Friday, December 31

John 1:35-42: Only in this Gospel do we learn that Jesus’ first disciples had been disciples of John the Baptist.

This Gospel reading presents us with the two quite different brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew. Even though Peter often served as a spokesman for the other Apostles, one has the impression that he sometimes went out of his way to distinguish himself, to set himself apart, from the rest of the apostles — “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be” (Mark 1:29). A consummate alpha personality, Peter simply cannot be overlooked; like the very sun, a boisterous giant rejoicing to run his course, there is nothing hidden from his heat.

Andrew, on the contrary, appears not to draw attention to himself but serves entirely as a conduit for others to come to the Lord. Even in this scene that prompts the Church to remember him as the first-called, he immediately goes to share his blessing with his sibling. It is no wonder that he was known among the first Christians simply as “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.” There is more attention given to Andrew in this Gospel than in the other three.

In verse 35 we arrive at the “third day” of the week of the New Creation.

We observe that John translates the word “rabbi,” something he would not do if he had only Jewish readers in mind (verse 38). The same is true for the names “Messiah” (verse 41) and “Kephas” (verse 42).

These things happened “about the tenth hour,” which would be about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The events in this next chapter took place the next day.

Psalm 46 (Greek and Latin 45): The psalm’s structure is very easy to perceive, its two strophes each ending in the refrain, “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our helper.” The wording of this refrain accentuates what we may call its ecclesiological theme; that is to say, the voice in this psalm is the voice of the Church, the holy city, which is the dwelling place of God. Hence the importance of the first person plural all through this psalm: “we,” “us,” and “our.” God is “our” refuge and strength, “we” shall not fear, The Lord of hosts is with “us,” and so forth. This is the voice of God’s people, the same voice that prays, “Our Father.”

This is no modest or understated theme in Holy Scripture, this image of God’s people as a holy city, the Church. Thus our psalm touches the rest of the Bible at a hundred points, all the way to the Book of Revelation, where John’s final vision is one of the holy city which is the definitive dwelling place of God: “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.”

As in the Book of Revelation, our psalm speaks of a stream of living water in connection with the holy city: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.” This stream is at once the primeval river of Paradise, the holy font of Baptism and the water of eternal life.

Saturday, January 1

Genesis 1: No part of creation is an emanation of the divine being. Nothing of God's essence has passed into what He has made. Not only is the human brain created from nothing, but also the human intellect that uses that brain; and not only the human intellect but also the rational principles by which that intellect functions. The very laws of logic have been created from nothingness. According to a summary of St. Bonaventure, "the world was produced in being, and not only according to itself as a whole, but also according to its intrinsic principles (sed etiam secundum sua intrinseca principia), which were not produced from other things but from nothing" (On the Sentences 2.1.1.1). God's creating act, moreover, is the only thing that separates all things from nothing. No creature is adequately considered, then, if it is considered only in se, in itself. Creatures do not have their being a se, of themselves. They are held in existence only because an immense and continuing act of love holds them in existence. All things that endure, endure because the Creator's hand sustains them in being. Each of us is held in existence by this same act of unspeakable love. We depend utterly on the sustained activity of the Creator, in whom we live and move and have our being. Even when I disobey God and stray from Him, God holds me in existence. Even when I insult Him and spit in His face, God's creating love preserves me in being. His hands ever fashion me and sustain me.

John 1:43-51: Here in John we arrive at “the next day” in our progress through this new week of a new Creation.

The Nathanael introduced here is clearly Bartholomew. The name Nathanael, after all, never appears in the Synoptic Gospels, and the name Bartholomew never appears in John. His full name was “Nathanael, son of Tholmai,” Indeed, in the Syriac text he is known as Bar Tholmai. He is normally named after Philip in the list of the Apostles (Mark 3:18).

Philip testifies to Nathanael that Jesus is the fulfillment of what was written in the Law and the Prophets (verse 45). This is the first time John explicitly speaks of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. This mention of Moses continues the attention given to him already in this chapter: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

When Nathanael approaches Jesus, the Lord says of him, “Behold, truly, an Israelite in whom is no deceit!” Jesus is implicitly contrasting this son of Israel with the original Israel—namely, Jacob, in whom there was considerable deceit. Indeed, deceit was one of Jacob’s most obvious traits, as both Isaac and Laban could testify.

