Friday, April 25
Ezekiel 6: The prophet, standing in Babylon, faces westward, the direction of Israel, to pronounce this oracle of doom. The threefold destruction predicted here (sword, famine, and pestilence) stands parallel to the three portions of Ezekiel’s shaved hair and beard in the previous chapter, as does the prophecy of a remnant that will be delivered.
Whereas Jerusalem was being addressed in Chapter 5, the present chapter pertains rather to the rural areas of Israel, the hills and valleys. The immediate listeners to this oracle, however, are those Israelites who have already been brought to captivity in Babylon. It is they who must take warning, for they will soon see God’s judgment on idolatry.
Idolatry—the worship of whatever is not the true God—is the root sin against which all the Lord’s interventions in history are directed. Since idolatry always involves human bondage, the Lord’s interventions are directed to deliverance from bondage. The Exodus itself set Israel free from the gods of Egypt.
Idolatry is the sin that is about to bring about the destruction of Judah, says Ezekiel, as well as Israel not so long before; idolatry is the reason that the masses of their population were carried into exile. Indeed, idolatry is itself a form of exile, an alienation from the true God.
1 Corinthians 15:20-34: Paul calls death “the final enemy.” Of Christ he says, “For he must reign, until he has put all enemies under his feet. The final enemy (eschatos echthros) will be disposed of—death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).
The present reign of Christ is described as forward–looking; there is an “until”: “He must reign until He has put all enemies under his feet.” The final defeat of death lies in the future.
This reign of Christ until the subjection of his enemies is the thesis that comes to St. Paul from the first line of Psalm 110: “Sit at My right hand until I subject your enemies as a footstool under your feet.”
A close comparison of the psalm verse with Paul’s actual citation of it, however, reveals a subtle but significant difference; namely, Paul’s insertion of the adjective “all”: “For he must reign until He has subjected all (pantas) enemies under his feet.”
In fact, the Apostle has more than one psalm in mind here. In accordance with an exegetical principle the Rabbis called gezarah shavah (similarity of expressions), St. Paul’s citation of Psalm 110 contains an allusion to Psalms 8:6 (LXX 8:7): “You have set him over the works of Your hands, having subjected all things (panta) under his feet.”
In joining these two psalms in the same citation, Paul united two Messianic themes. Whereas Psalm 110 refers to David/the Messiah, Psalm 8 is a reference to Adam, to whom God subjected all the other objects of His Creation (Genesis 1:28).
Saturday, April 26
Ezekiel 7: If the Bible likens good to a seed that grows, develops, and matures, the same is likewise true of evil. Like the enemy that Jesus described as sowing tares among the wheat, Ezekiel says that Israel is about to behold the blossoming and fruit of many years of evil sowing.
The scene of the coming judgment portrayed in this chapter is marked by the same cataclysmic finality that characterizes Jesus’ own predictions of the fall of Jerusalem. The “land” of Israel cursed in this chapter is to be understood in a geographical, not just a political, sense. That is, the very earth is cursed, as the ground is cursed in Genesis 3. Drawn from the earth, man pollutes that source by his accumulated sins. God’s patience is immense, but, as it relates to times and seasons, it is not infinite. The end has come, says Ezekiel. When God is “fed up,” there is nothing in this earth that can prevail against His judgment.
Mark 16:9-20: Because these final verses of the canonical text of Mark are found neither in the more reliable manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) nor in other ancient versions (Armenian, Georgian, etc.), it is reasonably conjectured that we have received them from a hand later than that of Mark. It would appear they were added by a copyist who felt that Mark 16:8 was too abrupt an ending, so he added these post-Resurrection appearances in order to make the ending of Mark more closely resemble the endings of the other gospels.
In fact, the components of this material is largely drawn from those sources: The story of Mary Magdalene (verses 9-11) is drawn from John and Luke; the account of the two journeying disciples (verses 12-13) is taken from Luke; the Great Commission (verses 14-18) is adapted from Matthew, Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles; and the Lord’s Ascension comes from Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.
These considerations, however, have to do solely with literary history, not theology. They impugn neither the divine inspiration nor the canonical authority of Mark 16:9-20, inasmuch as the Church has received this text as Holy Scripture.
