both the Pauline and the Isaian chapters, in fact, deal with the same subject: the achievement of God’s historical purpose through His own choice of instruments.
In the final oracle of the chapter of Isaiah (verses 16-34) the prophet repeats a double theme that we saw in the previous poem (verses 5-15): first, God uses the powers of this world to chastise His people for their infidelities, and second, He permits these worldly powers neither to destroy His people utterly nor to go unpunished for their own sins.
This oracle begins and ends by identifying God as “the Lord, Lord of hosts” (verses 16,33; cf. variations on this verses 23,24). The oracle is structured in two parts (verses 16-23 and verses 24-34), each of them beginning with “therefore” (verses 16,21) and containing the reference “in that day” (verses 20,27).
The true sovereign over history is not some paltry occupant of the Assyrian throne, no matter how impressive he seems to his contemporaries (as in verses 28-32). This thesis about history is what Isaiah enunciates in his references to “the Lord, Lord of hosts” (verses 16,23), “the Holy One” (verses 17,20), the “mighty God” (El gibbor–verse 21; cf. 9:5). The destruction of Assyria, therefore, will be the work of a day (verse 17; cf. 9:1; 10:3; 30:26-33; 37:36).
The places referenced in verses 28-32 are the cities and regions through which the Assyrian was obliged to go on his march to Jerusalem. Aiath seems to be the ancient Ai (cf. Joshua 7:2), about fifteen miles north of the capital, and Migron and Michmash (cf. 1 Samuel 14:2) are farther south. The “pass” through which the Assyrian army crossed at Michmash descended 300 feet into a valley, immediately followed by an ascent of 500 feet up to Geba. Ramah and Gibeah are only six miles from Jerusalem. Terror, meanwhile, has struck the neighboring town of Anatoth, five miles northwest of Jerusalem, and nearby Gallim, Laisha, Madmenah, and Gebim, these last two so far unidentified by archeology. Nob was but a single mile from the capital; there the Assyrians halt to establish surveillance over Jerusalem.
Marching thus triumphantly toward the holy city, the Assyrian forces have no idea that they are walking into fire, for the light of Israel is not extinguished. The Assyrians are to be feared no more than the Egyptians at the time of the Exodus (verse 24), no more than the Midianites at the time of Gideon (verse 26; Judges 7:25).
Isaiah’s comparison of Sennacherib (704-681) to Oreb is particularly appropriate, inasmuch as both men were punished after their respective battles were lost.
The “anointing” in verse 27 refers to the Lord’s messianic covenant with the house of David (cf. 28:16; 37:33-35; 38:5-6) and alludes to the messianic figure that emerges from the stock of Jesse at the beginning of the following chapter. This is a prophecy definitively fulfilled in David’s final and true Heir (cf. Matthew 28:18).
In fact, God is preparing to cut down this mighty forest of an army (verses 33-34). This image prepares the reader for the oracle that begins the next chapter. The coming destruction of the Assyrian forest clears the ground, as it were, for the new shoot from the stump to which the invading army has reduced the root of Jesse, the royal house of David. The first part of the Book of Isaiah will end with the prophet’s narrative of this event (chapters 36—37).
Saturday, November 6
Isaiah 11: The original setting of this chapter was the same prolonged crisis that prompted Isaiah to speak earlier of the “stump” (6:13) and to describe the destruction of a mighty forest (10:33-34). The house of David had been reduced to a “stump” during the invasions of the Syro-Ephraemitic League and the Assyrians. If the Davidic throne seemed but a stump in the eighth century, this was even more the case two centuries later, when the Book of Isaiah received its final editing. By that time the house of David had been definitively removed from the throne of Judah, never again to be restored in recorded history. These later biblical editors (Ezra, perhaps) were keenly aware of the messianic tension in Isaiah, the tension between the prophesied downfall of the Davidic house (7:17) and the prophesied glory of its restoration (1:25-27). This tension produced chapter 9 and the two poems contained in the present chapter.
