Friday, November 20

Luke 20:9-19: The parable of the vine-growers—listed prominently in Jesus’ teaching during the last week of his earthly life—provides a sharp, defining outline of how he came to understand, not only his ministry to his contemporaries, but also his larger significance in the history of Israel. It illustrates how Jesus thought about his mission and destiny. No other of his parables, I believe, contains such an obviously “autobiographical” perspective.

This parable of the vine-growers, in which the sending of God’s Son is presented as the defining moment of history, may be regarded as an extension of what Jesus said when he first preached on Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). In the story of the vine-growers, we see the clearest evidence that Jesus addressed, in his own heart, the large dimensions of his destiny.

In Luke, as in Mark (12:6), the son in the parable is described as “my beloved,” agapetos mou, the same expression the Father used to address Jesus at both his baptism and his Transfiguration.

This identical expression—agapetos mou—is found, likewise, in the Septuagint (Greek) version of Isaiah’s poem—“My beloved has a vineyard.” Here agapetos mou translates Isaiah’s Hebrew expression dódi, “my beloved.” Jesus’ parable, then, identifies the son as the “my beloved” in Isaiah’s poem. It is to him that the vineyard truly belongs, because he is the heir. He is the son with regard to God, and the heir with regard to Israel’s history.

Revelation 4:1-11: In Chapters 2 and 3 John has warned the Christians of the seven churches of Asia that judgment is imminent. He has endeavored to strengthen them for an impending outbreak of chaos and disorder.

In the present chapter, John turns their vision on high, to the throne of God, which is the source of all order. Like Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and other prophets, John slips into an ecstatic trance, a rapture in which he is seized by the Holy Spirit. He hears a voice, and a mysterious door opens (verse 1). He is introduced to the heavenly worship before God’s throne (verse 2), over which is the rainbow of the covenant (verse 3; Genesis 9:12-17). The dominant color is green, the symbol of spring and hope.

As in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:23), which was modeled, after all, on the heavenly throne room, there is “a sea of glass, like crystal” (verse 6), symbolizing the chaos over which the Holy Spirit brooded in Creation. Other details remind us of Isaiah 6 (which is also read today) and Ezekiel 1. This should not surprise us, because in all of Holy Scripture we are dealing with the same God and the same heaven. The hymn, with which the chapter closes, concentrates on Creation. Recall that this vision takes place on Sunday (1:10), the first day of Creation.

Saturday, November 21

Luke 20:20-26: Our Lord frequently responds to a question by posing a counter-question. In some cases the latter device is simply rhetorical. For instance, when asked if it is “lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason,” He appeals to Holy Scripture by employing an interrogative form: “Have you not read . . .?” (Matthew 19:3-4; cf. Luke 6:2-3). Likewise, when Nicodemus inquires, “How can these things be?” Jesus challenges him, “Are you a teacher in Israel and do not know these things?” (John 3:9-10) In these cases the counter-questions serve no purpose beyond their rhetorical force.

On other occasions, the Lord’s counter-question is a direct foil to block a questioner’s malicious intent (cf. Luke 11:53-54). Thus, when His enemies inquire by what authority He does “these things” (cleansing the Temple, withering a fig tree, and so forth), He declines to answer until the questioners should answer His counter-question about the authority of John the Baptist (Mark 11:28-30).

Sometimes, however, the Lord’s counter-question alters the direction and raises the level of the conversation. The most dramatic example of this phenomenon, I suppose, is the incident involving “spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.” In hopes of attaining this goal, they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:20-26)

The questioners here feel they can hardly fail: If the answer is yes, then Jesus will be perceived as taking the side of the Roman overlord. If the answer is no, then He is subject to arrest as a revolutionary.

The Lord recognizes the intent of this question, which is about as subtle as Mount McKinley. He requests the questioners to show the proper coin of the tax. This request accomplishes two things: First, it suggests that Jesus Himself does not have such a coin (cf. Matthew 17:24-27). Second, it proves that the questioners do have such a coin, thus demonstrating their hypocrisy in initiating the interrogation. If Jesus were interested in simply putting these hypocrites to shame, the entire discussion could reasonably end right here.

It is at this point, however, that Jesus asks His counter-question: “Whose image and inscription does it have?” The image on the coin is, in fact, essential to the discussion, and this in two ways: First, the emperor’s image on the coin is what renders it objectionable: It violates the prohibition against images. Second, the image indicates the coin’s basic significance: It belongs to Caesar. That is to say, Jesus does not evade the question about paying taxes to Caesar; He answers it, and the answer is yes!

At the same time, however, the Lord elevates the discussion above the limits of the original question. He uses the latter to distinguish between the relative and legitimate claims of the State and the absolute claims of God. This dominical distinction, which was always at least implicit in the Prophets, thus provides a practical norm in the Christian life. While remaining radically faithful to God, Christians are to support and give their allegiance to the government Providence has placed over them. The debt they owe to the State is not optional. Sharing in the economic and political benefits the State provides, they are under a stern moral obligation to bolster, maintain, and provide for it.

