Friday, November 27
Luke 21:20-24: Comparing this text to its parallels in Mark 13:14-20 and Matthew 24:15-22, 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 that 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.”
Saturday, November 28
Luke 21:25-28: Having treated of the downfall of Jerusalem without attaching to it a note of eschatological immediacy, Luke now turns to speak of the Lord’s return, when “until the times of the nations has been fulfilled” (verse 24).??The assertion that Jesus Christ is the meaning of history implies that he it is who will bring history to a close.
The Lord’s return at the end of time is so integral and necessary a part of the Christian faith that the First Council of Nicaea, in 325, enshrined it in the Nicene Creed. ??We observe that the language of verses 25-26 draws heavily from the biblical prophets (cf. Isaiah 13:9-10; 34:4; Jeremiah 4:23-26; Amos 8:9; Micah 1:3-4).
The expression “your redemption is nigh” (verse 28) is found only in Luke. Indeed, among the four gospels the Greek word for redemption, apolytrosis, is found only in this place. Luke, often a companion of Paul in his travels, had doubtless heard the Apostle to the Gentiles use this word many times (cf. Romans 3:24; 8:23; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:7,14; 4:30; Colossians 1:14).
The root meaning of this verb, “buying back,” is a metaphor that should not be pushed as a precise description. In the Bible it does not convey a legal or commercial sense. When God redeemed Israel out of Egypt, for instance, He did not pay a price to Pharaoh; on the contrary, He hit Pharaoh with a series of disasters. Similarly, when Jesus redeems us from the power of Satan, there is no legal or mercantile transaction, as though Jesus paid a price to Satan for our release. On the contrary, the victorious Jesus descended into the realm of death, conquering Satan and taking the spoils of him.?? In the present context in Luke, we may note, redemption refers to our deliverance at the return of Christ at the end of time; in the writings of the Apostle Paul that final redemption is more often called salvation (soteria).
Sunday, November 29
Luke 21:29-38: This section contains two parts (verses 29-33 and verses 34-38), both of which are proper to Luke.
Whereas Matthew and Mark tell of Jesus’ cursing of a fig tree, Luke tells of a parable in which the fig tree is spared! Throughout the era of the Church there will be times when the fig tree will appear to have died. Nothing looks deader than a fig tree in the wintertime. We may see in the harsh conditions of winter an image of the many persecutions and hardships that the persevering community of Christ must endure until the spring of His return.
One thinks, in this connection, of the condition of the Christian Church behind the Iron Curtain for so many decades, in such places as Russia and Poland. From the outside it certainly appeared to be, in not dead, at least near death. As soon as the Iron Curtain was brought down, however, immediately the new buds appear. The tree had been alive all along.
About the year 252, an African Christian bishop, Cyprian of Carthage wrote with respect to these verses, “the Lord had foretold that these things would happen. Instructing with the voice of His foreknowledge, teaching, preparing, and strengthening the people of His Church unto all endurance of things that lay in the future. He foretold and declared that wars, famines, earthquakes, and plagues in each place. And lest an unexpected and new fear of evils should overtake us, He earlier warned us that in the final times adversities would grow more and more (De Mortalitate 2).
The nearness (eggys) of the spring (verse 30) symbolizes the nearness (eggys) of the Kingdom of God (verse 31). This is identical to the nearness (eggizei) of our redemption (verse 28). ??Until then, the Lord’s disciples are to cling to His words. These words will remain steadfast, even if everything else passes away (verse 33).??In speaking of the words of Christ in this fashion, Luke takes up again his own final verse of the explanation of the parable of the sower: “But that on the good ground are they, which in a noble and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (8:15). That Lukan emphasis on purity of heart comes here again in verse 34 (compare 8:14).
This second section (verses 34-38), also proper to Luke, bears notable affinity to the teaching of the Apostle Paul. For example, the exhortation to avoid excessive drinking and eating, lest we be overtaken suddenly by the events of the final times (verses 34-36) is very reminiscent of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10.?? The stress on constant prayer (verse 36) is, of course, very typical of Luke (cf. 18:1). ??Verse 36, which contains the last of Jesus’ public teaching in Luke, calls forth ideas contained in the beginning of Jesus’ public teaching.
