Friday, May 6

John 4:39-45: During the time that Jesus stays with the Samaritans, they come to a mature faith in Him, no longer dependent on the testimony of the woman at the well. At the end of the story, the woman’s Samaritan friends add another important Christological title: “We know that this is in truth the Savior of the world” (4:42).

This confession of the Samaritans—“Savior of the world”—forms a summary, as it were, of John’s reflections on the discourse with Nicodemus: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” That is to say, the conversion of the Samaritans is an important step in the evangelization of the whole world.

Ezekiel 41: Everything in the temple expresses the principles of mathematics. In the Bible (as in Pythagoras and Plato), numbers are sacred; they are spiritual emanations of God’s creative act, giving form, structure, and significance to the universe. Numbers are the basis of “form,” that internal principle of proportion that causes things to be what they are. And because the knowledge of anything consists in the comprehension of its form, all knowledge involves a mathematical perception, a “measure,” the perception of “limits,” which “define” things.

Even this future temple—a reflection of the heavenly sanctuary seen by Moses on Mount Sinai—now being “visited” in prophetic vision by Ezekiel, is shaped (that is, receives its form) by the principles of measurement. Because the house of God is a house of order, not chaos, it is a house structured according to the eternal principles of proportion.

Step by step, and in reverent silence, the angelic tour guide patiently lays his royal cubit stick to determine the proportions of the sacred space. The unit of measure that he employs is the royal cubit, which in modern measurement is 52.5 centimeters or 20.6692 inches.

When the heavenly minister enters the Holy of Holies to take its measure in verses 3-4, Ezekiel reverently remains outside; when that inner sanctuary has been measured, the angel gives the prophet a brief explanation.

Ezekiel also receives an explanation of the altar in verse 22. The elaborate carvings described in verses 19-26 are early proof that the Jews of that period (and for centuries to come, well into the Christian era), did not interpret the Decalogue as prohibiting works of representative art in places of worship.

Saturday, May 7

John 4:46-54: Coming to the second Sign in John’s Gospel, we observe that it takes place in the same city as the first sign—Cana in Galilee. As in the first sign (2:11), as well, the man himself “believed, and his whole household.”

Psalms 87 (Greek & Latin 86): This psalm is a meditation on the catholicity of Holy Church, that city of the Lord of whom it is said: “His foundations are in the holy mountains; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the tabernacles of Jacob.” This is the city of which we ourselves proclaim: “You are the dwelling of all who rejoice in you.” In this psalm the Church is portrayed as the true mother of all the nations. It says that a birth certificate from Zion will be issued to the great cultural and political powers at both ends of the Fertile Crescent, Egypt (“Rahab,” cf. Psalm 88:10; Is. 30:7) and Babylon. She includes the nations to the north (Tyre, or Phoenicia) and to the south (Ethiopia), and those migratory warriors of Philistia. Their very literature is now part of her heritage: “The Lord will narrate in the writing of the peoples and of these princes who were born in her.”

Ezekiel 42: This chapter of Ezekiel elaborately describes the temple area enclosed by a wall that made “a separation between the holy and the common” (42:20). In Holy Scripture there is a strong sense of sacred space, a consecrated area devoted solely to sacred worship. Indeed, the Greek verb meaning to “divide” (temno) provides the root of our word “temple,” designating a special space set apart or “divided” for sacred worship. (The same verbal root gives us such English words as “time” and “temporal.” Just as space is “divided,” so is time.)

The original type of such space was the area adjacent to the Burning Bush, which Moses could not enter without removing his shoes. (Observe that in Ezekiel 42:14, the priests were required to change their clothing when they entered or left the temple. Secular clothing was inappropriate within the sacred space, and liturgical clothing was inappropriate outside of it.)

When Moses later received the Law, all of Mount Sinai became sacred space, off-limits except to those designated to approach the Divine Presence. In varying gradations, all the space of the temple was consecrated and, therefore, off-limits except to those designated for entrance. Most sacred of all was the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could enter, nor could even he enter it except on the holiest day of the year (the divided and thereby consecrated “time”), which was the Day of the Atonement.

Here on earth, all consecrations of space are reflections of heaven itself, that tabernacle not made with hands, where our own Forerunner and High Priest has entered once and for all, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

Sunday, My 8

Acts 1:15-26: Just as Zacharias was designated by lot to offer the incense at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, Matthias is chosen by lot to be numbered among the Apostles at the beginning of Acts (1:24–26). This latter juxtaposition, too, was detected by St. Ambrose, who thus commented on the choice of Zacharias by speaking of the choice of Matthias: “So the lot fell on the apostle Matthias, lest the choice of an apostle should seem to diverge from the
command of the Old Law.”