The allusion to Jacob is continued in the Lord’s conversation with Nathanael: “you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” This is a reference, of course, to the story of Jacob at Bethel, where he saw the angels of God ascending and descending at that holy place. Jesus thus identifies Himself as the new Bethel, “the house of God.” This idea will appear in the next chapter, when the Lord identifies His own body as the new temple.

Nathanael’s confession of faith forms a kind of climax to this chapter: Son of God, and King of Israel. Both of these titles will be taken up later in this Gospel. Sunday, January 2 Genesis 2: It is from this first man, Adam, that the first woman is formed. More specifically, it is from the part of man closest to his heart, from the place where woman herself lives, at man’s side. But she comes from within him; when Adam sees her, he recognizes this “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” She is, as it were, part of him. The sexual attraction between men and women, in the eyes of the Bible, is metaphysical, having to do with an essential craving for inner wholeness (v. 24). Jesus will later on appeal to this truth as the basis for His prohibition of divorce (Mark 10:8–9; 1 Corinthians 6:16–17; Ephesians 5:31–32).

It also serves as the biblical argument against sexual activity apart from the marriage between a man and a woman. Any sexual activity that does not involve one man and one woman, married to one another, stands outside of the proper moral structure of human sexuality itself. This is one of the major applications of man’s transcendence over the animals.

Matthew 4:12-17: This is the first of three pericopes about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The next two stories are the calling of the first apostles at the Sea of Galilee (4:18-22) and the gathering of the great multitude (4:23-25) that will hear the Sermon on the Mount in the next chapter.

In the present text Matthew sets the stage for this Galilean ministry by showing it as a fulfillment of prophecy, specifically Isaiah 9:1-2. This prophecy, having to do with Gentiles finding the light, takes up the same theme as the earlier story of the pagan Magi who followed the star.

This early emphasis on the Galilean ministry is important to the structure of Matthew. At the end of his Gospel (in stark contrast to Luke) the revelation of the risen Christ to the Church will take place in this same “Galilee of the Gentiles” (28:7,10,16). Matthew’s story of Jesus ministry thus begins and ends in Galilee, the place where Jews and Gentiles live together. Galilee is thus an image of the Church.

Monday, January 3

Genesis 3: Even as God drives Adam and Eve from the garden, He provides better clothing for them (v. 21). This is important. Man’s sin created the problem of nakedness, and hence the solution of clothing, as described here in chapter 3. In the Bible’s final book, nonetheless, when man’s sin has in every last sense been conquered, we do not see the human race returned to the nakedness of its primitive, unfallen state. The new man in Christ is clothed. We are described in the Book of Revelation as wearing the white robes of glory. Grace, that is to say, does more than reverse the effects of sin; it transforms the effects of sin. Our new innocence in Christ is not to be identified as simply the earlier innocence of Adam. The effect of sin is not merely removed; it is assumed into a more ample transformation.

First Corinthians 15: 50-58: Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 15 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).

Tuesday, January 4

Matthew 4:18-25: The second pericope (18-22) is about the ministry in Galilee and the calling of the first Apostles. As fishermen, these follow a profession with a playful analogy with the ministry of the Church. That is, they become “fishers of men,” drawing the whole world into the Holy Spirit’s net, which is the Church. In the third Galilean pericope (23-25), the fishing is extended to the larger region of the Decapolis and Syria. The Church’s fishing net is being spread to cover a larger area.

This text, found early in Matthew, is a step in preparation of the Great Commission, given in his final chapter, about the disciplizing of “all nations.” The people are gathering here, of course, to hear the Sermon on the Mount, which will fill the next three chapters of Matthew.

Genesis 4: The key to the discernment of the first murder is the prior moral fissure dividing these two men, Cain and Abel. Murder was the fruit, not the root, of Cain’s offense. St. John tells us, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Antecedent to the killing itself, then, the killer was already “of the wicked one” (1 John 3:12). According to Theophilus of Antioch in the second century, it was Satan who “moved his brother, called Cain, and made him kill his brother Abel. And thus the beginning of death [arche thanatou] came into this world” (To Autolycus 2.29). In the following century, the Alexandrian Origen remarked, “evil did not begin in Cain when he slew his brother.” On the contrary, he said, he was a bad man all along, and “God read his heart.” It was simply the case that Cain’s “evil came into view [eis phaneron elthen] when he slew Abel” (On Prayer 29.18).