For instance, it speaks of endurance for the sake of the returning Son of Man (cf. 6:20-23; 9:26). ??Verses 37-38, which prepare immediately for the account of the Lord’s Passion, portray Him as teaching each day in the Temple, beginning early (orthrizen), after spending the night in prayer on the Mount of Olives. It was, Luke will tell us (22:39), the “custom” of Jesus to pray there during the night. This pattern is also found in John 8:1-2.
Monday, November 30
The Feast of Saint Andrew: If a Bible-reader takes the care to notice him, the Apostle Andrew is among the most attractive individuals in all of Holy Scripture. A certain measure of careful attention is necessary to lay hold of this fact, nonetheless, for Andrew does not really “put himself forward.” He does not come bounding forth impetuously from the biblical page, so to speak, like a David, a Moses, a Paul, or, especially his brother Peter. Indeed, this disinclination to draw explicit attention to himself is one of the very features that render Andrew so attractive.
Andrew appears never to draw attention to himself, but serves entirely as a conduit for others to come to the Lord. Even in that scene that prompts the Church to remember him as the first-called, he immediately went 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” (cf. John 1:38–42).
As the first-called of the Church, then, Andrew was apparently recognized to enjoy a kind of special access to the Lord. Thus, when the Greek-speaking visitors to Jerusalem approached Philip (besides Andrew, the only other apostle with a Greek name) saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” Philip went first to Andrew so that the two of them might together facilitate that meeting (John 12:21–22). Evidently Philip felt the need to have the helpful, accessible Andrew by his side at that time.
In all of the Gospels, however, there is one scene that seems most clearly to reveal this trait of friendly, relaxed availability in Andrew, and that scene is in John’s narrative of the multiplication of the loaves. Of the six New Testament stories on this theme, only John tells us of the special role of Andrew: “One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?’” (John 6:8–9).
Now, the attentive reader of Holy Scripture should be asking a question of the text at this point, namely, just how did Andrew know that there was a little boy present who was carrying those particular pieces of food? It is unlikely, after all, that a small boy would be holding all seven items in his hands at the same time. The five barley loaves and two little fish must have been carried in a sack of some sort. The lad was part of a large multitude that had been with Jesus for some days (Matthew 15:32), and his mother had packed him several meals in a lunch bag. By now, he has already eaten most of that food—the fresh fruit and sweets are gone, for instance. All the lad has left in that sack are five barley loaves, possibly a tad beyond their prime, and a couple of salted fish.
So how did Andrew know what was contained in that little boy’s bag? Surely the answer is obvious. He noticed the child standing near him, maybe alone, perhaps a bit distracted, and he simply asked in a cordial, engaging way, “Say there, son, what all did your mama pack for you in that bag?” From such friendly inquiries are missions and ministries begun, and miracles born.
Tuesday, December 1
Mark 13:1-8: Here begins the Olivet Discourse, the longest uninterrupted dominical discourse in Mark after the Parables of the Kingdom in Chapter 4. This discourse, which is private in the sense that it was not preached to the crowds (verses 1-2), forms a bridge between the controversy stories of chapters 11–12 and the subsequent Passion narrative of chapters 14—15. Thus, it is framed in the drama of the Lord’s last days.
Consequently, the Lord’s teaching on the fall of Jerusalem and the coming destruction of the Temple is conveyed in the immediate context of His own suffering and death. Jesus intimately joins these two things together.
It is useful to recall that, if the traditional dating of Mark (A.D.65-66) is correct, Jerusalem had not yet fallen when these words were written down for the Church at Rome.
