Friday, June 17
Leviticus 7: All the blood sacrifices in this chapter (and 6:24-30) have the identical ritual structure, consisting in the mactation of the animal, the use of the sacrificial blood for atonement, the burning of the animal’s flesh on the altar, and the subsequent ritual meal of meat and grain. It is significant that the meal, since it is a means of communion with God in grace, follows the rite of blood atonement.
The Christian reader will see in this ritual the outline of theological truth. These ritual sacrifices, all fulfilled as prophecy in the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 7:27; 10:12), indicate that communion with God in Christ requires the shedding of His blood for atonement. The sacrifice of the cross, that is to say, and of Christ’s entrance into the holy place with His sacrificial blood is necessary for our sharing in His Eucharistic meal.
Whereas in the Old Testament sacrifices of communion a strict distinction was made between priests and other Israelites with respect to this participation, no such distinction is made in the Eucharist of the New Testament. All Christians participate in the same Sacred Food. Through this Eucharistic meal, believers become the holy people of God. The Food itself is the means of this communion in grace. It is through this physical Food of this sacrificial meal that the Church is rendered holy.
Acts 4:1-12: We now come to the first arrest of Christians and their first trial before the Sanhedrin. There was surely reason for concern on the part of the Sanhedrin, because the number of Christian converts, as a result of Peter’s brief sermon, had grown dramatically (verse 4). There will ensue a mounting local persecution, leading to the dispersal of the believers at the beginning of Chapter 8.
The Sadducees, direct successors of those “sons of Zadok” that we read about in Ezekiel, are the first to be offended (verses 2,3,5,6; cf. also 5:17). Unlike the Pharisees, they did not believe in a doctrine of resurrection, so when the apostles are brought to trial, the Sadducees were careful not to mention why they had been arrested! The whole affair having begun, as we saw, in late afternoon, it is now too late for court business, so the apostles are thrown in jail for the night (verse3).
The chief leaders of the Sadducees, the priests Annas and Caiphas, had been the instigators of the trial of Jesus, and now two of His apostles will appear before the same group. As on Pentecost day, Peter is “full of the Holy Spirit” (verse 8), and his brief testimony, which includes the exegesis of a Psalm verse (cf. Luke 20:17 as well), summarizes his Pentecost sermon. It was also a Psalm verse, by the way, to which Peter would return several years later (cf. 1 Peter 2:7).
Saturday, June 18
Leviticus 8: Here begin three chapters (8-10) of stories describing especially the institution of Israel’s priesthood and the inauguration of its priestly worship. This narrative section thus describes various divine commands received by Moses in Exodus 29 and 40. Central to this whole section is the theophany in 9:23-24.
This long account proceeds in three steps, each developed in an individual chapter. Thus, chapter 8 tells of the consecration of Israel’s priests, chapter 9 describes the inauguration of the priestly worship, and chapter 10 narrates the sacrilege and death of two priests that failed in their responsibilities. This last story prompts the pronouncement of further rules to prevent the repetition of such a tragedy.
Chapter 8, which describes the priestly ordination of Aaron and his sons, refers to the Tabernacle (moshken–verse 10; cf. 15:31; 17:4; 26:11). This portable shrine had two parts: the outer part, which is to be identified with the “tent of meeting,” and the inner part, commonly called the “holy of holies” (Hebrews 9:2-3).
Moses was not a priest, but in this chapter we see him, as mediator of the Covenant, ordaining the priests. All priestly ordinations in the Israelite religion go back to what Moses did in this chapter.
We observe that the ordination lasted, like Creation, a whole week (verses 33,35; 12:2; 13:4,5,21,26,31,33,50,54; 14:8,38; 15:13,19,24,28). The number seven, the standard biblical number symbolizing perfection, is important to this chapter. Thus, for instance, some version of the formula “as the Lord commanded” is found here seven times (verses 4,9,13,17,21,29,36). That is to say, the rite of ordination required seven acts of obedience. In fact, this ordination rite follows exactly—to the letter—what was prescribed for ordinations in Exodus 29.
The vestments of the priesthood were sacramental, inasmuch as they not only symbolized the office and authority of the priests, but also were the means through which that office and authority were conferred. The investiture of the priests was part of the consecratory act itself (verses 7-9; Ezekiel 44:19-20).
Also essential to the ordination was the oil with which the priests, the altar, and its instruments were consecrated (verses 10-12). This oil, mixed with the sacrificial blood (verse 30), also consecrated the priestly vestments. The mixing of oil and blood is not found in the Bible except in the rite of ordination.
There seems to be a detailed symbolism in the smearing of the sacrificial blood on the right earlobes, thumbs, and big toes of the priests. These latter were to be consecrated in their obedient hearing of God’s Word, their executing of the ministries through their hands, and their walking into the holy place.
The priestly ordination is called a “fulfillment” (milu’im), evidently indicating that all the prescriptions of the ritual were carried out to perfection (and thus were “valid”). The Septuagint translated this word literally as teleiosis, “perfection” (verses 22,28,31,33; cf. 7:37; Exodus 29:22,26,27,31,34), and the normal Greek verb meaning “to ordain” as teleio, “to perfect” (verse 33; 16:32; 21:10; Exodus 29:9,29,33,35; Numbers 3:3).
It is theologically significant that this same verb is used in the Epistle to the Hebrews to designate the priesthood of Christ (2:10; 5:9; 7:28). It is also the verb used of Christians, who by baptism share in the priesthood of Christ (9:9; 10:14; cf 7:11,19). Consecrated by Jesus’ own sacrificial blood (9:13; 10:22; cf 1 Peter 1:2), they can “approach” or “draw near” to the true sanctuary of which He is the High Priest (4:16; 7:19,25; 10:1,22).
Sunday, June 19
Leviticus 9: We come now to this book’s first reference to the “eighth day” (verse 1), a symbolic time that will become a virtual theme in Leviticus (12:3;14:1023;14:14,29; 22:27; 23:36,39). Because seven days represents the work (and rest) associated with Creation, the eighth day signifies the beginning of history, the work of man that follows the work of God. It is the new day of the new week. Hence it represents renewal.
For this reason, it is the day that separates the Israelite from the rest of the human race. As all men were created during the first week, so the sons of the Covenant are created on the first day of the second week. Hence, circumcision takes place on the eighth day.
If this eighth day was so important for the Jew, how much more for the Christian! The eighth day, after all, is Sunday, and “Sunday seems to be an image of the age to come. Notice that although Sunday is the beginning of days, Moses did not call it the first day, but one day: ‘And there was evening and there was morning, one day,’ because this day would recur many times. Therefore ‘one’ and ‘eight’ are the same, and the ‘one’ day refers to itself and to the ‘eighth’ day. Even the Psalmist follows this custom in certain titles of the psalms [e.g., Psalms 6 and 12 in the LXX]. This day foreshadows the state that is to follow the present age, a day without sunset, nightfall, or succession, an age that does not grow old or come to an end” (St. Basil, On the Holy Spirit 27.66).
For this same reason, major feast days in the Christian Church often last eight days—-what we call an “octave.” Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas come to mind. One likewise recalls that the traditional baptismal fonts of the Church are commonly octagonal, in accordance with the number eight associated with Baptism, the beginning of the new life (cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21).
The whole congregation “approaches” (qarab) and “takes its stand” (‘amad before God (verse 5). To “approach” or “draw nigh” suggests the intimacy of worship (cf. Hebrews 10:22), whereas “standing” indicates the respect due to the majesty of God. The latter word, for example, is used with respect to throne rooms (cf. 1 Kings 1:28). The priest always stands before God (Deuteronomy 10:8; 2 Chronicles 29:11; Hebrews 10:11).