Sunday, April 27
Ezekiel 8: This startling, detailed, and dramatic vision of Ezekiel occurred on September 17, 592 B.C. He is carried “in the Spirit” to Jerusalem to witness the abominations for which the city was to be punished with the wrath and the inevitability that we observed in the previous chapter. The material of this vision will occupy Ezekiel through Chapter 11, at the end of which he will be returned to Babylon. Prior to Jerusalem’s downfall in 586 many of the prophets fellow exiles in Babylon maintained the hope of returning home soon. The purpose of this and other visions of Ezekiel was to destroy such a hope by showing it to be groundless.
In this vision there are four scenes, each illustrating a discrete abomination in the temple. The first scene is at the north gate of the wall that separated the outer court of the temple from the outside world (8:3-6). (Ignore and omit the word “inner” from verse 3, in accord with the more accurate Greek text of the Septuagint. The received Hebrew text of this chapter is notoriously corrupt.) Ezekiel finds a pagan shrine in this place, an affront to the Lord’s presence in the temple.
In the second scene (8:7-13) Ezekiel goes through the wall of a chamber adjacent to the gate, where he finds Israel’s elders worshipping images of animals.
In the third scene (8:14f) he crosses the outer court toward the temple’s inner court. Not yet entering the latter, Ezekiel beholds Israelite women crying for the death of Tammuz, a Mesopotamian god of vegetation. Even this alien cult is found in God’s temple.
Finally, in the fourth scene (8:16-18), Ezekiel enters the inner court, where he discovers sun-worshippers. Israel’s idolatry is complete. These men have turned their backs to God and are giving adoration to a creature.
John 20:24-31: Thomas may have been something of a loner, which would explain why, when the risen Lord paid his first visit to the assembled Apostles, Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). One speculates that he may have gone off to get a better grip on himself. It had been a very tough week, after all. Just as Thomas had suspected it would, Jesus’ life ended in tragedy. This, the Apostle was sure, was the biggest tragedy he had ever seen.
Yet he was coping with it, somehow. Years of an inner docility to inevitable fate had schooled him in the discipline of endurance. Yes, he would get through this too. He was a man who could deal with misfortune and sorrow. Just don’t disturb Thomas with hope.
He returned to the other Apostles in the “upper room” that evening, having wrestled his soul into a quiet acquiescence. It was the first day of a new week. Thomas had faced down the disaster, and his control over his nerves was starting to return.
What Thomas had not anticipated, however, was that the other Apostles, during his absence, would completely lose their minds. “Well, Thomas,” one of them announced, “fine time to be gone. We have seen the Lord, and you just missed him!”
A whole week the risen Lord would make him wait, sharing that room with the ten other men to whom he had hurled his challenge:
Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
As each day passed, the case for skepticism was strengthened.
But then it happened. The room was suddenly filled with a great light. New evidence had arrived and stood now undeniable on the scene. Thomas sensed that his long-established pessimism was about to be shaken. He rose and faced the entering light. He saw the familiar face and recognized the familiar voice: “Peace to you!”
Monday, April 28
Ezekiel 9: The marking of the foreheads of the Remnant is a sort of renewal of the marking of the houses of the Chosen People in Egypt on Passover night.
Those thus marked will be spared on the day of wrath, for the simple reason that they “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in Jerusalem.” Sometimes the just man is left so powerless in this world that all he can do, in the face of overwhelming evil, is “sigh and groan.”
The temple offers no sanctuary from the punishment; those in the temple are the first to fall, because they have defiled God’s house. The divine judgment begins, then, not with the world, but with the household of God.
The seven heavenly figures — the scribe and the six executioners — are angelic figures representing God’s just will in what is about to transpire in Jerusalem. Revelation 7 is a very good text to read with this chapter, which is surely in part its literary inspiration.
Ephesians 4:1-6: Paul’s use of the word “one” seven times is significant, because in the Bible “seven” is the number of fullness and perfection. This text points, then, to the perfection of unity that must obtain in the Church of Jesus Christ. This is what Paul refers to here as “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
This perfection of unity, “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” is a gift of God, but the full context of the reference shows that considerable human effort is required for its maintenance. Thus St. Paul describes Christians as “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
That is to say, “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” does not take care of itself. It requires diligent maintenance: spoudazontes terein, “striving to guard.” This is a vigorous expression. The verb spoudazo indicates great effort, zeal, and struggle. The “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is something that must be worked at. The other verb, tereo, which means, “to guard,” indicates that “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is subject to attack. It can be undone and destroyed. Even as a gift from God, it cannot be simply presupposed and taken for granted. It requires a certain effort at vigilance.
