Friday, June 7

Psalms 107 (Greek & Latin 106): This psalm describes a series of adversities suffered by God’s servants, along with His continued intervention to deliver them from all such troubles. It is an historical meditation for attaining contemplative wisdom; its final line asks, “Who is wise and will guard these things, and will understand the mercies of the Lord?”
Among the distresses of God’s servants, as our psalm narrates them, we may identify two sections, one near the beginning and one close to the end, as dealing with the sufferings associated with the wandering of the people in the desert.

Between these two sections are three others that describe a situation of imprisonment or bondage, a sickness, and a storm at sea. All of these depictions are colorful and detailed. Two refrains bind all the parts together: “Then they cried to the Lord in their tribulation, and He delivered them from their every distress,” and “Let them confess the Lord for His mercies, and His wonders to the sons of men.”

Exodus 40: Moses thus did “everything that the Lord commanded him” (verses 16,19,21,23,25,27,29,32).

The Israelites have now been at the base of Sinai for about nine months (verse 17) and have already received, as we saw earlier, their marching orders (33:1). They are nearly ready to depart.

Everything is to be anointed with consecratory oil (verses 9-15). The Christian will read these verses in the awareness that the tabernacle itself is a prefiguration of Christ, the Anointed One. The Son of God, anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, is the permanent presence of God to humanity.

The glory of the divine presence descends into the tabernacle (verses 34-38). This glorious cloud, associated with both the passage through the Red Sea and the giving of the Law on Sinai, is now a feature of God’s ongoing presence with His people. Both events become permanent and “institutionalized” in the Mosaic tabernacle. The divine overshadowing will in due course be transferred to the Solomonic temple at Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11), as well as the second temple (Haggai 2:6-9).

All of these manifestations of the divine presence, as well as the rabbinical speculations regarding the cloud (shekinah), are properly taken as prophetic of the Incarnation, in which God’s eternal and consubstantial Word definitively “pitched His tent (eskenosen) among us” (John 1:14). Thus, all of the earlier overshadowings are but prefigurations of that by which the Holy Spirit effects the mystery of the Incarnation in the Woman who served as the tabernacle of God’s presence in this world; cf. Luke 1:35.

Saturday, June 8

Ezekiel 36:24-28: These five verses from a sixth century prophet pertain directly to tomorrow’s feast of Pentecost. Luke describes the event, this “gathering from all the nations,” which Ezekiel prophesied: “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. . . . Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome.”

On this assembly of “devout men,” God said through the mouth of Ezekiel, “ I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.” When those devout men inquired of the Apostles, “What shall we do?” St. Peter instructed them,

Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.

To such as these, the author of the Epistle to Hebrews extends the invitation,

let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Psalms 33 (Greek & Latin 32): When the Holy Spirit descends of the “devout men,” Ezekiel said, they will receive “a new heart and . . . new spirit.” For this reason, according to Psalm 33, they will also sing a “new song,” a shir chadash (cf, also, Psalms 95:1; 97:1; 143:9; 149:1; Is. 42:10).

This is a particular kind of newness, of renewal, of new life, inasmuch as “He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’” (Rev. 21:5). The song of the believers is always a new song, because it springs from an inner divine font.

It is the song of those who are born again in Christ and therefore “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). The song of the Lord’s redeemed is a new song, for they adhere to the new covenant in Christ’s blood and “serve in the newness of the Spirit” (Rom. 7:6).

Pentecost Sunday, June 9

Acts 2:1-21: The Holy Spirit gives three benefits to the People of God: to proclaim, the parse, and to pray.

With respect to the proclamation, the Holy Spirit, beginning at the event of Pentecost, puts into the hearts of Christians—and on their lips—the confession of the true God and His Son:

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Gal 4:6)

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:15)

No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

With respect to the parsing, the Holy Spirit confers the light to think correctly with respect to the word of truth.

According to Isaiah 11, the first and major gifts of the Holy Spirit pertain to the intellect: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel, . . . the spirit of knowledge. God expects Christians to understand, in some measure, and to grasp the meaning and significance of what they believe.

The accurate analysis of the Faith, because it is an exercise of thought, must be verbal; it must deal with words and sentences. That is to say, it must be parsed.