These two poems (verses 1-9 and 12-16) are joined by two verses of prose (verses 10-11) that summarize the first and serve as a preamble to the second. The two poems are complementary, both of them dealing with the eschatological characteristics of the divine, messianic reign. The theme of wisdom and knowledge in the first poem (verse 2) finds its parallel in the “knowledge of the Lord” in the second (verse 9).
The future tense of both poems is strengthened by the double “in that day” (bayyom hahu’–verses 10-11) of the prose section. This expression points to the future day of history, when God acts to define the destiny of the world. It will be the renewal of Israel’s ancient deliverance from Egypt (verses 11,16).
The short prose section (verse 10) also takes up “Jesse,” “root,” and “rest” from the first poem (verses 1-2), and introduces “remnant,” “hand,” “sea,” “Assyria,” and “Egypt” (verse 11), which will appear again in the second poem (verses 15-16).
Thus, the entire chapter anticipates a renewed world, in which all peoples will live at peace, both among themselves and with the rest of creation, under the Lord’s anointed King.
This latter, the Messiah, is identified as both the “shoot” (verse 1) and the “root” (verse 10) of Jesse. That is to say, He is both the descendent of David, Jesse’s son, and also the determining source, causa finalis, from which that royal line is derived. He is both David’s Son, in short, and his Lord (Psalm 109 :1; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 1:32; cf. Hosea 3:5; Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24). The Messiah is born of David’s line, but He is the root of that line. This Old Testament truth comes to light solely in the New Testament.
The Messiah is endowed with the Holy Spirit (verse 2; cf. 42:1; 52:21; 61:1). The description of the Spirit in this verse resembles the Menorah, with a central core (“the Spirit of the Lord”) and three pairs of extended arms: wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
The idyllic setting of peace among the animals (verses 6-8) recalls not only Eden prior to the Fall (Genesis 1:29-30), but also the conditions on Noah’s Ark, another of the great images of salvation.
The little child that presides over this universal peace (verses 6,8) is, of course, the newborn Messiah, the same One recognized by the ass and the ox (1:3). There is no more enmity between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the snake, for the curse is taken away (verse 8).
The last part of verse 9 should read, “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the sea with water.”
Although the original context for the present message of encouragement was apparently the dark season of the Assyrian invasions, the hope contained in this text extends into the future. It is a prophecy that has in view the coming history of the people of God. This messianic reign is not solely for the Jews, because the nations (goyim will also seek the root of Jesse (verse 10; cf. verse 12; 2:2-4; 9:1-7).
Sunday, November 7
1 Thessalonians 4:9-18: The early Christian parishes had a strong sense of identity based on a negative attitude towards the society in which they lived. They realized that what Jesus meant was radically opposed to what the world stood for, and the call to holiness, an essential feature of the life in Christ, required from them a radical break with their pagan past. Often enough this also meant, in practice, a break with their pagan friends (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Thus, the local Christian congregations served as communities of support, because believers could find with one another a very real solidarity in those convictions that separated them from other people. We find in early Christian literature ample evidence that these Christians felt a great gulf between "them" and "us." The New Testament and other primitive Christian literature leave no doubt that the specifics of Christian existence were founded on a position of contrast with, and opposition to, the "world."
Indeed, today's reading uses a technical expression to designate non-Christians, hoi exso, "those outside" (verse 12). This was evidently a common term among the early believers (1 Corinthians 5:12-13; Colossians 4:5; Mark 4:11; cf. also Titus 2:7-8; 1 Timothy 3:7).
Christians at that period were enormously aware of their minority status among non-Christians, and they were careful how they impressed those non-Christians (1 Peter 2:12; 1 Corinthians 10:32-33; Matthew 5:16).
The picture that emerges of the Christian parishes during that early period is one of communities of sobriety, hard work, and a closely knit bond of fraternal love (philadelphia). In today's reading Paul stresses minding one's own business, and doing one's own job becomingly and unobtrusively. There is no question of evangelizing one's neighbor's by an aggressive approach or slick advertising. In the words of Tertullian, Non magna loquimur, sed vivimus—"We don't talk big, but we live."