Tuesday, April 29
Ezekiel 10: The wooden statues of the Cherubim, with their wings spread over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, were but symbols of the angels of the Presence, the heavenly Cherubim who serve to support the Throne of God.
Now Ezekiel sees these heavenly spirits themselves, and they are identical with the Four Living Creatures that he had beheld in his inaugural vision in Chapter 1, where they bore, as here, the Cloud of the divine Presence. They will appear again, of course, in Revelation 4.
The burning coals from within their whirling wheels, full of the divine holiness, are destructive of those whose brows have not been marked by the angelic scribe, who also appears again in this chapter.
Besides destroying the wicked, this divine fire purifies God’s loyal servants (cf. Isaiah 6:6f). As the chapter closes, the action moves to the east gate of the temple, facing the Mount of Olives. It is at this gate that Ezekiel will receive the two oracles in Chapter 11.
1 Peter 3:18-22: Peter speaks of Christ’s descent into hell, which took on so pronounced an emphasis in Christian faith and worship that it became an article in the Nicene Creed. Peter says that Christ “went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The relationship of Christian Baptism to the Flood and Noah’s Ark, found here explicitly for the first time, became a common trope in Christian biblical exegesis:
Righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the Deluge, that is, with his own wife, with his three sons, and with their three wives, all of them being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, whereon Christ appeared when he rose from the dead, first in power forever. For Christ, being the firstborn of every creature, became again the head of another race regenerated by himself through water, and faith, and wood, containing the mystery of Cross, even as Noah was saved by wood when he rode upon the waters with his family (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 138).
Wednesday, April 30
Ezekiel 11: The first oracle in this chapter addresses a slogan going around Jerusalem at the time, descriptive of the city’s coming destruction. The slaying of Jerusalem’s citizens, says the oracle, will ultimately be the fault of its leaders, not of the Babylonian besiegers. The latter are but instruments in the divine judgment.
The leaders back at Jerusalem planned big things for themselves, and their big plans are addressed in the second oracle. When Ezekiel and his other companions, including the cream of Jerusalem society and its most competent citizens, were taken hostage to Babylon in 597, some of those Israelites who remained in the Holy Land began to feel pretty good about their own prospects, now that the better rivals were gone. With respect to their brethren who had been carried away, they reflected: “Well, too bad for them, but that leaves more for us.”
The burden of this second oracle is to reassure those captives in Babylon that the Lord had not forgotten them and that He was determined to restore them. Indeed, it was on them that His coming blessings would fall, for their restoration is the substance of the great prophecy here about newness of heart, which becomes so important a theme in the New Testament (See especially Hebrews 8.)
As this chapter ends, the Cloud of the divine glory moves east onto the top of the Mount of Olives, and Ezekiel is restored to Babylon, where he narrates his visions and oracles to his companions in exile.
John 5:1-16: These verses introduce the Third Sign in John’s Gospel, the healing of the paralytic. John, having called our attention to the first two Signs, no longer feels the need to do so. He permits the reader to count them for himself.
John does not identify the feast in verse 1 (probably to be read without the definite article). One suspects that this mention of a Jewish feast day is inserted simply to explain why Jesus was in Jerusalem (after being in Galilee in the previous chapter).
The name of the pool was Bethzatha, or Bethsaida, or Bethesda. The pool may have had each of these names at one time or another. Even to this day, one can visit the pool (which, alas, is now completely stagnant and fetid) and see the five sides originally covered by porticoes. It is a trapezoid transected into two parts; these are the “five” sides. The pool is near the lovely medieval church of St. Anne.
It is also near the site of the ancient Sheep Gate, on the northern side of the city. John’s text has been expanded by an addition to verse 3 and the insertion of verse 4. Missing in the better textual witnesses, these later additions were intended to explain the conversation in verse 7.
Jesus heals the man with simply a word of command (verse 8). The observer does not actually witness the healing; he witnesses the results of it.