Over the centuries, God’s People has developed a highly refined theological vocabulary. We believe this development comes from the Holy Spirit, of whom Jesus said that He would lead us into all truth. Correct dogma is an essential feature of the work of the Holy Spirit on the Christian mind.

With respect to prayer, we must not forget that the source of all our communication with God comes from the activity of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. For this reason, the purpose of the ascetical life is to remove impediments to the inner activity of the Holy Spirit. We will never be able to pray—to be such worshippers as the Father seeks—if we continue to grieve the Holy Spirit.

Monday, June 10

Acts 2:22-47: Church history begins when men are smitten in heart at hearing the proclamation of Jesus as risen Lord and Messiah. The Gospel is directed to the heart and is intended to smite and stun the heart. Repentance and faith are a cardiac experience.

”Repent,” in this passage, is in the aorist imperative; it does not signify here an ongoing activity but a decision. The Greek metanoia and its derivatives translate the Hebrew root shuv, which means to “return” or “change direction.” This is a common theme among the prophets.

Conversion means joining the Church in repentance. In the New Testament there is no such thing as a purely personal conversion. When God smites the heart, the person smitten asks, “What must I do?” The New Testament answer is invariably, “Be baptized. Join the Church.”

The summary of the response to Peter’s first sermon includes (in verse 42) the three constitutive components of the Church’s life of worship: First, the authoritative proclamation of the Word of God (“the apostles’ doctrine”); second, the serving of the Sacraments (“the Communion, the breaking of the Bread”); third, common worship (“prayers”). It is in these three things that the “baptized” (verse 41) are to “continue steadfastly.”

All these components of worship mentioned here are also found in our earliest extant description of the Eucharistic Liturgy by Justin Martyr (Apologia Prima 67) in the mid-second century. That first generation of Christians maintained their worship in the temple (Luke 24:53) as well as the Eucharistic communion in their homes (Acts 2:46). Like Jesus (Luke 2:27,49; 19:45; 22:53), they used the temple as a missionary forum (Acts 3:11; 4:2; 5:20-21,42).

Their practice of “holding all things in common” should not be interpreted in a legal sense of ownership (cf. 5:4) but with respect to their operative attitude toward their possessions. It is significant that this attitude is mentioned in the immediate context of the Church’s liturgical life. It was from the beginning that the Church made “collections” of material resources at the common worship, particularly the Eucharist.

Tuesday, June 11

Acts 4:32-37; 9:26-31; 11:10-26: It happens that we have a pretty good idea of what Barnabas—virtually unique in the New Testament—looked like, and he was impressive! Indeed, some ancient devotees of Zeus mistook him for the object of their devotion. It happened in the city of Lystra, where Paul had just healed a lifelong cripple. In immediate response to this marvel, the citizens of the city “raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods
have come down to us in the likeness of men!’”

After that, matters got very much out of hand. In the enthusiasm of the moment, “the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.”

Because of the language barrier, which apparently required them to speak through an interpreter, it took several minutes for the two apostles to put a stop to the business, but they eventually did so, proceeding then to preach
one of the shortest sermons in history (three verses). Even then, says the
text, “with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from
sacrificing to them” (Acts 14:8–18).

Zeus is portrayed in dozens of extant old art works and described in scores of ancient texts. This “father of gods and men” was massive in height and powerfully muscular in bulk. His great brow extended broad and serene over clear, far-seeing eyes, and a full majestic beard lay upon his barrel chest. Brother to Poseidon, god of the sea, Zeus, when he condescended to speak, spoke with the deep rumblings of oceanic authority. Now this . . . this is what the citizens of Lystra saw in Barnabas! No wonder they were impressed.

Leviticus 1: Because the English noun “sacrifice” is commonly employed to translate several quite different Hebrew words, readers of the Bible in English may not suspect how varied and complex is the Bible’s treatment of this subject.

For instance, the sacrifice treated here in the first chapter is quite distinct. One would not suspect just how distinct from its common English translation (King James, for example), “burnt sacrifice.” Since just about all sacrifices in the Bible, with the obvious exception of libations, were burnt, the expression does not tell us very much.

