Friday, March 11

Romans 13:1-14: Beginning with the believer’s relationship to other believers, and going on with respect to those outside the community of faith, Paul now addresses the Christian’s relationship to the political order (verses 1-7),

One is impressed by Paul’s attitude of respect, deference, and obedience toward the civil authority, not simply because that authority carries the power to exact such an attitude, but also because such an attitude is required by conscience (verse 5). To respect and obey the State, in Paul’s view, is demanded by God’s own ordinance, because ultimately the State holds its authority from God. (Contrast this view with that of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.) The State is “God’s minister” (verse 4).

Generally speaking, then—and proper exception being made for laws that violate the moral order—the dictates and decisions of government are binding in conscience. They are not simply penal laws. That is to say, in those instances where the State does not contravene God’s own law, the State speaks for God and is a valid channel for the discovery of God’s will.

Lest we be too quick to imagine that Paul is thinking of the State in very idealistic terms, we may bear in mind that the emperor at that time was Nero, and the State of Paul’s reference was the Roman Empire. This empire had earlier expelled the Jews, including Christians, from Rome only a decade before (Acts 18:2; Suetonius, “Claudius” 25), and about four years after writing this epistle Paul himself would be executed by this same authority. Three years after that, moreover, the full weight of the imperial government would come down hard on the Christians at Rome in a fearful persecution. In other words, Paul’s attitude toward Rome was not one of convenience, but of principle.

Paul’s affirmations here bear witness to an important feature of Christian anthropology. They testify that man’s relationship to God is not limited to the specifically religious and cultic sphere; Man is also related to God in the political, social, cultural, and economic spheres of his existence in this world. Man’s relationship to God, in other words, is inseparable from his relationship to everything else.

Friday, March 12

Matthew 19:1-10: At this point Matthew rejoins the narrative sequence in Mark, which he will follow for the rest of the book. However, as this section begins with Jesus’ move from Galilee, in the north, to Judea, in the south, Matthew and Luke begin to follow separate sequences, Luke inserting many stories that have no parallel in the other gospels (cf. Luke 9:51—18:14).

Matthew introduces his own narrative by mentioning the end (etelesen–verse 1) of Jesus’ previous discourse—namely, the preceding chapter on life in the Church. Each of Jesus’ five large discourses in ended in the same way (cf. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 26:1).

Jesus, moving south, goes somewhat eastward across the Jordan, avoiding a trip through Samaria. He is followed by “large” crowds (contrast with Mark 10:1), “to follow” being the normal word for discipleship.

The following section deals with matters that we may call “domestic,” in the sense of having to do with the home (domus in Latin). This subject will include sex, children, and money, and on these matters Jesus will “heal” the people of common but fallacious opinions. These subjects—sex, child-raising, and finances—are the ones on which the views of the world are likely to be sick and in want of healing.

Each of these three subjects is introduced by certain individuals or groups who approach Jesus: the Pharisees, the mothers bringing their children, and the wealthy inquirer. It would seem that Matthew has arranged this material in a sequence that was usual in the catechetical practice of the Christian Church. In fact, these three subjects are likewise treated together by St. Paul (cf. Ephesians 5:22—6:9; Colossians 3:18-25). The similarity of order between Matthew and Paul suggests these dominical sayings have been organized according to a standard and recognizable format.

Romans 13:8-14: Paul returns briefly to the Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic Law (verses 8-10). Does Christian freedom imply that believers are no longer bound by the Decalogue? Hardly, says Paul, but the general Christian command to love one’s neighbor as oneself more than adequately summarizes those components of the Decalogue that concern our fellow man. That is to say, even the Decalogue is now read through a new lens.

Once again Paul speaks of salvation as reality that lies yet in the future, a future that is now closer than when we first became believers. (verse 11). As we have seen repeatedly, in Romans the vocabulary of salvation is commonly associated with the return of Christ and the general resurrection of the body.
Meanwhile, Christians are to “wake up” to the newness of life in Christ (verses 11-12; 1 Thessalonians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 15:34; Ephesians 5:14).

Sunday, March 13

Matthew 19:11-15: This section on celibacy is proper to Matthew, but its content is consonant with the general New Testament thesis of the superiority of consecrated celibacy over marriage (cf. Luke 14:20; 18:29; 1 Corinthians 7:25-35).

Romans 14:1-13: Although there is no evidence that the Roman congregation experienced internal controversies about dietary and liturgical customs carried over from Judaism, Paul decided to treat here of a particular pastoral problem attendant on those points, namely, differences of conscientious sensitivity among believers.

This latter concern remains a matter of continued relevance. Although Christians long ago lost their lingering attachment to Jewish dietary customs and liturgical observances, they still sometimes find themselves divided, even today, on a variety of other subjects. These include, for instance, drinking alcoholic and using tobacco.