Before their casting of lots, the brethren narrowed their selection to a choice between two men with identical qualifications. Matthias and Joseph Barsabas both met the technical requirements for being numbered with the original Apostles (1:21–23). One remembered, however, that Judas Iscariot too had met those requirements. Clearly something more was needed, as their prayer acknowledged: “You, O Lord, know the hearts of all.” God could read the hearts of both men, and, for reasons best known to Himself, He preferred Matthias.

God’s preference of Matthias, nonetheless, implied no censure of the other man. Joseph Barsabas was not chosen for that particular apostolate, but there was no implied criticism of him. All through Holy Scripture, indeed, God continually chooses some individuals over others with a view to the divine purposes in history. While each of those choices necessarily implies a rejection of sorts, such rejections are not necessarily condemnations nor repudiations.

Ezekiel 43: God’s glory, which Ezekiel had seen depart eastward from the temple in 11:23, now returns from the same direction. This glory of God, witness by the prophet, was revealed in a great luminosity, in reference to which we are surely correct in thinking of the bright cloud of fire that led Israel through the Red Sea and the Sinai desert. This same divine luminosity adorned the face of Christ our Lord at His Transfiguration and is an image of divine revelation itself (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).

When the divine glory returns to the temple, it is accompanied, Ezekiel tells us, by all the mystic images that he originally saw at the time of his calling, at the beginning of this book. In verse 10 he is commissioned to write a description of all that he sees, and there immediately follows an account of the altar (verses 13-17) and its construction and consecration (verses 18-27).

One is particularly struck by the detail that this new altar must be ascended by stairs, a feature expressly prohibited in Exodus 20:25-26.

Monday, May 9

Psalms 89 (Greek & Latin 88): This Psalm is composed of three parts. The first has to do with God’s activity in the creation of the heavens and the earth, the second with His covenant and promise with respect to the house of David, and the third with certain crises of history that threaten that covenant and put its promise at peril. All three themes are organically connected.

The first part of our psalm, taking up the theme of this divine imposition of form over chaos, emphasizes the structural constancy of the universe, but already this cosmic theme is introduced in a setting best described as messianic. That is to say, already anticipating the psalm’s second part, the permanence of the Davidic throne is related to the unvarying dependability of the heavenly bodies, for both things are given shape by God’s holy word and sworn resolve.

Now, as Christians, we know that God’s solemn promise to David, with respect to the everlasting stability of his throne, is fulfilled in the kingship of Christ, for the Son of David now sits forever enthroned at God’s right hand, executing both prophecy and promise. Only in Christ do we find the key to the mystery of this psalm: “Once I swore by My holiness, nor would I ever lie to David. His seed shall abide forever, and his throne as the sun in My sight, and like the moon forever established, a faithful witness in heaven.”

The theological bond, then, joining the creation to David, is Christ: “God . . . has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds. . . . But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’ . . . And: ‘You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, / And the heavens are the work of Your hands’” (Heb. 1:1, 2, 8, 10). The regal, messianic covenant of sonship is related to the fixed structure of the very world, because both realities are rooted in Christ. As font and inner form, He is their common warrant.

In fact, nonetheless, both things, God’s creation and His covenant, appear ever under threat throughout history, which theme brings us to the third part of our psalm. In this section we pray repeatedly for God’s vindication of the messianic covenant, which man in his rebellion endeavors ever to overthrow.

Ezekiel 44: The first three verses of this chapter testify to the special holiness of the temple’s east gate, consecrated by the entrance of God’s glory through it. This gate must remain sealed forever. Because God Himself has used this gate, the prophet is told, no one else may do so. Even the prince, who may approach the gate from the vestibule to the west of it, may not pass through the gate itself, though he is permitted to eat certain consecrated foods while within the gateway.

This account of the consecration of the temple’s eastern gate, by reason of God’s having entered it, is read at Vespers on most feast days of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which interprets the text as an image prophetic of Mary’s perpetual virginity. According to this interpretation, her very body, because God’s Word used it as His entrance into this world by means of the Incarnation, was consecrated in an exclusive way; if this was the case with respect to the divine cloud of God’s glory in the Old Testament, how much more with respect to God’s definitive entry into human life by Incarnation. After His passage through it, the door of His entrance, because it was definitively consecrated, must remain forever shut. (Mary’s perpetual virginity, unquestioned for centuries and considered defined dogma by most Christians throughout the world, was consistently defended by the Protestant Reformers. The sustained denial of it is not a product of Protestantism, but of modern secularism that has no sense of physical consecration.)