The Hebrew word employed for the sacrifices in this chapter is ‘olah, a participle meaning “ascending.” This term may originally have been connected with the ascending smoke released by the fire that consumed the victim. In the ancient Greek translation (the Septuagint), this term was rendered holokavtoma, which indicated that the whole victim, not just part of it, was consumed in the fire. This Greek word became the Latin holocaustum, whence is derived our English “holocaust.” Because it consumed the entire victim, the holocaust—the sacrifice envisaged in this opening chapter of Leviticus—was the most complete form of sacrifice.

Wednesday, June 12

Leviticus 2: The sacrifice treated in this chapter is the minhah, or grain offering. In this sacrifice, only part of the grain was burned, the remainder being reserved for the household of the priest (verse 2). In addition, the grain could be baked into bread (verses 4-13).

In these latter cases it was important not to use yeast in the baking process, probably because yeast produces fermentation, which was considered a form of corruption. There was the perceived need to remove all suggestion of corruption from the sacrifice offered to God. Salt, on the other hand, because it is a preservative, was a normal part of this form of sacrifice. Indeed, this aspect of salt rendered it an excellent symbol of the permanence and incorruptibility of God’s covenant with Israel. It was, in truth, a “covenant of salt” (Numbers 18:19). Holy Scripture contains a number of references to this symbolic value of salt (cf. Ezekiel 16:4; 2 Kings 2:20-22; Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49; Colossians 4:6).

Psalms 72 (Greek & Latin 73): Two narrative sections of Holy Scripture readily come to mind in connection with the themes of this psalm. The first text is 2 Samuel 7, containing Nathan’s great prophecy about the royal house of David, which now became the beneficiary of a special covenant to guarantee that his descendants would reign forever over his kingdom. A number of lines of our psalm, especially those pertaining to the permanence and extension of David’s royal house, reflect that historical text.

The second pertinent passage is 1 Kings 3, which describes Solomon’s prayer for the “wise heart” that would enable him to govern God’s people justly. Repeatedly throughout this psalm mention is made of the justice and wisdom that would characterize God’s true anointed one.

Both aspects of our psalm, as well as the two narrative texts that it reflects, proved to be more than slightly problematic in Israel’s subsequent history. For example, Solomon’s vaunted wisdom as a ruler, that for which he had prayed at Gibeah, didn’t last even to the end of his own lifetime, and it was displayed among his posterity with (not to put too fine a point on it) a rather indifferent frequency. Similarly, what is to be said about the permanence of the reign of David’s household over God’s people? More than half of that kingdom broke away shortly after the death of David’s first successor, nor was any Davidic king ever again to reign on his throne after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 bc. What, then, could be said for either the prophecy of Nathan or the prayer of Solomon? How were the promises in this psalm to be understood?

As Christians, of course, we believe that the inner substance of all these prefigurations finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Lord, the goal of biblical history and the defining object of all biblical prophecy.

The Archangel Gabriel announced the fulfillment of these ancient prophecies when he told the Mother of the Messiah that “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32, 33). Yet other angels announced to the shepherds that “there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ [Messiah] the Lord” (2:11). He was to be at once David’s offspring and His Lord (cf. Mark 12:35–37).

As for Solomon, was he the wise king? Well, in measure, to be sure, but now behold, a greater than Solomon is here. If Solomon’s wish was to rule God’s people wisely and with righteousness (a word that comes repeatedly in our psalm), what shall we say of the One whom the New Testament calls our wisdom and our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:24, 30)?

Thursday, June 13

John 1:18:1-11: Malchus saw the sword coming from the right, aimed at his throat, and he ducked quickly to his left to avoid decapitation. Even so, his
right ear was partly severed by the tip of the blade (Luke 22:50). Then Jesus stepped up, grabbed his dangling ear, and replaced it entirely to his head, as though nothing had ever happened. The rest of that night was a blur, and the whole next day, as he walked around in a daze, going to Pilate’s and elsewhere, but ever reaching up from time to time to feel his ear and trying to make sense of it all.

Some decades later, Malchus, a Christian now for many years and long repentant of his actions on that dreadful night, sat down and described his part in the event to a physician named Luke, who happened to be writing a new account of the life and teaching of Jesus. Malchus told how the Lord reached out His hand through the enveloping darkness and reattached his dangling ear. “He made it as good as new, really.

But, please, leave out my name,” Malchus requested of Luke. He was not aware that another writer would put it in anyway (John 18:10). This other writer, John, had been present when it happened, and he may have learned the name of Malchus from a cousin, who encountered Simon in the courtyard of the high priest somewhat later that night (18:26).

Leviticus 3: What most English translations of the Bible call the “peace offering” is, in the Hebrew text, known as the zebah shelamim, a term indicating an oblation which harmonizes or makes perfect. It is an offering in which there is some sort of communion through the shared eating of part of the victim. Hence, unlike the holocaust, the entire victim in this kind of sacrifice is not destroyed by fire; parts of it are eaten by the priests who offer it and by those individuals for whom it is offered.

The sacrificial victims offered in this sort of oblation were the ox, the sheep, and the goat; animals of both sexes were acceptable. The sacrifice of the ox is described in verses 1-5, in which special attention is given to the animal’s blood. Because blood especially symbolizes life, it could not be ingested. It had to be sprinkled on the altar, as a sign that all life belongs to God. Similarly, those internal organs more especially associated with the processes of life, such as the intestines, the liver, and the kidneys, were burned in the sacrificial fire. Much the same procedure was followed for the offering of the sheep (verses 6-11) and the goat (verses 12-17).

Friday, June 14

Leviticus 4: The “sin offering” of this chapter is an expiatory sacrifice that could be made for the priest (verses 1-12), the whole congregation (verses 13-21), the leader (verses 22-26), or any individual who might need it (verse 27 to 5:23).

The Hebrew name for this sacrifice, ’attata’t, literally means “sin,” but the meaning is extended to include the consequences of sin and, hence, the sacrifice offered to expiate sin (this noun, in the priestly code, always meaning offenses against God), and thus signifying even the victim offered in that sacrifice. Here in Leviticus the normal meaning of ’attata’t is “sin offering.”

With the term understood in this specific way and special sense, we can see that when the Apostle Paul said that God made Jesus “sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21), he meant that Jesus became the victim of that expiatory sacrifice by which atonement was made for our sins. Jesus Himself became the ’attata’t, the “sin offering,” fulfilling the prophetic dimension of the sacrifices with which this chapter deals.

Here in Leviticus the verb used to “make” this sin offering is ‘asah (three times in verses 8-9), which is a normal verb connoting the performance of many sacrifices (cf. 5:10; 6:15; 8:34; 9:7,16,22; 14:19; 15:15,30; 16:9,15,24; 19:9; 22:23; 23:12,19). In the Greek text of the Septuagint this ‘asah is translated as poiein. This is the verb used by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where he says that God “made [Jesus] a sin offering” (hamartian epoiesen).

It should be further noted that these particular sacrifices, although expiatory, are not substitutionary (in contrast to the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, which was substitutionary but not expiatory). The Bible invariably distinguishes between substitutionary and expiatory sacrifices. It is a fact that the Old Testament system of sacrifice prescribed no substitutionary mactation of a sacrificial victim to atone for a sin that deserved death. That is to say, in the sacrificial system of the Bible, no animal is ever sacrificed to atone for the sin of someone who, because of that sin, deserved to die.

With respect to the death of Jesus on the Cross, we say that He died to atone our sins. In this regard His death was an expiatory sacrifice. When we speak of His death, however, as a substitutionary sacrifice, we indicate that He acted as the true Paschal Lamb, of which those earlier lambs were but symbols and types. Thus, the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was both expiatory and substitutionary; He fulfilled both of these sacrificial types, each in a way proper to itself. The death of this “Lamb of God” did what the substitutionary sacrifice of the ancient Paschal lambs was never intended to do — namely, take away the sins of the world.

Thus, Jesus fulfilled all of these ancient sacrifices of the Old Testament: the ‘olah, or holocaust (Chapter 1), by being a complete sacrifice; the minhah, or grain sacrifice (Chapter 2), by granting us, in the breaking of the Bread, to “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26); the zebah shelamim, or “peace offering” (Chapter 3), by sharing with us his own communion with God; and the ’attata’t, or sin offering (the present chapter), by taking away the barrier that human sins created between God and the human race.