Friday, June 5

John 19:1-11: In Mark, Matthew, and John the mockery of the Roman soldiers particularly addressed Jesus’ claims to kingship; he was mocked as “King of the Jews.”

In the use of this epithet, we should think of something close to “King of the Fools” in a medieval play. We should see in it the contempt those Gentiles felt toward Jews generally, contempt they were eager to pour out on this particular Jew, whose own people abandoned him. Pilate expressed this same contempt by the inscription he caused to be affixed over Jesus’ head on the cross. Suffering specifically as a Jew, Jesus became the supreme victim of anti-Semitism.

Jesus’ true claim to the Davidic kingship renders the scene of the mockery supremely ironical. The mocking soldiers do, in fact, bend their knees before the King. Their salutation of him is—as the evangelists and their readers know—theologically correct! Jesus is the same man who just days before, as he entered Jerusalem in triumph, was addressed as David’s son.

In this mockery Jesus is clothed in a scarlet or purple garment—likely a military cloak—to mimic royalty. To adorn his head, the soldiers weave a crown of thorns, which serves as both a form of torture and a point of shame.

The theological significance of this crown of thorns comes from the evangelists’ understanding of it, not the intent of the mocking soldiers. The Gospel writers knew, as do their readers in all ages, that the crown of Jesus was woven from the elements of Adam’s curse: “Both thorns and thistles [the ground] shall bring forth for you” (Genesis 3:18). Jesus, wearing that crown, bears that curse.

According to John (19:5), Jesus still wears the robe and the thorny crown when he appears before the crowd, and he wears them still as that crowd shouts, “Crucify him!” Although the robe is removed after the mockery (Matthew 27:31), no evangelist says that the crown is taken off. Christian art and hymnography commonly portray the crucified Christ as continuing to wear that crown on the cross, under the sign identifying him as “King of the Jews.”

Acts 6:1-15: This chapter introduces the chief spokesman for the Greek-speaking (“Hellenist”) Jewish Christians, Stephen. He is one of the seven men, all with Greek names, chosen for their administrative skills, in order to deal with certain practical problems in the Church related to the distribution of material resources to the widows dependent on the congregation.

The “tables” in this chapter should better be translated as desks or accounting tables, for these seven men are ecclesiastical administrators, assisting the apostles. (This will be the defining function of “deacons” for many centuries to come.)

Nonetheless, as we see in the ministries of Stephen and Philip, this work will also include considerable evangelism, and the Church immediately realizes a greater growth, including converts from the Jewish priesthood (Sadducees!).

Saturday, June 6

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 of 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. In principle, 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.

For two reasons these rules do not govern the diets of Christians (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:9-16):

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.

Sunday, June 7

Acts 7:11-25: Stephen’s point in verse 11 is that the Israelites, not able to feed themselves, were dependent on a pagan people. Thus Jacob, father of all Israelites, died outside of the Holy Land, along with all the tribal patriarchs. Though they were buried in the Holy Land, the site of their graves was purchased from yet another Gentile (verse 16). Meanwhile, it was in a Gentile land that the Israelites experienced their phenomenal growth. Even Moses was raised in a Gentile home and received a Gentile education (verse 22). He too was repudiated by the other Israelites, who have never, Stephen contends, shown themselves satisfied with the leaders that God sends them.

Leviticus 12: Among all the purification rules in Leviticus, those contained in this shortest chapter of the book are probably the 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 to 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.

Monday, June 8

Acts 7:23-34: Moses’ first encounter with the other Israelites was not very promising, Stephen argues; they did not want him for a “leader” (verse 27) nor a savior (verse 28). As a result, yet once again, God’s designated leader of the Israelites was obliged to flee to yet another Gentile region, the land of Midian.

Like Abraham (7:6), Moses must become a “wanderer” or “pilgrim” (paroikos—7:29—the root of our word “parishioner”). Indeed, the very first land in the Bible to be called a “holy land” is found, not in Palestine, but in the Gentile territory of Moses’ wandering (verse 33)! It always seems to be the same pattern, says Stephen, because the Israelites are a rebellious people, recalcitrant to God’s provision. Thus, Moses will be treated by them no better than Joseph.

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).

Tuesday, June 9

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 all 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 something found in a church building. 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.”

Wednesday, June 10

Leviticus 15: The rules in this chapter, we notice, all pertain to “case law.” Because it has no strict parallel in the New Testament, this chapter’s concern with the defilement occasioned by the discharge of bodily fluids is more difficult to appreciate in a Christian context. How should a Christian approach these rules?

He should recognize, first of all, that sexuality in the Bible is hardly ever neutral. As St. Augustine recognized in the experience of his own life, God created human sex as one of His highest goods in the physical order, but man’s Fall from grace, as described in Genesis 3, seems to have infected the experience of sex more deeply than other aspects of man’s life. This is why Adam and Eve, after they had disobeyed, became aware of their nakedness before anything else. Indeed, Augustine speculated that all sexual expression had at least some amount of sin in it.

While this latter view is not that of the Bible nor of the Christian Tradition as a whole, it does express the reserve and restraint that the Christian conscience properly feels with respect to this subject. In the prescriptions of this chapter we gain some sense of this reserve and restraint.

That is to say, while sex itself is not inherently defiling, it is defiling in most circumstances. For starts, it is always defiling outside of the relationship of marriage. It is always morally defiling in adultery, fornication, homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, and the intentional cultivation of wrong sexual fantasies (cf. Matthew 5:27-28). Even within marriage, sex is morally defiling when accompanied by brutality, anger, selfishness, and those expressions that place the marital intercourse outside of its natural and divinely intended purpose.