Luke 20:9-19: In all three of the Synoptic Gospels the parable of the wicked vine growers is found in a series of controversy stories involving Jesus and His enemies just a few days before His arrest. Moreover, each of these accounts ends with the evangelist's comment that this parable provided the provocation determining the resolve of the Lord's enemies to kill Him.
It was obvious to those enemies, after all, that in this parable Jesus was giving His own interpretation of the entire history of the Chosen People. He was claiming that the vine growers—the Jewish leaders—had repeatedly rejected God's messengers—the prophets—and now were about to culminate that dolorous history in a resolve to murder God's very Son.
After speaking of Himself as the "Son" in this parable, Jesus went on to call Himself the "stone" of Psalms 117 (118):22. In this transition of titles we detect, resonating through the Greek text, a nuance of the Semitic original. Jesus was employing, in fact, a play on words, the Hebrew word for "son" being ben, and the word for "stone" being eben. The immediate tension of that very dramatic moment, then, is preserved in this subtlety just below the surface of the canonical text.
God's choice of the rejected "stone" to become the chief stone of the building is important to the Lord's own interpretation of His parable, because it refers to the final vindication following His murder at the hands of the vine growers. It is a prophecy, that is to say, of His coming Resurrection.
Jesus identified Himself as the Son, and, as Son, the "heir" of the vineyard. Indeed, within the Gospels this parable is the only place where the word "heir" (kleronomos) is to be found. Jesus is the heir of the vineyard precisely because He is the Son. Indeed, in the parable this is the very reason He is killed. His murder represents the attempt of the vine growers to usurp the lordship of the vineyard.
Monday, November 8
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11: In this passage Paul deals with, among other subjects, the theme of vigilance. This was not a theme peculiar to Paul, but part of he common catechetical inheritance of the Church, going back to Jesus Himself (Mark 13:33-37). Being common, it is found in other New Testament writers as well (1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 3:2-3). When Paul speaks on this subject, therefore, he is saying something Christians generally expected him to say (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:13; Colossians 3:2).
The life in Christ includes a vigilant, heightened consciousness, a stimulated awareness, a certain kind of mindfulness, clear and sharp thinking, intelligent questioning. This vigilance will have some trouble with the general sense of stupor common in contemporary culture, where piped-in music prevents a person from hearing his own thoughts, and great efforts are made in the advertising world to prevent us from seeing the complications of things. Every single project—from the offering of new deodorant on the market to the construction of a new bridge or road—involves an underlying philosophy and a set of metaphysical presuppositions. The alert mind will search out these things, for the simple reason that its adversary, the devil, goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
Luke 20:20-26: Our Lord frequently responds to a question by posing a counter-question. In some cases the latter device is simply rhetorical. For instance, when asked if it is “lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason,” He appeals to Holy Scripture by employing an interrogative form: “Have you not read . . .?” (Matthew 19:3-4; cf. Luke 6:2-3). Likewise, when Nicodemus inquires, “How can these things be?” Jesus challenges him, “Are you a teacher in Israel and do not know these things?” (John 3:9-10) In these cases the counter-questions serve no purpose beyond their rhetorical force.
On other occasions, the Lord’s counter-question is a direct foil to block a questioner’s malicious intent (cf. Luke 11:53-54). Thus, when His enemies inquire by what authority He does “these things” (cleansing the Temple, withering a fig tree, and so forth), He declines to answer until the questioners should answer His counter-question about the authority of John the Baptist (Mark 11:28-30).
Sometimes, however, the Lord’s counter-question alters the direction and raises the level of the conversation. The most dramatic example of this phenomenon, I suppose, is the incident involving “spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.” In hopes of attaining this goal, they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:20-26)
The questioners here feel they can hardly fail: If the answer is yes, then Jesus will be perceived as taking the side of the Roman overlord. If the answer is no, then He is subject to arrest as a revolutionary.
The Lord recognizes the intent of this question, which is about as subtle as a mountain. He requests the questioners to show the proper coin of the tax, where the image of the Roman emperor is as subtle as the images on Mount Rushmore.