This chapter contains more than a prediction, however. It is especially an exhortation to the Church, an instruction on how believers are to behave in the terrible trials to come. Mark evidently regards the sufferings of the Church following the Neronic persecution (A.D. 64-68) as a preamble to the end of the ancient life of Israel. This is why there are so many verses in this section that point most readily to the end of the world. What Mark and his Christians were witnessing was certainly the end of the world as they knew it. The Olivet Discourse begins, then, with the foreseen destruction of Jerusalem (verse 2).
Revelation 11:1-14: The literary background of John’s vision of the two witnesses is Zechariah 4:1-3,11-14, where the prophet has in mind the anointed ruler Zerubbabel and the anointed priest Jeshua, the two men who preserved the worship in God’s house.
Those two figures represented royalty (for Zerubbabel was a descendent of David) and priesthood (for Jeshua was a descendent of Aaron), which are two essential aspects of the life in Christ (cf. Revelation 1:6; 5:10).
“Two” witnesses are required, of course, this being the minimum number required in order “to make the case” (Deuteronomy 19:15).
But the two witnesses in this chapter of Revelation are the heirs, not only to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, but also to Moses and Elijah. It was the first of these who afflicted Egypt with plagues, and the second who closed up heaven for three and a half years (cf. Luke 4:25; James 5:17).
This is John’s way of asserting that the Christian Church, in her royal priesthood, continues also the prophetic war against false gods. She will destroy God’s enemies by fire (verse 5), as did Moses (Numbers 16:35) and Elijah (2 Kings 1:9-12).
Wednesday, December 2
Revelation 11:15-19: In the hymn that follows the seventh trumpet (verses 17-18), we should especially observe that God’s wrath is salvific, a matter at which believers will rejoice, because God’s reign is established by His wrath. God is not a neutral observer of history. On the contrary, He is deeply biased on the side of the poor and oppressed. Some people in this world are poor and oppressed, because other people in this world worship false gods. In the biblical view, poverty and oppression are the results of idolatry, and this provokes God’s wrath. His wrath is against the false gods and their servants, and believers are summoned to rejoice in the victory of that wrath, because it is the victory of freedom over slavery, justice over injustice, and Moses over Pharaoh. The wrath of God is the last thing in the world that Christians should be afraid of, for the wrath of God is on their side.
As in the ancient procession around Jericho, the Ark of the Covenant appears after the seventh trumpet (verse 19).
Psalm 12 (Greek & Latin 11): Psalm 12 (Hebrew 12) quotes the wordly man as declaring, “With our tongue we will prevail. Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” The man quoted could be Adam, who made human language’s first declaration of independence: “Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?”
In the Bible before the Fall, man was possessed of an accurate perception into reality. He was able to name the animals because he could perceive precisely what they were. His words expressed true insight, a ravishing gaze at glory, a contemplation of real forms, so that the very structure and composition of his mind took on the seal and assumed the formal stamp of truth. Human language then was a reflection of that divine light with which heaven and earth are full. The speech of unfallen man was but the voice of vision.
Just as truthful speech streams forth from vision, springing from the font of a pure heart, so lying is conceived in the duplicitous heart before it issues from the mouth. Says Psalm 12: “Each one has spoken follies to his neighbor, deceitful lips have spoken with divided heart.” The situation described here is so bad that one despairs of finding any truths left in human discourse: “Save me, O God, for the godly man has disappeared, because truths are diminished among the sons of men. . . . The wicked prowl on every side.”
In contrast to these varied, seemingly universal lies of men stand the reliable words of God: “The words of the Lord are pure words, smelted silver purged of dross, purified seven times.” In this very unveracious world we yet trust that, though heaven and earth pass away, His words will never pass away.
Thursday, December 3
Revelation 12:1-12: John’s vision takes place in the vault of heaven, where the Woman is described as a “sign,” an image reminiscent of Isaiah 7:10-11: “Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.’”
Indeed, John seems to be saying that in the birth of Jesus Isaiah’s prophecy of virgin birth is fulfilled: “As a woman with child / ?Is in pain and cries out in her pangs, / ?When she draws near the time of her delivery,? / So have we been in Your sight, O Lord” (Isaiah 26:17).