If Adam is the Old Testament’s first type (typos) of the Christ to come (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45), the death of Abel is rightly regarded as the first foreshadowing sign of Christ’s death on the Cross. Jesus Himself laid the foundation for this symbolism by declaring that “all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel,” would come upon the generation of those who crucified Him (Matthew 23:35).

The author of Hebrews, who described Abel’s blood crying out to God from the earth, went on to invoke this same image with respect to the blood of Jesus. Jesus’ blood, he wrote, “speaks better than that of Abel” (12:24). Whereas Abel’s blood cried out demanding revenge, the blood of Jesus, who is called here “the Mediator of the new covenant,” invokes the divine mercy for sinners. Such is the blood in which we have access to “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22).

Matthew 5:1–12: The Sermon on the Mount begins with two very solemn verses, as though to allow everyone on the hillside to sit down and get settled for a long discourse. The Sermon functions in more than one way to serve the structure of Matthew’s entire composition. For example, taking place on a mountain at the very beginning of the Lord’s ministry, it is the initial component of a parallel with the mountain at the end of the Gospel, the mountain from which Jesus sent the Apostles to teach what he had taught (28:20).

Wednesday, January 5

Genesis 5: In this first biblical genealogy we draw special attention to the figure of Enoch. The Epistle to the Hebrews, after it gives its initial definition of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1), begins the famous list of the “great cloud of witnesses” (12:1), those “elders” who “obtained a good testimony” by exemplifying such faith (11:2). Early among these is Enoch.

Living before Noah, Abraham, and Moses, Enoch was participant in none of the covenants associated with these men. Not a single line of Holy Scripture was yet written for him to read. Much less did Enoch ever hear the message of salvation preached by the apostles.

Yet, he was so pleasing to God by his faith as to be snatched away before his time, not suffering that common lot of death from which the Almighty spared not even His own Son.

What, exactly, did Enoch believe, that he should be such a champion of faith, an example for the Church until the end of time? The Epistle to the Hebrews explains: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6). This was the sum total of all that Enoch’s faith told Him—God’s existence and his own duty to seek God in order to obtain the singular blessing that Holy Scripture ascribes to him. It is the Bible’s portrayal of Enoch, then, that affords us some hope for the salvation of those millions of human beings who must pass their lives on that bare minimum of theological information, for which Enoch rendered such a marvelous account.

Matthew 5:13–20: In verse 11 the address of Jesus shifted from the third to the second person: “Blessed are you.” The addressed party is the Church—or rather, the Christians—inasmuch as the number of the address is plural. That plural, addressed to Christians, is maintained in the verses now under consideration: “You are the salt of the earth,” this section begins, and it ends, “for I say to you (verse 20).

We start with the metaphors of salt and light, both of them referring to Christians. In each case the beneficiary of these two blessings is the earth (ge) or World (kosmos), meaning those who are not Christians (verse 13). Salt and light describe the very people that the world persecutes and maligns (verses 11–12). No amount of persecution justifies the forfeiture of the Christian vocation to be salt and light to the rest of humanity. Neither salt nor light exists for itself. Should Christians fail in this vocation, they are no longer of any use. They are to be “thrown out,” like the tares (13:40) and the inedible fish (13:48).

The metaphor of light on a lamp stand is transformed into a city seated on an acropolis, where it is visible to everyone (verse 14). Neither can Christians be concealed if they do the “good works” (ta kala erga) that their heavenly Father expects of them (verse 16). Those who see these good works belong to the same “earth” or “world” that persecutes the Christians. The world is to be enlightened by the very people it persecutes.

What Matthew has in mind here is the Christian vocation to holiness, by which the world is instructed in the ways of God. This holiness, according to the present passage, pertains to the missionary mandate of the Church. It is the way the Church shares the Gospel with “all nations” (28:19–20). This is the light that shines on those sitting in darkness (4:16).

Thursday, January 6

Genesis 6: The Deluge account begins with a description of a world full of sin (vv. 1–5, 11–13), ending with God’s sorrow at having made man and His resolve to destroy man from the earth (vv. 6–7). Noah alone has pleased God (v. 8), so God will spare Noah and his family. God commands Noah to build the ark, and He remains patient a while longer while the ark is being constructed (1 Peter 3:20).