This request accomplishes two things: First, it suggests that Jesus Himself does not have such a coin (cf. Matthew 17:24-27). Second, it proves that the questioners do have such a coin, thus demonstrating their hypocrisy in initiating the interrogation. If Jesus were interested in simply putting these hypocrites to shame, the entire discussion could reasonably end right here.
It is at this point, however, that Jesus asks His counter-question: “Whose image and inscription does it have?” The image on the coin is, in fact, essential to the discussion, and this in two ways: First, the emperor’s image on the coin is what renders it objectionable: It violates the prohibition against images. Second, the image indicates the coin’s basic significance: It belongs to Caesar. That is to say, Jesus does not evade the question about paying taxes to Caesar; He answers it, and the answer is yes!
At the same time, however, the Lord elevates the discussion above the limits of the original question. He uses the latter to distinguish between the relative and legitimate claims of the State and the absolute claims of God. This dominical distinction, which was always at least implicit in the Prophets, thus provides a practical norm in the Christian life. While remaining radically faithful to God, Christians are to support and give their allegiance to the government Providence has placed over them. The debt they owe to the State is not optional. Sharing in the economic and political benefits the State provides, they are under a stern moral obligation to bolster, maintain, and provide for it.
This important theological teaching comes by way of a dialectical response to a malicious question. A misshapen mouse gives birth to a perfectly formed elephant.
Tuesday, November 9
Psalm 78 (Greek and Latin 77): Just as the early Christians saw the Passover and other events associated with the Exodus of the Old Testament as types and foreshadowings of the salvation brought by Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7; John 19: 36, etc.), so they interpreted the forty years of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert as representing their own pilgrimage to the true Promised Land. Thus, the passage through the Red Sea became a symbol of Baptism, the miraculous manna was a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, and so forth. In particular did they regard the various temptations experienced by the Israelites in the desert as typical of the sorts of temptations to be faced by Christians. This deep Christian persuasion of the true significance of the desert pilgrimage serves to make the Books of Exodus and Numbers necessary and very useful reading for serious Christians.
Psalm 78 is largely devoted to the same theme, which provides its proper interpretation. This psalm, which is a kind of poetic summary of the Books of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and even some of Joshua, Judges, and 1 Samuel, concentrates on the Chosen People’s constant infidelity and rebellion, but especially during the desert pilgrimage: “But they sinned even more against Him by rebelling against the Most High in the wilderness. . . . How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember His power: The day when He redeemed them from the enemy.”
Luke 20:41-47: As His enemies, frustrated by Jesus’ answers to them hitherto, are not disposed to confront Him any further (verse 40), the Lord Himself takes the initiative (verse 41).
Jesus’ question with respect to the meaning of Psalm 110 (109) serves to introduce all Christian exegesis of that psalm. Because of His question about this psalm, Christians learned from the words “The Lord said to my Lord” that Jesus is not only David’s descendent but also his pre-existing Lord. He is the Son, not only of David, but also of God.
Having mysteriously addressed the identity of Christ, this same line of the same psalm goes on to speak of his triumph and enthronement, with the solemn proclamation: “Sit at My right hand.” These majestic words were quoted in the first sermon of the Christian Church, that of Pentecost morning at the third hour (cf. Acts 2:34), and became the foundation of some of the most important Christological and soteriological statements of the New Testament (cf. Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2.).
In this one line of the psalm, then, Christians profess, in summary form, those profound doctrines at the foundation of our whole relationship to God: the eternal identity of Jesus Christ, His triumph over sin and death, and His glorification at God’s right hand: “God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, . . . who . . , when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high . . .” (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Wednesday, November 10
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12: It has long been traditional among Christians to describe eternal loss in the imagery of fire. Such expressions are found in the Gospels, most liturgies, hymnography, and classical piety, from Book IV of the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great to the sermons of Jonathan Edwards.
There is one important Christian thinker, however, who never does this—St. Paul. When Paul speaks of eternal loss, it is always in terms of the loss of God (verse 9).
Paul’s reasoning seems to run along these lines: Since the eternal life awaiting believers consists in being with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17), eternal punishment must be the deprivation of that gift. Any other punishment must be secondary and of less importance.