Paul’s fundamental principle seems clear enough: Christians are to show to one another that level of respect, kindness, and deference that will free each of them from harsh judgment or ridicule, carping, or shock. The guiding virtues to be cultivated in this respect are faith (verses 22-23), charity (verse 15), and the imitation of Christ (verses 9,15; 15:3,7-8).

The prohibition against judging other members of the congregation is especially forceful in this chapter. The verb “to judge,” krinein, appears eight times. One recalls the Lord’s example of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11.

The “weak” in most congregations will often be the newer members, or even the conscientious inquirers, who are just beginning to find their way in the Christian life (verses 1-5). Particularly sensitive in conscience, frequently such individuals are shocked are disedified by the behavior of other Christians, whom they may perceive as less zealous or even lax. These “weak” Christians are exhorted not to pass judgment on others, and the others, in turn, are exhorted not to ridicule or shock the “weak.” On the contrary, the latter should receive support and encouragement in the difficult early stages of their journey. One recalls here the Lord’s warning to those who scandalize the “little ones,” those relatively inexperienced Christians who are new in the discernment of good and evil, right and wrong.

The important point is to serve the Lord, to whom we all belong (verses 6-8; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). The example held before us is Christ, who neither lived nor died for Himself, but for us (verse 9).
If our knees are bent in prayer and our voices raised in praise, we will be amply busy and occupied, with neither time nor psychic energy to judge, criticize, or ridicule fellow Christians (verse 12).

Monday, March 14

Matthew 19:16-22: The third subject in this chapter—money—is introduced by a man that comes to our Lord, seeking counsel on how to attain eternal life (verse 16). This scene is paralleled in Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-23.

If we are to look for another link between this section and the preceding theme of children, perhaps we find it in the fact that the question is asked by a “young person” (neaniskos). Indeed, this feature is unique to Matthew. Both Mark and Luke suggest, in fact, that the man may not be young, because he claims to have kept all the commandments “from my youth,” an expression that Matthew’s account does not contain.

In authentic Deuteronomic style the man is told to “keep the commandments” (less explicit in Mark and Luke) if he wishes to enter into life (verse 17; Deuteronomy 4:10; 30:6). This hypothetical clause is proper to Matthew, as is the next hypothesis, “if you would be perfect” (verse 21).

Romans 14:14-23: Paul continues the theme from the previous section, going on to exhort believers to peace-making and edification (verse 19). In these verses, however, his exhortation is directed to the stronger, more confident Christians who may, even by mere inadvertence, create crises of conscience for their fellow believers.

The example chosen by Paul to illustrate this point is the eating of certain foods, particularly meats, which the Mosaic Law classifies as common (koinon) or unclean, foods that are not kosher. Paul is certain that Christians may eat such foods with a safe conscience (verses 1-5; Acts 10:9-15).

The Apostle recognized, nonetheless, that some Christians, from habits long adhered to, could not really eat such food with a safe conscience, because they had not arrived at a level of faith and Christian maturity that would enable them to do so. (Here he is not talking about the faith through which a Christian is justified, of course, but of faith as an effective principle in making moral decisions.)

If these latter Christians, then, were recklessly to follow the example of stronger, more mature believers, there was a genuine danger of their violating their own consciences. They would be eating for some reason other than faith—perhaps human respect or perceived social pressure—and this would constitute sin (verse 23). In short, it is never a safe or laudable thing to act against one’s conscience.

What should the stronger Christian do in such a case? He should forego his own freedom in the matter, says Paul, in order not to lead the weaker brother into sin, even inadvertently (verses 15,20-23). Peace and charity, that is to say, take precedence over the exercise of freedom (verses 17-18). Freedom, as the result of charity, must never be exercised at the expense of charity.

Moreover, a Christian should relinquish his freedom even in those instances when the exercise thereof would bring distress to another Christian (verse 15). In other words, a Christian must go out of his way, if need be, to avoid distressing fellow believers. The proper motive is love, inspired by the death of Jesus (verse 15).

In all these comments Paul enunciates essentially the same thesis he defended in Galatians 2:11-17, and which will appear later in Colossians 2:20-22 and Mark 7:19.

Tuesday, March 15

Matthew 19:23-30: Let alone attaining perfection, says Jesus, it is only with great difficulty that a rich man can even enter the Kingdom of Heaven (verse 23). Thus begins this section of Matthew (verses 23-30), paralleled in Mark 10:23-31 and Luke 18:24-30.

Over the centuries of Old Testament history we can discern a deep transformation in Israel’s thinking about wealth. The ancient Wisdom tradition had associated the accumulation of wealth with the virtuous life, as we see in Proverbs. That earlier literature, while not unaware of the spiritual dangers associated with wealth, had spent little space expounding on those dangers. It was Israel’s prophetic voice, rather, beginning with Elijah’s denunciation of Ahab in the 9th century, that began to elaborate the theme of the dangers posed by too much preoccupation with wealth. This was a major theme, of course, in the great social prophets of the 8th century. Gradually it found its way more explicitly in the Wisdom literature as well, Sirach 31:3-5 being one of its more eloquent expressions. Jesus’ approach to the subject in the present text is of a piece with what we find in Sirach.

Matthew omits the initial wonderment of the disciples mentioned by Mark (10:24), but he does include the Lord’s elaboration of the theme in the hyperbole of the camel and the eye of the needle.

Romans 15:1-13: From dealing with the possible conflicts of conscience among Christians in chapter 14, Paul goes on to enunciate the guiding principle for the resolution of such conflicts, namely, the example of Jesus, and more specifically the example that Jesus demonstrated in His suffering and death (verse 3.)

In other words, the sufferings and death of Jesus, in addition to being the efficient cause of our redemption and reconciliation to God, also provide the exemplary type of the Christian moral life (verse 7). Some years earlier Paul had made such a case when treating of congregational problems in Macedonia (Philippians 2:5-10).

The Christian’s moral life, then, is not merely personal and private; it is social (verses 1-2,5-7). Paul knows nothing about personal holiness apart from life and responsibilities in the Church. (For this Christian thesis we may see a pagan adumbration in the traditional Spartan theory of education, in which “virtue,” arête, is invariably social and unselfish.)

The exercise of freedom is never a goal or final purpose in the Christian life; it is, rather, the proper ambience and atmosphere of the Christian life. Freedom for freedom’s sake is unknown in the Holy Scriptures. Christian freedom is ever at the service of Christian charity.

Divine charity was the motive of Jesus’ assumption of our sins in His self-offering upon the cross (verse 3; 8:32-35). In support of this thesis Paul invokes the authority of Psalms 69 (68):10, a verse descriptive (as is the whole psalm) of Jesus’ sufferings.

Wednesday, March 16

Matthew 20:1-16: The parable of the day workers was doubtless remembered among the early Christians because it did, in fact, address one of their early theological questions — How to regard the Gentiles who were “late-comers” to the Church. The earlier comers to the field are all given a work contract, which may be interpreted as God’s established covenant with His people. Those that come last, however, work without a contract; that is to say, they have been promised nothing specific. They are outside the ancient covenant (Ephesians 2:12).

But God’s generosity rewards them anyway, and this parable is more descriptive of the Owner of the vineyard than of the workers. The Owner, of course, is God, who is described as merciful and generous with those who work for Him, as well as firm with those who contemn His generosity. The vineyard is, of course, the People of God (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 12:10).

The grumblers, who are reprimanded at the end of the parable, are not rebuked for dissatisfaction with what they have received, but for their dissatisfaction with what the other people have received. These grumblers may also become the enemies who have already commenced plotting against the Son of the field’s Owner (21:33-46).

Romans 15:14-21: Paul now proceeds to introduce himself more completely to the congregation at Rome, a city he plans to visit in the near future for the first time. In the present verses he says a bit about himself and his ministry, evidently feeling that such information is necessary, given the strong and authoritative tone that he has adopted in this epistle (verses 15-16).

Paul commences these remarks with a polite and positive sentiment about the congregation at Rome (verse 14), an approach he employs elsewhere in his letters (2 Corinthians 8:7; 9:2-3; Philippians 4:15). In the present case such an approach is particularly appropriate, because he is conscious of writing to a church that he had no hand in founding (1:5,13). Because of this latter circumstance, Paul does not enjoy the advantage of immediate paternity and familiarity that he enjoys in the churches of Syria, Asia, Macedonia, and Greece.

He feels compelled to write to the Romans, however, because he senses a responsibility that he has toward all the Gentile Christians (verse 16 [Note the Trinitarian structure]; 1:5; 12:3; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 2:7-8).

Like Jesus preaching in Galilee (Mark 6:6), Paul has maintained a preaching “circuit” (kyklo, the Greek root of “cycle”—verse 19), first centered in Antioch and later in Ephesus. This was a natural development, since the outlying cities had been evangelized by missionaries from the larger ones. This historical circumstance is what accounts for the immense authority of the bishops of Ephesus, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome in early church history.

Thursday, March 17

Matthew 20:17-28: Matthew (20:20-23) and Mark (10:35-40) follow this third prediction of the Lord’s sufferings by recording the occasion on which the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, request of the Lord the privilege of sitting to his immediate right and left when he enters into his kingdom. Still worldly and without understanding, the two brothers are portrayed as resistant to the message of the Cross.