In other words, God’s law, as expressed in nature and divine revelation, hedges the proper expression of sex into a fairly narrow set of circumstances. This truth, hardly popular in any period, seems most offensive in today’s atmosphere of moral glibness. It is difficult for contemporary man to understand that “safe sex” involves a great amount of caution, circumspection, reserve, and restraint. It is arguable that the Puritans understood this truth better than most, and consequently seemed to have appreciated the joys of sex better than many people today..

Thursday, June 11

Leviticus 16: We come now to a detailed instruction respecting the Day of Atonement, an instruction broken into two unequal parts. The first (verses 1-28) prescribes the elaborate ritual for the feast, the second treats of related concerns, particularly the associated fasting and the prescribed rest (verses 29-34). These instructions are given to Moses, who is to convey them to his priestly brother Aaron.

The first prescription is a prohibition against the priest’s entering into the Holy of Holies except after the rest of the ritual prescribed (verse 2). This prohibition refers to the “propitiatory” (kapporet), the golden cover of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:17-22). It is here that God’s luminous glory is revealed (Exodus 40:34; Numbers 7:89).

The rite preparatory to Aaron’s entrance into the Holy Place includes a sin offering (hatt’t) and a burnt offering (‘olah), a ritual washing, and a prescribed vesting (verses 2-3). More extensive sacrifices are then prescribed for the priests and the congregation (verses 4-7; cf. Hebrews 7:27-28; 9:7).

One goat is offered in sacrifice. The other, chosen by lot, is not sacrificed but becomes the scapegoat (literally, “the goat that escapes”) that is sent out into the desert, ritually bearing the sins of the people to carry them away (verses 8-10,20-22).

The sacrificial blood of the slain victims is sprinkled on the propitiatory in order to expiate the sins of both the priests and the congregation (verses 11-15; cf. Hebrews 5:1; 9:7,13,25).

One purpose of this latter ritual was to expiate and consecrate the Holy Place itself (verse 16; cf. Hebrews 9:23). From this text it appears little or no distinction was made between expiation and consecration with respect to the Holy Place. Expiation was a consecratory act, whereby the Holy Place was consecrated through the blood sacrificially offered to God (verses 18-20).

Those animal parts that remained after the sacrifice were to be burned outside the camp (verse 27; Hebrews 13:11).

The Day of Atonement, observed like the Sabbath as a day of rest (verse 31), was to be kept annually (verse 34; Hebrews 9:7; 10:3) in the autumn. To accompany this ritual, the people were to “afflict themselves”; that is, to observe a fast (cf. Isaiah 58:3-5). Because this was the only fast prescribed in the Torah, the Day of Atonement became known simply as “the Fast” (cf. Acts 27:9).

Friday, June 12

Leviticus 17: The following ten chapters, referred to frequently as the Holiness Code, is a very early collection of precepts, a collection with its own literary integrity. Its underlying theme, which serves as a motive for the precepts themselves, is the holiness of the Lord, a holiness to be recognized and honored in every aspect of Israel’s life. This application of respect for the Lord’s holiness pertains not only to the precision of the prescribed ritual but also to the entire moral life.

The pertinence of this principle of holiness to the entire human life remains an important element of true holiness for all times, including our own. The Book of Leviticus remains in the Bible so that no one can ever imagine that holiness pertains only to sacral situations. Biblical holiness pertains, rather, to every dimension of our lives. That is to say, God is interested, not only in the authenticity of my worship, but also in the sanctity of my entire life.

The present chapter is concerned with the sacred nature of blood, all shedding of which has about it something akin to sacrifice. The life, or soul, was in the blood (cf. Revelation 6:9-10).

Thus, the shedding of blood was the pouring out of life and represented the handing back of that life to God (verses 3-4). The shed blood, representing the life offered to God, was to be sprinkled on the area of worship, to dedicate and purify the place for worship (verse 6; Hebrews 9:18-22).

Certainly such sacrifices must not be offered to demons—literally, satyrs ( se‘irim—verse 7). Indeed, the text prescribes that this practice should not be done “any more” (‘od), indicating that the Israelites had engaged in it hitherto. Such an abomination was radically at odds with the holiness to which Israel was called (cf. 2 Kings 23:8).

Verses 8-12 repeat the prescriptions of verses 3-7, adding thee particular applications. First, these rules apply also to non-Israelites sojourning among God’s People (verses 8,10,12). Second, these rules apply to all sacrifices, including the holocaust (‘olah). Third, all consumption of blood is proscribed, because of its sacral nature as the bearer of life (verse 10). All of this is to say that, nephesh habbashir badam, “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (verse 11).

Weighing the gravity of this assertion, along with its concomitant prohibition against the drinking of blood, we sense the shock of Jesus’ listeners when He commanded them to drink His blood (John 6:53-54.60). Nonetheless, in each case—in both Leviticus and John—the symbolic reason is the same; namely, the life is in the blood. Because the life is in the blood, Leviticus forbids the consumption of blood. Because the life is in the blood, Jesus commands the drinking of His own blood. Infinitely more than the sacrificed blood of bulls and goats, the blood of Jesus is appointed “to make atonement,” lekaphpher.

Like the body, the blood is to be buried. This is why blood shed outside of the liturgical setting is to be immediately covered with earth (verse 13).