The reason that Paul gives for the expulsion of the unjust from the Lord’s presence is that they do not know God (verse 8). Since such ignorance of God is proper to those who are lost, it cannot be just any kind of ignorance. After all, a great deal of human ignorance is faultless ignorance, ignorance for which no one is responsible or worthy of blame. Surely anyone that is eternally lost, however, is lost by his own fault. The person so lost has only himself to blame.
Consequently, the ignorance of God, concerning which Paul speaks here, must be, not only culpable ignorance, but seriously culpable ignorance. To be separated from God is an ultimate state; it can only be brought about by an ultimate decision. The damning ignorance of God, then, mustbe ignorance deliberately chosen, an ignorance in which the person deliberately prefers not to know. It is an ultimate decision not to know God, an ignorance identical with hardness of heart.
Luke 21:1-6: One of the notable features of the Temple’s Court of Women was the glazophylakion or “treasury,” thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles placed there to receive the offerings of the faithful for the maintenance of the Temple and its ministry. As we considered just recently, pagan coinage was often adorned with engravings of political leaders and images from mythology. Such “idolatrous” money could not be placed in the temple treasury. For this reason there were moneychangers in the temple to provide the acceptable coinage for the offerings. Since they were not expected to work for free, the monetary exchange involved a measure of profit for the exchangers (much as we have today in international ports of entry), and our Lord seems to have entertained a rather dim view of such transactions.
One day, also, the Lord called attention to a poor widow whom He saw casting her last two coins into the treasury. These coins (lepta) were so small that they had no strict equivalence in the imperial monetary system, and, because they would not be familiar to Mark’s readers at Rome, he explained that two of them were needed to equal a single quadrans (12:42).
Jesus knew that these two small pieces of change were the sum of this poor widow’s assets. Therefore it is significant that she gave both of them, holding back nothing for herself.
For Jesus this latter fact became a point of contrast between the widow and the wealthier benefactors of the temple (12:43f; Luke 21:4). Jesus knew that, if a woman is reduced even to ten coins, the loss of a single one of them is a matter of considerable concern and industry (cf. Luke 15:8–10). Moreover, given the grandeur of the temple and the magnitude of its economic base, this lady might have been tempted to feel that her tiny gift was insignificant, even futile. Such is the context in which our Lord speaks of her bravery and generosity.
Our Lord’s reaction was typical of Him, nor was this the only occasion on which He took compassion on a widow (cf. Luke 7:11–17). Indeed, He was obviously fond of an old story of a strikingly similar widow who likewise sacrificed her last resources to advance God’s cause (1 Kings 17:8–16; Luke 4:25–26).
Thursday, November 11
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12: In this reading Paul uses the striking expression “the love of the truth,” prompting a later remark of St. Gregory the Great, to the effect that veritas non cognoscitur nisi amatur–“the truth is not known unless it is loved.”
It is worth reviewing the persuasion of the ancients on this point, those who believed that the goal of education was love of the truth. Our modern attitude, by contrast, seems to be that of a true-or-false test, in which the question of a statement’s content pertains solely to the intellect.
This attitude is difficult to reconcile with Holy Scripture, where the opposite of truth is not falsehood but deception. Eve in the Garden was not taking a true-or-false test, which she happened to fail. Eve was deceived by a lie. Jesus later calls Satan a liar from the beginning. In the Bible, the opposite of truth is deception.
Knowledge of the truth always involves an act of judgment, and the act of judgment always depends on the orientation of the heart. Hence St. Gregory’s assertion that the truth is not known unless it is loved. The business of knowing the truth has to do with the quality of the heart, which is why Paul contrasts truth with wickedness (verses 10-12). A few years later he would tell the Corinthians, “Charity does not rejoice in evil, but in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Similarly he would tell the Romans about those who “disobey the truth and obey wickedness” (Romans 2:8).
Luke 21:7-19: Comparing Luke with Matthew and Mark, we observe that he changes the locale of this discourse of the Lord, placing it inside the Temple itself. Also, unlike Mark, Luke makes this an open and public speech, not a private one.
Luke’s version of this discourse especially stresses that Christians must not speculate about, nor anticipate, specific times and dates regarding the plans and purposes of God in the world. They must simply hold on “until the times of the nations be fulfilled.”
If we compare this passage with the corresponding texts in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, we observe that Luke has removed any expressions that might be misinterpreted as referring to the end of the world. This latter subject he has already treated in 17:20-37. Thus, the present text in Luke is concerned with the events connected with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in the summer of A.D. 70.
Jesus’ predictions of the persecutions that Christians must endure was partly fulfilled in Luke’s stories of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles. He there describes their ill treatment in synagogues, their beatings before tribunals, their trials in the presence of governors and kings. For instance, the promise given here in verse 15 (“I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict”) we see fulfilled in Acts 4:9-10 (“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; by him this man is standing before you well.’”).
What will be required of Christians, in no matter what age they live, is patience (verse 19; cf. Romans 2:7; 8:25; 15:4-5).
Friday, November 12
2 Thessalonians 2:13—3:5: The vocabulary of call and election came naturally to Paul as a Jew, because God’s choice of the Israelites as a special and consecrated people had long been formative elements in the self-consciousness of that people. Abraham had been “called” from Ur of the Chaldees; Israel had been “called” out of Egypt.
What may at first seem surprising is that in these two earliest of Paul’s epistles, both written to predominantly Gentile Christians, he expects them to understand what he means by this vocabulary of call and election. Apparently during the three weeks of his oral instruction to them, to which he refers in these two letters, Paul had stressed election and call as central elements in the self-consciousness of the Christian Church. He had established in the minds of these Thessalonians that they too stood in a direct line of continuity with God’s Chosen People of old, with Abraham and with Moses. The Thessalonians too were called and elect.
After all, they had received “the word of God” (verse 13), a biblical expression that normally refers to a prophetic oracle. Paul sees himself as commissioned to speak this word, like the prophets before him. Thus, when Paul spoke, it was God speaking, just as He had spoken through Moses or Isaiah.
Paul feels the need to remind the Thessalonians of this. There is nothing here to suggest that the sense of being called and chosen involved an overwhelming experience not open to doubt. Otherwise it would not have been necessary for Paul to keep reminding the Thessalonians of the truth of their call and election.
It is important, furthermore, to observe that nowhere does Holy Scripture speak of call and election in a negative way, as though God deliberately chose not to call some human beings to salvation—as though some human beings were somehow outside of God’s love and care. Call and election are always spoken of in positive terms in Holy Scripture, never negative terms.
Luke 21:20-28: Comparing this text to its parallels in Mark and Matthew, we observe that Luke’s description of the siege and fall of Jerusalem is portrayed simply an historical event that is to come. It seems to be the case that Luke (unlike Mark) was written after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. The end of the world, however, had not accompanied that event.
Consequently, in Luke the Lord’s prophecy of this event is plainly spoken, and simply as a matter of fact. It is not loaded with eschatological significance, not regarded as an immediate harbinger of the final times. ?We note in particular Luke’s omission of the Abomination of Desolation (cf. Mark 13:14; Daniel 9:27; 12:11; 1 Maccabees 1:57).
When the invading Roman legions arrive to besiege the city, flight is the only rational response, because Jerusalem will offer no protection to those who remain there (verses 21-22).
As a point of history, before the siege was established, the Christians in Jerusalem fled eastward across the Jordan to Pella (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3). Warned by Jesus’ prophecy of the city’s fall, they did not stay around to defend it. Indeed, they felt no special loyalty to the very city that had rejected the Messiah, certainly not a level of loyalty that would prompt them to stay and defend the place against a doom they knew to be inevitable.
That decision of the Jerusalem Christians, which separated them from so many of their countrymen, doubtless contributed to the further alienation of Christians and Jews.
How much time will elapse between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world? Only God knows, and Holy Scripture discourages believers from speculating on the point. However long this period endures, the time must be spent in evangelizing the world, “until the times of the nations has been fulfilled.”