In both Gospel accounts the Lord’s response to their request is to put back to the brothers a further query about their ability to “drink the cup whereof I am to drink,” and Mark’s version contains yet another question about their being “baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.”

Both images used by our Lord in this context, baptism and the cup, are found elsewhere in the New Testament as symbolic of the Lord’s Passion (Luke 12:50; Matthew 26:39-42). Obviously, in the context of the New Testament churches the baptism and the cup referred symbolically to two of the sacraments, and it was understood, moreover, that these two sacraments place their communicants into a special relationship with the Lord’s Passion (Romans 6:3f; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 11:26). The questions about baptism and the cup, then, were most instructive for the Christians attending divine worship where these Gospel texts were read and interpreted.

Matthew’s version, moreover, presents Zebedee’s wife, the mother of the two brothers, approaching the Lord to make the request on their behalf. This woman, elsewhere known as Salome, Matthew calls simply “the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” The detail is certainly significant, inasmuch as this designation, “mother of Zebedee’s sons,” appears only twice in the entire New Testament, both times in Matthew: here in 20:20 and later, in 27:56, at the foot of the Cross.

In the first of these instances Zebedee’s wife is portrayed as an enterprising and somewhat ambitious worldling who fails to grasp the message of the Cross, while in the later scene we find her standing vigil as her Lord dies, now a model of the converted and enlightened Christian who follows Jesus to the very end. This marvelous correspondence between the two scenes — a before and after — is proper to Matthew and points to a delicate nuance of his thought.

Romans 15:22-33: Paul plans to travel with some companions to carry the collection of money that the churches of Galatia, Macedonia, and Greece have assembled for the relief of the Christian poor at Jerusalem. This collection has been in process for several years (verses 25-27; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1—9:15. We know that Paul eventually did make the delivery (Acts 24:17).
To assist in carrying this money Paul has gathered a group of sturdy Christians who will bear and defend it. These men would have to be strong and efficient. After all, this money was in coins only, not bills or travelers’ checks. The money bags were heavy, and armed brigands were everywhere, so Paul was obliged to choose the biggest, toughest, and perhaps scariest Christians he knew. The list of them is contained in Acts 20:4, where we see that they were drawn from Macedonia, Asia Minor, and Galatia. At Troas they would be joined by Paul himself, Luke, and some others whom we may be able to identify from Colossians 4:7-14.

Then he hopes to visit Rome and other points westward. We know he came to Rome; a visit to Spain is less certain.

Friday, March 18

Matthew 20:29-34: Matthew’s version of this story effectively juxtaposes these two blind men with the two sons of Zebedee, who are symbolically healed of their spiritual blindness with respect to the mystery of the Cross. Thus healed, says the text, “they followed “him” (20:34). They become part of the congregation that will accompany Israel’s true King into Jerusalem to accomplish the mystery of Redemption.

To “follow” Christ means to live by the pattern of the Cross, to pursue the implications of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, the one a mystic identification with His death and resurrection, the other a proclaiming of His death “until He comes.” These two men have accepted the challenge just made to James and John.

These blind men, calling on Jesus with the Messianic title, “Son of David,” ask for the opening of their eyes, an expression which in prophetic literature is associated with the Messianic times (cf. Isaiah 29:18; 35:5).

In fact, one notes in Matthew a disposition to call Jesus the “Son of David” (a title introduced in the very first verse of this Gospel), when He miraculously heals. We observe this in both healings of the blind men (here and in 9:30), the blind and mute demoniac (12:22-24), and the Canaanite woman’s daughter (15:21-28). These healings are signs of the coming of the Messiah, foretold by the prophets (cf. 4:23; 9:35; 10:1).

Romans 16:1-27: As the rising sun moves up toward the eastern horizon each morning, one by one the myriad stars of heaven start to disappear. They do not depart the sky, of course, but the stars do become invisible by reason of the sun’s larger and more garish light, and we upon the earth may no longer gain our bearings by observing them.

Not so the saints who shine on high. The true Sun or Righteousness does not, at His rising, eclipse those lesser lights by which the Church on earth is guided. On the contrary, He Himself illumines the saints, who have no light apart from Him. The reign of Christ does not dethrone the saints, who have no reign apart from His.

The saints, because they are so many and their serried ranks so closely stand together, are described as a “cloud” (Hebrews 12:1). Yet, on closer inspection, we perceive that not one of the saints loses those personal and particular traits by which each friend of Christ may be distinguished from the others. The Good Shepherd calls them each by name.

The individual and particular names of the saints are inscribed in the Book of Life, and the names of many of them are written likewise in the Bible. It is the singular merit of Romans 16 that it contains the New Testament’s largest collection of names of individual Christians. They belong to the “church,” a word that now appears in Romans for the first time (verses 1,4,5,16,23).