Then Noah and his family wait quietly in the ark for seven days, until the rains come. The rains come “after seven days” (v. 10), which is to say, on the eighth day. The number seven, reminiscent of the week of Creation, signifies the old world, whereas the number eight serves as a symbol of the New Creation. In the second century, St. Justin Martyr remarked that “the mystery of saved men happened in the Deluge, because righteous Noah, along with other human beings at the Deluge—namely, his own wife, his three children, and the wives of his sons—who were eight persons in number, contained a symbol of the number of the eighth day in which our Christ appeared, having risen from the dead” Dialogue with Trypho 138.1).

Matthew 2:1-12: There is an important correspondence between the story of the Magi and the account of the Great Commission; namely, the theme of the Church’s universal calling.

Whereas Matthew ends his story with the Apostles being sent forth with the command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (28:19), he begins his whole account with a kind of foreshadowing of that final mission by the arrival of the Magi, those wise searchers from the East who come to adore the newborn King of Israel. These two passages, then, thus embrace Matthew’s entire story of Jesus.

There is more suggested by the juxtaposition of these parallel texts, however; for the very purpose of the Great Commission is to transform the whole of humanity as the rightful heirs of the Magi. Like the stars themselves, the Apostles are sent forth to lead all nations into that path first followed by the wise men from the East.

Indeed, St. Paul compared the Apostles to those very heavens that “declare the glory of God,” quoting in their regard the Psalmist’s affirmation that “Their line has gone out through all the earth, / And their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 18 [19]:4; Romans 10:18). The stars and the Apostles proclaim the same universal message, and that message is the Gospel.

Although the Magi were instructed by what they read in those heavens that ‘declare the glory of God’, they did not pursue their quest among the stars but upon the earth. They found the answer to their quest, that is to say, in a particular place and at a particular time. They accepted the spatial/temporal, fleshly limitations that God’s Son assumed when He took on our fleshly existence.

Friday, January 7

Genesis 7: Noah not only lived in righteousness; he also preached righteousness to his contemporaries. The Apostle Peter referred to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), and late in the first century Clement of Rome wrote that “Noah preached repentance, and those who heeded him were saved” (Epistle to the Corinthians 7.6). Evidently, however, their number included only members of his own family. There are times when a man may consider himself fortunate if he can bring about the conversion even of his children!

Unlike Noah’s contemporaries, we ourselves hearken to his preaching. That is to say, we submit to this new baptismal flood because we repent at the witness of Noah. Baptism presupposes and requires this repentance of our sins, this conversion of our hearts to the apostolic word of Noah. In repentance we plunge ourselves into the deeper mystery of Noah’s flood, which is the death and Resurrection of Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:3; Colossians 2:12).

Matthew 3:1-12: Unlike the gospels of Mark and Luke, Matthew portrays John the Baptist as proclaiming the proximity of the Kingdom (3:2). In thus regarding the preaching of John as the beginning of the Gospel (cf. 11:13), Matthew’s perspective matches that of the earliest apostolic proclamation (cf. Acts 1:22; 10:37).

Even though the Sadducees and Pharisees were two distinct groups, often hostile to one another, Matthew here lumps them together (verse 7) for the first of five times. They are mentioned together because of their common opposition to Jesus. In this text, John is giving them an initial warning to repent.

The tense and mode used in this warning to repent are the aorist imperative, which means “repent” in the sense, not of continuing action, but of decisive action: “Do it!” It is the decisive conversion John has in mind, rather than an attitude or habit.

Even as an act of decision, however, the grace of repentance is not necessarily a once-saved-always-saved sort of thing. This truth is especially borne out in Revelation, where in all four instances the command "Repent!" is spoken to believers themselves, specifically the Christians in the churches at Ephesus, Pergamos, Sardis, and Laodicea (2:5,16; 3:3,19). When Christians start to think and act like unbelievers they, too, must be summoned to repentance, and exactly the same form of the command covers both cases.

As a matter of fact, the theme of repentance appears more frequently in Revelation's letters to the seven churches than anywhere else. Of the 34 times that the New Testament has the verb metanoiein, eight are found in Chapters 2-3 of Revelation, all of them in reference to Christian believers. This is easily the highest concentration of the verb in the New Testament. That is to say, Christians themselves are more often called to repentance than anyone else!