This important theological teaching comes by way of a dialectical response to a malicious question. A misshapen mouse gives birth to a perfectly formed elephant.

Sunday, November 2

Luke 20:27-40: The group most threatened by Jesus’ assertion of authority in the Temple was that of the Sadducees, the priestly family, the sons of Zaddok. ??This group was also distinct in Judaism by reason of two doctrinal denials that characterized it: First, the denial of the resurrection, which was a standard doctrine of the Macchabees and the Pharisees. Second, the denial of canonical authority to any writings other than the Torah.

In defense of their position on the first point, the Sadducees present to Jesus a reductio ad absurdum, a hypothetical problem respecting the doctrine of the resurrection. They pose this hypothesis on the basis of the Torah, which prescribed that a widow, if she had borne no children to her husband, should be married to her brother-in-law, in order to give birth to children who would carry the name of the original husband. In principle this arrangement could be repeated if the brother-in-law should die before such children were born. Now, asks the interrogators, whose wife will the woman be when the dead of raised?

In support of the doctrine of the Resurrection, Jesus ironically adheres to the Sadducee’ limited canon by taking his argument from the Torah. If the
Sadducees can quote Moses, so can He!

Most striking of all in this passage is Jesus’ reading of Exodus 3. Buried and concealed in the story of the Burning Bush, he finds plain evidence of the doctrine of the Resurrection. In doing this, our Lord demonstrates that the true meaning of Holy Scripture is not always on the surface. Would we otherwise have guessed that the doctrine of the Resurrection was proclaimed from the Burning Bush? This style of reading of Holy Scripture, which uncovers deeper meaning concealed in the Sacred Text and in the event narrated there, is the “teaching” (didache) of Jesus, and it has always flourished in the theology of the Christian Church.

There is a further irony in that some of the scribes, standing nearby, express appreciation of the Lord’s solid answer to the Sadducees. It is significant that only Luke mentions this detail. Later on, in the Acts of the Apostles, he will record Paul’s efforts to turn the Pharisees against the Sadducees on this very point of the resurrection.

We may note, in passing, that verses 35-36, also found only in Luke, provide an argument for consecrated celibacy (cf. also 14:26; 18:29), along the lines of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 7.

Monday, November 23

Luke 20:40-47: As His enemies, frustrated by Jesus’ answers to them hitherto, are not disposed to confront Him any further, the Lord Himself takes the initiative (verse 41). ??Jesus’ question with respect to the meaning of Psalm 110 (109) serves to introduce all Christian exegesis of that psalm. Because of Jesus’ question about this psalm, Christians learned from the words “The Lord said to my Lord” that Jesus is not only David’s descendent but also his pre-existing Lord. He is the Son, not only of David, but also of God.

Having mysteriously addressed the identity of Christ, this same line of the same psalm goes on to speak of his triumph and enthronement, with the solemn proclamation: “Sit at My right hand.” These majestic words were quoted in the first sermon of the Christian Church, that of Pentecost morning at the third hour (cf. Acts 2:34), and became the foundation of some of the most important Christological and soteriological statements of the New Testament (cf. Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2.).

In this one line of the psalm, then, Christians profess in summary form those profound doctrines at the foundation of our whole relationship to God, the eternal identity of Jesus Christ, His triumph over sin and death, and His glorification at God’s right hand: “God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, . . . who . . , when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high . . .” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

The rest of the psalm follows from that context. It goes on immediately to speak of those who oppose the triumph of Christ: “‘. . . till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”

Once again, in the writings of the New Testament these few words were quoted to lay the basis for the Christian interpretation of history and eschatology (cf. Acts 2:35f, 36 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 10:12, 13; and perhaps 1 Pet. 3:22).

In the present Lukan passage, then, Jesus is doing more than biblical exegesis. The “enemies” in the psalm are implicitly identified with those very interlocutors who have been engaged in questioning Jesus with malice and foul intent.

Tuesday, November 24

Luke 21:1-6: Luke 21:1-6: Though naos is the Greek noun properly used to refer to the temple at Jerusalem, in the New Testament we more often find the word hieron (“holy place”) employed in this sense, particularly when the reference is to some specific part of the temple.

For example, hieron is the word of choice to designate the Court of Women, that precinct of the temple complex closed to Gentiles but open to Jewish women. Jewish men could congregate in that precinct as well, but the men were also free to move on to the Court of Israel, to which the women had no access.

Thus, besides being the place in the temple where the women could pray (cf. Luke 2:37), the Court of Women was the one place in the temple where all Israelites could gather.