Like Christ Himself, this Woman is clothed with the sun. All Christians know the virginity of the mother of Jesus. Is this Woman being represented, therefore, as the zodiacal sign of Virgo? It would seem so, because, like the sign for Virgo, there are twelve stars involved. It is the constellation that means “virgin.” In this sign there is a “virgin birth.”
Virgo, a constellation in the southern hemisphere, was one of the constellations listed by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Virgo is one of the constellations of the “zodiac,” which lie on the Sun’s apparent path in the sky. It is the second largest constellation in the sky, smaller only than Hydra.
The brightest star in Virgo is Spica (“ear of grain” or “wheat”), which came to the fixed attention of astronomers very early. It is technically known as alpha Virginis. Spica is the 15th brightest star in the sky. It lies 260 light-years from Earth. The star’s luminosity is about 2,300 times that of the Sun.
This “sign” is not simply a description of Christmas, however. The Woman in the vision is the mother of Jesus, but she is more; she is also the Church, which gives birth to Christ in the world.
The serpent is the ancient dragon, the enemy of our race, the one who seduced the first woman in the garden. Now he must face the new Woman, who is more than a match for him.
Friday, December 4
Psalms 22 (Greek & Latin 21): In Matthew and Mark, Jesus is described as praying the opening line of this psalm as He hangs on the Cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). There is no doubt about the importance of this psalm in reference to the Lord’s suffering and death. Not only did Jesus pray this psalm’s opening line on His gibbet of pain; other lines of it are also interpreted by the Church, even by the Evangelists themselves, as prophetic references to details in the drama of Holy Friday.
Consider, for instance, this verse of Psalm 21: “All who gazed at Me derided Me. With their lips they spoke and wagged their heads: ‘He hoped on the Lord. Let Him deliver him. Let Him save him, since He approves of him.’” One can hardly read this verse without recalling what is described in Matthew: “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, . . . ‘If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, . . . ‘He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him’” (27:39–43).
The Gospels likewise tell of the soldiers dividing the garments of Jesus at the time of His Crucifixion. St. John’s description of this event is worth considering at length, because he actually quotes our psalm verbatim as a fulfilled prophecy:
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also His tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, ”Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,“ that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: ‘They divided My garments among them, / And for My clothing they cast lots’” (19:23, 24).
Moreover, if Holy Church thinks of the Lord Himself as praying this psalm on the Cross, such an interpretation is amply justified by a later verse that says: “Like a potsherd has my strength been scorched, and my tongue cleaved to my palate.” Hardly can the Church read this line without calling to mind the Lord who said from the Cross: “I thirst” (John 19:28).
And as she thinks of the nails supporting the Lord’s body on the tree of redemption, the Church recognizes the voice that speaks yet another line of our psalm: “They have pierced my hands and feet; they have numbered all my bones.”
In addition, according to St. John, at the foot of the Cross stood the Mother of the Lord, a loyal disciple to the last, her soul transfixed by the sword that aged Simeon prophesied in the temple when she first presented the Child to God. To her the Lord Himself now makes reference in this psalm. Speaking of that consecration, Jesus says to His heavenly Father of his earthly mother, “You were He that drew me from the womb, ever my hope from my mother’s breasts. To You was I handed over from the womb. From the belly of my mother, You are my God.”
Outside of the Gospels, the New Testament’s most vivid references to the Lord’s Passion are arguably those in Hebrews, which speaks of the Lord’s sharing our flesh and blood so that “through death He might destroy him who had the power of death” (2:14). Quoting Psalm 21 in this context of the Passion, this author tells us that Jesus “is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: ‘I will declare Your name to My brethren; / In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You’” (2:11, 12).
Finally, just as each of the Lord’s three predictions of the Passion ends with a prediction of the Resurrection (cf. Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34), this psalm of the Passion appropriately finishes with the voice of victory and the growth of the Church: “My spirit lives for Him; my seed will serve Him. The coming generation shall be herald for the Lord, declaring His righteousness to a people yet unborn, whom the Lord created.”