The mention of the Sabbath (verse 9) prepares for the controversy that ensues. This will also be the case later on, in the instance of the man born blind: “Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes” (9:14). These two instances of “Sabbath violation” in John remind us of numerous such instances in the Synoptic Gospels.
Thursday, May 1
Ezekiel 12: Once again Ezekiel is charged to act out an elaborate pantomime as a message for his fellow Israelites in exile. Whereas the previous such actions, in Chapters 4-5, had to do with the destruction of Jerusalem and the sufferings of her citizens, the present instance is concerned with the experience of the coming new exile of those who still remained back home.
When his fellow exiles ask him, “What are you doing?” (12:9), Ezekiel responds with a stirring oracle by way of explanation: To those Jewish exiles already in Babylon who are imagining that they may soon be returning to the land of Judah, Ezekiel is stressing the point, “You think this is exile? You haven’t seen anything yet!”
He emphasizes in particular the suffering destined for Zedekiah, the King of Judah. Ezekiel’s walking with covered face (“that you may not see the land”) is an eerie prophecy of the day when the Babylonians would gouge out the eyes of Zedekiah, so that the execution of his sons would be the last thing he saw in this world before going into exile (2 Kings 25:4-7; Jeremiah 39:4-7; 52:7-11).
In verse 17 the prophet begins yet another pantomime, this one much simpler, and in verses 21-28 Ezekiel is charged to challenge two more cynical slogans popular at the time. These slogans, concerned with apparently unfulfilled prophecies, will lead into his condemnation of false prophets in the next chapter.
John 5:16-30: There was a specific rabbinical prohibition against carrying a bed on the Sabbath. The man had obeyed Jesus. Presumably, if he had not taken up his pallet and walked, then he would not have been healed. That is to say, the man was obliged to choose between Jesus and the rabbinical understanding of the Torah. This is all the more remarkable, in that the man did not even know who Jesus was (verse 13).
There are two instances of paralysis when Jesus refers to the sins of the people he cures (cf. Mark 2:5). One is disposed to wonder if there is some special reason why the restorations of the paralytics are alone distinguished in this way. Though the Gospels do not specifically address the question, one is prompted to inquire if there is not, in this kind of disability, some feature particularly symbolic of sin. Is there perhaps some aspect of paralysis itself that serves as an allegory of sin, something about the affliction that narrates the properties of sin?
Friday, May 2
Ezekiel 13: This chapter contains an oracle against the false prophets (13:2-16) and an oracle against false prophetesses (verses 17-23). The major problem with all such folk is that they “prophesy out of their own minds” and “follow their own spirit” and “divined a lie.” Thus, grave spiritual harm befalls those who listen to their fantasies and follow their counsels.
Even though a wall is just about to fall, says Ezekiel, they daub it with whitewash to make it look new and secure. Well, the whole thing is about to come down, he warns, in spite of the false hopes raised by false prophets.
In his oracle against the false prophetesses, Ezekiel speaks of wristbands and headbands (if these things are, indeed, what these rare Hebrew words mean), evidently the paraphernalia of their rituals and incantations. We should probably think of these women as fortune-tellers, the sort of charlatans that are still among us. The prophet’s point here is that this sort of thing is not harmless; foolish individuals, who probably need sound counsel for important decisions, really do pay heed to such imposters, rather often to the harm of their souls. God will thwart the designs of these deceivers, says Ezekiel, by showing their predictions to be false.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13: Christians, in their baptism, enact a ritual replication of Israel’s passage through the Red Sea in the Exodus. After that “baptismal” passage, the Israelites experienced various temptations in the wilderness. The Apostle Paul, speaking of those ancient partakers of the Exodus, wrote that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized with Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
After that Exodus baptism, Paul went on, those primitive forefathers journeyed out to the wilderness, where they experienced temptation. The Apostle, reminding his readers that the Israelites did not fare well in those temptations (1 Corinthians 1:5-10), proceeded to draw a practical lesson for the Christian life:
Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:11 emphasis added).
That is to say, after their baptisms, Christians—and particularly the Corinthians!—are also going to be tempted. They must expect it, but they must also be assured that
No temptation has overtaken you except what is human; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able (1 Corinthians 10:13 emphasis added).
Paul insists here that Christians must not imagine they will escape the experience of such temptation that is “human”—anthropinos. (The fact that temptation is demonic does not make it less human.)