The rest of this chapter deals with the consecration of the priests and Levites. Himself a member of the priestly family, Ezekiel habitually shows special concern for the distinction between holy and profane, as we see here in verses 17-27.

Tuesday, May 10

Ephesians 5:8-21: The life in Christ, says the Apostle Paul, is fruitful. It yields results. Jesus said, “a tree is known by its fruit.” It is of extreme importance that we stress this point, because many Christians seem not to know about it. Jesus tells us to look for the fruit.

This is important to say, because some Christians imagine that they will be judged by their roots, not by their fruits. They pride and preen themselves that they belong to the true Church. They fancy that this is enough to be pleasing in God’s sight—simply because they have the proper spiritual ancestry. They look down on, and pass judgment on, other Christians that cannot boast that same spiritual ancestry.

To Christians such as these we say, with John the Baptist, “bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Mt 2:9). We must not be deceived on this matter: No one has entered into everlasting life because he belonged to the true Church. That is to say, no one is in heaven because of his roots. Those who have entered into everlasting life have done so because of their fruits.

What shall we say to those who imagine that God will judge them by their roots? We will say, again with John the Baptist, “even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:10).

These are the fruits that come from union with Christ. This is the union of which Jesus says, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8).

The present text partially describes this fruit: “for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” An ampler list is available in Galatians 5: “the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

Ezekiel 45: The first eight verses of this chapter treat of particular dispositions of real estate in Jerusalem: for the holy place, for the priests and Levites, and for the people and the prince. The disposition of the land is arranged in relation to the temple, with the property of the priests around it, and the real estate of the prince and the citizens out beyond that of the priests. The arrangement of the land in and around Jerusalem thus reflects the structure of society, with God at the center, then His ministers, and then the civic order.

The thought of Ezekiel envisions, then, the restoration of theocracy. His vision is entirely ideal, because even from the perspectives of demography and topography, Ezekiel’s purely symmetric arrangement would be impossible to implement on actual real estate on earth. Nonetheless, this same passion for precision must be applied to proper measurements and currency (verses 10-12), and to appropriate offerings to be brought for the various public sacrifices (verses 13-25). In offering these gifts, the people shall act through their prince (verses 16-17).

Wednesday, May 11

Psalm’s 66 (Greek & Latin 65): The “works” of God being celebrated in this psalm, and for which we give thanks to His name, have to do with His accomplishing of our redemption in the paschal mystery, the death and Resurrection of Christ our Lord.

Similarly, the psalm’s references to deliverance from enemies should be read in the context of the drama of Holy Week and the redemption thereby won. This is a psalm about the passage from death to life, for the enemies of the human race are sin and death. It is from these that Christ has set us free, restoring us to eternal favor with God: “He set my soul in life and does not let my footsteps falter. For You, O God, have tested us, You have smelted us as silver. You have brought us into a trap; You laid affliction on our back, and caused men to lord it over us. We passed through fire and water, but You have brought us back to life.”

The sense and sentiment of this psalm, then, are identical to the victory canticles in Exodus 15 and Revelation 15, celebrating the destruction of oppressive and death-dealing forces at Israel’s deliverance from slavery. Psalm 65 may be thought of as another “seaside psalm,” but this sea is “mingled with fire” (Rev. 15:2). Beside it stand the redeemed of the Lord, and “they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, / Lord God Almighty” (15:3). These are the “works” of our paschal redemption. “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast,” wrote St. Paul at Passover season, only two decades or so into Christian history.

Ezekiel 46: In this chapter the interest goes from sacred space to sacred time. The west gate of the temple’s inner court, the gate facing east, is to remain closed on ordinary work days, but the Sabbath and the monthly feast day (“the new moon”) are to be marked by the gate’s opening (verse 1).

The civil authority (“the prince”) will regularly consecrate the life of the nation by appearing reverently at that gate on those appointed days to present a special sacrifice (verses 2,8). The gate will also be opened for the prince whenever devotion prompts him to make an additional offering (verse 12). The prince shall also see to it that regular offerings are made, twice daily, at morning and at evening.

The prayers designated for those two times of daily sacrifice became a standard component of Jewish piety and eventually passed into Christian discipline as the “canonical hours” of Matins and Vespers; this explains the language about sacrifice found in the traditional texts of those two daily services of prayer.