This chapter twice refers to “the glory of the Lord” (verses 6,23), the divine radiance that prompts the respect and reverence indicated by the “standing” of verse 5. Israel has beheld this divine glory in the desert (Exodus 16:7,10), on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:18,22), and at the consecration of the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35), which will become the regular place of its appearance (Numbers 14:10; 16:19,42; 20:6).
Monday, June 20
Leviticus 10: The prohibition against drinking alcohol prior to divine services (verse 8) immediately follows the tragic account of Nadab and Abihu (verses 1-7), a fact suggesting that these two priests may have been intoxicated when they undertook the unauthorized liturgical rite that cost them their lives.
In any case this latter incident discloses the danger inherent in divine worship. This probably needs to be emphasized, because some of those who drive off to church each Sunday morning seem not to be aware that they are placing their very souls in peril. (Otherwise they would be dressed with modesty and dignity, arrive on time, stay until the service is over, and avoid distraction and gossip while they are in church. Indeed, sometimes the behavior of the clergy up in the sanctuary is even worse.)
Worship, after all, is encounter with God, and God is anything but safe. Throughout Holy Scripture, therefore, we find the theme of danger with respect to the things of God, particularly the rites and appointments associated with the divine worship. Nowhere in Holy Scripture is worship portrayed as completely safe.
In this sense biblical worship is nearly the opposite of “seeker friendly,” the adjective describing worship along lines dictated by the religious tastes of the uninitiated, worldly, unrepentant, and spiritually immature folks who are likely to drop in at church on Sunday morning.
Those that would draw near to God must resolve to feel uncomfortable (very much like Moses, when he was commanded to take off his shoes at the burning bush), at least until they become accustomed to the discipline of the worship. The experience of the holiness of the true God is not native to man (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; Hebrews 12:28-29).
These reflections pertain with special intensity to those charged with the oversight of divine worship, the stewards who safeguard the sacred mysteries (1 Corinthians 4:1-5; 6:9-11; Revelation 22:14-15). It is instructive to observe that St. Paul warns such men (for Holy Scripture never envisions women in this ministry) especially against the evils attendant on the drinking of alcohol (1 Timothy 3:3; 2 Timothy 4:5).
Tuesday, June 21
Leviticus 11: We come now to five chapters specifying many rules concerning ritual purity and impurity. These rules form a logical sequence after the story of Nadab and Abihu, who perished from their thoughtlessness about the holiness required in God’s true worship. They also prepare the reader for the section on Yom Kippur (chapter 16), which provides a general rite of purification. These five chapters, then, join Yom Kippur back to the tragedy of Nadab and Abihu.
This section, which interrupts the narrative of Leviticus, is sometimes called the Manual of Purity. Its structure consists of six divine revelations: four to Moses and Aaron (11:1; 13;1; 14:33; 15:1), and two to Moses alone (12:1; 14:1). In these three instances, when the subject matter of the revelation is intended for the general instruction of the Israelites as God’s holy people, Moses is instructed to hand the material on to them (11:2; 12:2; 15:2). Each of these revelations concludes with a summation about the material contained (11:46-47; 12:7; 13:59; 14:32,54-57; 15:32-33). The final revelation ends with a general summary (15:31).
This first chapter deals with the difference between “clean” and “unclean” meats, both adjectives being understood in a ritual and cultic sense. The distinguishing characteristics of these two classifications were probably more obvious at the time than they are to us, but this consideration is not important to the theology of the chapter. The governing principle is that the Israelites are to be governed, even in their diet, by distinctions that do not govern the rest of mankind. This restricted diet was a sign of the holiness of God’s people. Why God chose to make one animal “clean” and “another” unclean is, after all, a matter that can safely be left to God.
That principle established, it is worth reflecting on the Bible’s general classification of the animal world into wild, tame, and swarming (Genesis 1:26). Only the tame animals, the domesticated animals, properly share in man’s daily life. Some of these could be used for food (sheep, cattle), others for labor (horses, oxen). No animal could be used for both.
Among wild animals, preference is shown for animals that feed on grass, not those that feed on flesh. Those animals that feed on carrion (vultures, bottom-feeder fish) are unclean.
First, Gospel purity is of a more spiritual nature. This is why the determining factor for dietary purity in the Christian Church is related to demon worship (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:21).
Second, the distinction between Israelite and Gentile, a distinction expressed in these ancient dietary laws, is destroyed by the common source of holiness, which is the sanctifying blood of Christ.
Wednesday, June 22
Leviticus 12: Among all the purification rules in Leviticus, those contained in this shortest chapter of the book are probably most offensive to modern sensibilities. It is very difficult for us today to think of childbirth as “defiling.”
If we look a bit more deeply into the subject, however, the meaning of these prescriptions will become clearer. The defilement involved here has to do with the shedding of blood, which is normal in childbirth. It is the impurity of the bloodshed that must be purified.
This point will perhaps be clearer if we remember how we speak of “purifying” the chalice after everyone has received Holy Communion. We use this expression even though what must be “purified” from the Eucharistic chalice is the blood of Christ! That is to say, the word “purification,” used in a ritual context, does not necessarily mean that something is dirty. The woman is no more “defiled” by childbirth than the chalice is defiled by the Blessed Sacrament. In matters of ritual, the word “purify” means something different.
We recall that the last of the Queen Mothers of Judah was subject to the prescriptions contained in this chapter (Luke 2:22-24). The Holy Family being poor, the redemption in this case was effected by two small birds, not by the customary lamb (verse 8; Exodus 13:2,12; Nehemiah 10:36).
With respect to the abysmal (but apparently widespread) custom of requiring Christian women nowadays to observe forty days of seclusion and absence from the worship of the Church following childbirth, one hardly knows whether to weep or just feel embarrassed. Like the other prescriptions in Leviticus, such rules were for those living under the old law, not the Gospel. The continued value of such prescriptions lies entirely in their prophetic quality, not in their practical application to Christians.
John 19:28-37: The description of the Savior's death in the Gospel of John shows every sign of conveying the testimony of an eyewitness. Indeed, the Sacred Text itself calls attention to the first-hand reliability of this testimony: "And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe" (John 19:35). John alone includes the gentle detail, “And bowing his head . . .” (19:30).
Two details in John's testimony seem worthy of special examination.
First, in its description of the moment Jesus died, John's very suggestive wording is unique among the four evangelists: paredoken to pnevma (John 19:30). Generally, alas, that uniqueness is obscured in the standard English translations. They usually run something like this: "And bowing his head, he gave up his spirit" (NKJV). I confess that I have not found an English translation that substantially differs from this.
Such translations are seriously inadequate. Paredoken to pnevma, wrote John. To translate this as "he gave up his spirit" deprives the sentence of most of its meaning. Taken literally (which is surely the proper way to take him), John affirms, rather, that Jesus "handed over the Spirit."
That is to say, the very breath, pnevma, with which Jesus expired on the Cross becomes for John the symbol and transmission of the Holy Spirit that he confers on the Church gathered beneath his cross. Support for this interpretation is found in the risen Lord's action and words to the apostles in the upper room in John 20:22, "He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit (labete Pnevma Hagion).'"
Consequently, John's description of the death of Jesus—"He handed over the Spirit"—portrays the Holy Spirit as being transmitted from the body of the Savior hanging in sacrifice on the altar of the Cross. It is John's way of affirming that the mission of the Holy Spirit is intimately and inseparably connected with the event of the Cross. The Spirit flows from his flesh.
This interpretation, besides being faithful to the literal sense of the verb (paredoken, “he handed over”), is consonant with John's theology as a whole. It was the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus—what John calls his glorification—that permitted the Holy Spirit to be poured out on the Church. John said earlier, "the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39).
Second, John records another detail of the scene not mentioned by the other evangelists: "But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out" (19:34).
Taken together, then, John speaks of three things issuing forth from the immolated body of the Savior: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These things have to do with the gathering of the Church at the foot of the Cross, because this is the place where Jesus’ identity is truly known: "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM" (John 8:28).
These three components—the Spirit, the water, and the blood—appear also in the cover letter for John's Gospel as the "three witnesses" of the Christian mystery: "And there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are one" (1 John 5:8).
Speaking of the gathering of the Church at the foot of the Cross, Jesus had declared, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." John went on to comment, "He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die" (John 12:32-33).
Thursday, June 23
Leviticus 13: Modern readers, sensitive to the dangers of infection, will be more kindly disposed toward the prescriptions in this chapter, which have to do with various skin diseases, most of which are covered in the Bible by the noun “leprosy.” These, too, “defile” a person, in the sense of rendering inappropriate his participation in the congregation’s sacred worship.
The priests are authorized to declare when such an affliction has been healed (Luke 17:14).
Jesus’ curing of such people was one of the signs by which His contemporaries could recognize Him as the Messiah (Matthew 8:3; 11:5; Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13; 7:22). Indeed, after curing these lepers Jesus goes on to commission His apostles to do the same (Matthew 10:8). The curing of leprosy, then, becomes one of the great symbols of the power of the Gospel itself.
The real healing, however, takes place when Jesus Himself becomes, as it were, a leper in order to take away the sins of the human race (Isaiah 53 passim).
John 19:38-42: The Pharisee Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews” and “a teacher of Israel,” appears only three times in the New Testament. Each time Nicodemus appears in St. John’s Gospel, it is always in the context of the Lord’s redemptive death: First, it was to Nicodemus that Jesus made His earliest explicit reference to His coming crucifixion: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (3:14–16).
John next speaks of Nicodemus as the sole member of the Sanhedrin to raise his voice against the plot to take Jesus’ life (7:45–52).
We do not hear of Nicodemus again until immediately after the death of Jesus, who was, at last, “lifted up” on Golgotha. In this third instance, Nicodemus appears as the companion of Joseph of Arimathea, assisting him in the Lord’s burial: “And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury” (19:39–40). We observe that John is careful to link this final appearance of Nicodemus back to the first.
Friday, June 24
Leviticus 14: We come now to purification from blights, both blights of the flesh and blights of the home.
With respect to the first (verses 1-32), we have already considered its significance in our reflections on leprosy in the previous chapter.
The blights on human flesh lead to a consideration of the blights on human homes (verses 33-57). This sequence is both logical and symbolic. As a person’s social relationships are “defiled” by his appearance, the same is true for the appearance of his home. The rules for each, accordingly, are similar.
In this legislation we perceive a relation between the Israelite’s house and the house of God. This relation is continued in the New Testament, where Jesus enters the homes that would receive him (Mark 2:14-15; 14:3; Luke 19:9).
Indeed, the apostolic ministry itself was directed to the home. This truth is very clear in the Gospels: “And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace [shalom] come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace [shalom] return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet” (Matthew 10:12-14). It was to homes, to households, that the authority of the Apostles was sent.
A Christian home is a home where the Apostles are invited in and well received. A Christian home is a household where the apostolic authority holds sway, and this fact proposes a challenge for al our homes. Do we live in households that are governed by the presence of the Apostles? Or are our homes places where the apostolic authority is not admitted? When the Apostle bids shalom to our homes, does that greeting abide therein, or does it return?
The authority and teaching of the Apostles is not just something to be found in church. After all, Christians spend very little of their time at church. Indeed, we would be subject to apostolic authority on a few hours each week if we found it only in church. In the Gospels, however, the Apostles are chiefly sent to homes, places where people actually live.
This truth poses certain questions for each household: “In what measure does the authority of the Apostles actually live and prevail in my home? Do the behavior and conversation in my home reflect the active presence of the Apostles? Do the values and entertainment in my home manifest and respect the authority of the Apostles? Worse yet, do we live in homes where the Apostles have already left in disgust and shaken the very dust from their feet?
In this respect the Apostles replace the Old Testament priests in their capacity of “home inspectors.”