Thus, too, it naturally became the place where Jesus spoke when He taught in the temple (John 8:20; 18:20). It was there that His enemies found Him sitting and teaching one morning, when they came dragging a woman who had been taken in adultery during the preceding night (8:2–3). One of the notable features of the Court of Women was the
glazophylakion or “treasury,” thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles placed there to receive the offerings of the faithful for the maintenance of the temple and its ministry.

Because pagan coinage was often adorned with engravings of political leaders and images from mythology, such “idolatrous” money could not be placed in the temple treasury. For this reason there were moneychangers in the temple to provide the acceptable coinage for the offerings. Since they were not expected to work for free, the monetary exchange involved a measure of profit for the exchangers (much as we have today in international airports), and on at least one occasion our Lord seems to have manifested a rather dim view of such transactions.

One day the Lord called attention to a poor widow whom He saw casting her last two coins into the treasury. Jesus knew that these two small pieces of change were the sum of this poor widow’s assets (pace Rudolph Bultmann who doubted how Jesus could possibly have known this!). Therefore it is significant that she gave both of them, holding back nothing for herself.

For Jesus this latter fact became a point of contrast between the widow and the wealthier benefactors of the temple. Our Lord’s reaction was typical of Him, nor was this the only occasion on which He took compassion on a widow (cf. Luke 7:11–17). Indeed, He was obviously fond of an old story of a strikingly similar widow who likewise sacrificed her last resources to advance God’s cause (1 Kings 17:8–16; Luke 4:25–26).

Wednesday, November 25

Luke 21:7-19: Comparing Luke with Matthew and Mark, we observe that he changes the locale of this discourse of the Lord, placing it inside the Temple itself. Also, unlike Mark, Luke makes this an open and public speech, not a private one. ??Luke’s version of this discourse especially stresses that Christians must not speculate about, nor anticipate, specific times and dates regarding the plans and purposes of God in the world. They must simply hold on “until the times of the nations be fulfilled.” If we compare this passage with the corresponding texts in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, we observe that Luke has removed any expressions that might be misinterpreted as referring to the end of the world. This latter subject he has already treated in 17:20-37.

The original remarks of the Apostles, which prompted this prophecy, were inspired by Herod’s fairly recent renovation of the Temple (cf. John 2:20). According to Flavius Josephus (Antiquities, 15.11.3), “the Temple was constructed of hard, white stones, each of which was about 25 cubits in length, 8 in height, and 12 in depth.” That is to say, the walls of this mountain of marble, towering 450 feet above the Kidron Valley, were 12 cubits, roughly 15 feet, thick! The various buildings of the Temple complex were colonnaded and elaborately adorned. Its surface area covered about one-sixth of the old city. The Roman historian Tacitus described it as “a temple of immense wealth.” (Histories 5.8). It was because of the Temple that Josephus remarked, “he that has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never in his life seen a desirable city. He who has not seen the Temple has never in his life seen a glorious edifice.”

It is instructive to observe that 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 things; the fall of the Holy City to the Romans is not separable from Israel’s rejection of the Messiah

Thus, the present text in Luke is concerned with the events connected with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in the summer of A.D. 70. ??Jesus’ predictions of the persecutions that Christians must endure are partly fulfilled in Luke’s stories of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles. He there describes their ill treatment in synagogues, their beatings before tribunals, their trials in the presence of governors and kings. For instance, the promise given here in verse 15 (“I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”) we see fulfilled in Acts 4:9-10:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead by him this man is standing before you well.

What will be required of Christians, in no matter what age they live, is patience (verse 19; cf. Romans 2:7; 8:25; 15:4-5).

Thursday, November 26

Thanksgiving Day: As our meditation on this day, perhaps nothing surpasses the following quotation from Saint Gregory of Nyssa, On the Formation of the Human Being:

Now all things were already arrived at their own end: “the heaven and the earth,” as Moses says, “were finished,” and all things that lie between them, and the particular things were adorned with their appropriate beauty; the heaven with the rays of the stars, the sea and air with the living creatures that swim and fly, and the earth with all varieties of plants and animals, to all which, empowered by the Divine will, it gave birth together.

The earth was full, too, of her produce, bringing forth fruits at the same time with flowers; the meadows were full of all that grows therein, and all the mountain ridges, and summits, and every hillside, and slope, and hollow, were crowned with young grass, and with the varied produce of the trees, just risen from the ground, yet shot up at once into their perfect beauty.

And all the beasts that had come into life at God’s command were rejoicing, we may suppose, and skipping about, running to and fro in the thickets in herds according to their kind, while every sheltered and shady spot was ringing with the chants of the songbirds.

And at sea, we may suppose, the sight to be seen was of the like kind, as it had just settled to quiet and calm in the gathering together of its depths, where havens and harbors, spontaneously hollowed out on the coasts, reconciled the sea with the land; and the gentle motion of the waves vied in beauty with the meadows, rippling delicately with light and gentle breezes that skimmed the surface; and all the wealth of creation by land and sea was ready, and none was there to share it.

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.”