Thursday, May 12

Psalms 105 (Greek & Latin 104): In Israel’s historiography, all was theology. The unifying theme was God’s governance of events through various interventions, whether by perceived phenomena (miracles, apparitions, direct speech) or by that subtle, secret influence of divine activity that we have come to call God’s providence. It was to this latter that St. Paul referred when he wrote: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

One small biblical exercise in the narrative tracing of such a pattern is the present psalm, the first of three consecutive psalms structured on detailed historical narrative. While their varying constructions show no original relationship joining them, the first two are arranged in the Psalter in such a way as to suggest an overlapping sequence. Thus, this psalm begins with Abraham and ends with the Sinai covenant, and the next psalm begins with the Exodus and ends with the period after the Conquest.

Following the primitive schema preserved in Deuteronomy 26:1–9, the psalm’s narrative breaks into three parts: the Patriarchs, the sojourn in Egypt, and the Exodus, all of them joined by the themes of God’s fidelity to His covenant promises and His active providence in fulfilling them.

Ezekiel 47: A secret spring, flowing from the holy place, sends fresh waters eastward, and Ezekiel is taken outside to see the growing stream. Since the eastern gate of the temple is forever locked and the southern gate lies in the area of the flooding water, he exits the temple by the north gate. The river deepens as it goes along through the Judean desert until it reaches the Dead Sea (verse 8). This stagnant pool is refreshed by the new living water flowing from the temple, so that fish can live in it and trees grow on its banks.

This is the living water of which Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman in John 4. This is the stream of Genesis 2:10-14 and Revelation 22:1-2. It is the living water of Pentecost. This living stream, flowing from God’s glory in the temple, is the life-giving water of Baptism.

The rest of this chapter (verses 13-23) contains a detailed geographical outline of the Promised Land, which prepares for the distribution among the twelve tribes in the next chapter.

One observes in this section (verse 22) an attitude toward non-Israelites far more positive than the attitude in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which narrate Israel’s actual return to the Promised Land.

May 13

Joel 1:13-20: We know rather little about this prophet. Except for the opening
verse of his book, the prophet is never otherwise mentioned in the rest of the Old Testament, even though twelve other biblical characters bear the same name. Unlike almost all of the other biblical prophets, no editorial care was taken to give an appropriate context and indication of dates to his prophetic words. Thus, the proper placing of Joel in his own historical setting is unusually difficult. His words tend, therefore, to take on a certain indefinite and even timeless character uncommon in biblical literature.

As we see in today’s reading, the context of Joel’s prophecy was some extraordinary visitation of locusts, in which the harvest of an entire season was destroyed, endangering the people’s survival during the following winter. The whole population was facing famine. Joel’s response to the situation may be summarized like this: “You think you are having a rough time now? Just wait. The present disaster is only a warm-up exercise for the Lord’s Day, the time of His visitation in judgment. For those who refuse to repent, far worse things
lie in store.”

Joel’s prophecies present the reader, therefore, with a sustained call
to repentance, fasting, and prayer, which is why Joel 2:12–19, the
prophet’s summons to “sanctify a fast,” has for centuries been read in
the West on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten observance.

Ezekiel 48: This highly schematic distribution of the Holy Land (into long narrow strips running east/west) is marked by several features: First, it is based on the disposition of the temple and adjoining areas as described in Chapter 45. Second, it is completely theoretical, inasmuch as the majority of the twelve tribes of Israel no longer existed as such; most of the ten tribes deported by the Assyrians in 722 had long been assimilated into the peoples of Mesopotamia. Third, the division of the land differs very significantly from the ancient division from the time of Joshua. If the tribes of Gad and Zebulon had somehow managed to return, they would have been very surprised to find themselves living in the Negev Desert (verses 26-27) instead of the fertile fields of Galilee!

In short, there are considerable difficulties attendant on interpreting this chapter of Ezekiel as a literal description of Israel’s return to the Holy Land in 538. Like the mystical waters of the previous chapter, this geographical disposition should be interpreted in the light of New Testament ecclesiology, the twelve tribes representing the whole people of God, which is the Church of Jesus Christ.

These twelve tribes will each be honored with a gate entering the new Jerusalem (48:30-35; cf. Revelation 21:12). Instead of Yerushalaim (Jerusalem), the city will be called Adonaishammah (“the Lord is there”). This is a prophecy of God’s New Testament Church, on which the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost.