Friday, May 22

Ephesians 2:11-18: The great theme of the Epistle to the Ephesians is the reconciliation of all things in Christ. Paul introduced this theme early in the epistle, speaking of “the mystery of [God’s] will . . . that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times that He might gather together in one all things in Christ” (1:9-10). For Paul this universal reconciliation is not a theory about history. He sees it being visibly worked out already in the actual events of history. The first fruits of this universal reconciliation can already be observed in the founding of the Church, because the Church herself is founded on a specific act of divine reconciliation—namely, the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in one community. This unexpected and improbable reconciliation, which was already being enacted in Paul’s own lifetime, was the beginning of a more universal, even cosmic reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Therefore, correctly to understand God’s final purpose in history, the key is to grasp this reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in the one body of the Church. The means of this reconciliation is the Cross, where the death of God’s Son neutralized the difference between Gentile and Jew. Christ Himself, after all, “is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”

This Law, given on Mount Sinai, was what separated Jew and Gentile, but in His death on the Cross “abolished” that wall of separation. By reconciling all men equally to God on the Cross, Christ reconciled them to one another. So, says, Paul, “through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”

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.

Saturday, May 23

John 14:12-24: The Holy Spirit, when he comes to the Church, says Jesus, will really be “the Spirit of truth,” because “He will teach you all things, and make you mindful (hypomnesei) of all things I told to you.” The “memory” of God’s People is the living source of their identity as the Church. The Holy Spirit informs—gives form to—that memory. He it is who “correctly parses (orthotomounta) the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

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. Christians are expected, in some measure, to understand and grasp the meaning of what they believe. The Word of God must be parsed. That is, it must be interpreted. This is the task of Sacred Theology.

In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul prays for the “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.”

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.

Sunday, May 24

Acts 1:15-26: Just as Zacharias is 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. 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.”

God’s preference of Matthias implied no censure of the other man. Joseph Barsabbas 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 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 today is not a product of the Reformation, 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.

Monday, May 25

Psalms 62 (Greek & Latin 61): The address of the psalm goes in a variety of directions—we muse within ourselves, we address our enemies, we speak directly to God, we address one another. This is a psalm supremely useful for settling one’s soul quietly in the presence of God.

“Shall not my soul,” we ask, “be subject to God? because from Him comes my salvation. For He is my God and my salvation. He is my protector, and I shall be disturbed no more.”

Salvation in this psalm, as frequently in the Bible, is something for which we wait in patience. In the grammar of Holy Scripture, salvation is very often spoken of in the future tense: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13 [also 10:9]). From heaven we “eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20), “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

This future perspective of salvation is especially true of the Epistle to the Romans: “Much more, then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (5:9, 10). The Apostle quotes Isaiah to the effect that “the remnant will be saved” (9:27), and he hopes that “all Israel will be saved” (11:26). Indeed, “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (13:11). Even when Romans speaks of salvation in a past tense, it is still a matter of hope for the future: “We were saved in this hope but hope that is seen is not hope” (8:24).

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).

Tuesday, May 26>

Psalms 68 (Greek and Latin 67): The Book of Numbers 10:35 indicates what seems to have been the original context for this psalm: “So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said: ‘Rise up, O Lord! / Let Your enemies be scattered, / And let those who hate You flee before You.’” This was the psalm chanted to accompany the movement of the ark of the covenant, as it was carried by the Levites from place to place during Israel’s desert wanderings.

Reference is made to the central event of that wandering—Mount Sinai: “O God, when You went out before Your people, when You marched through the wilderness, the earth shook; the heavens also dripped rain at the presence of God. Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.”

The enemies to be scattered, in that historical context, were those up-to-no-good Amalekites, Moabites, Amorites, Midianites and so forth, who did battle against the Chosen People on their way to the Promised Land: “Kings of armies flee, they flee. . . . But God will wound the head of His enemies, the hairy scalp of one who still goes on in his trespasses. . . . Scatter the peoples who delight in war.”

This wandering of Israel through the desert was a kind of procession, in which the various tribes marched in set formation: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands. . . . Bless the Lord in the congregations, the Lord from the fountain of Israel. There is little Benjamin, their leader, the princes of Judah and their company, the princes of Zebulun and the princes of Naphtali.”

Other lines in the psalm make it clear, likewise, that it was later chanted to accompany liturgical processions in the temple at Jerusalem: “They have seen Your procession, O God, the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the maidens playing timbrels. . . . Because of Your temple at Jerusalem, kings will bring presents to You.”

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 workdays, but the Sabbath and the monthly feast day (“the new moon”) are to be marked by opening the gate (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.

Verse 18 indicates a return to the ancient Mosaic mandate keeping inherited real estate within family ownership (cf. Leviticus 25:10-17).

Wednesday, May 27

Psalms 69 (Greek and Latin 68): From the very beginning the Christian reading of this psalm has uniformly interpreted it in the context of the Lord’s suffering and death. “Save me, O God, for the waters have come even unto my soul. . . . I have come to the depths of the sea, and the flood has submerged me,” prays the Man of sorrows who described His approaching Passion as the baptism with which He must be baptized (cf. Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50; Rom. 6:3).

This same Sufferer goes on to pray: “Zeal for Your house has consumed me,” a verse explicitly cited in the New Testament with respect to the Lord’s purging of the temple (John 2:17). In the context this consuming of the Lord was a reference to His coming Passion; He went on to say to those who were plotting to kill Him: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In saying this, the evangelist noted, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (vv. 19, 21).

The very next line of Psalm 68 says: “The reproaches of those who reproached You have fallen on me,” a verse later cited in Romans as bearing on the sufferings of the Lord. The apostle’s lapidary and understated comment was that “even Christ did not please Himself” (15:3). In this passage St. Paul could obviously presume a common Christian understanding of Psalm 68, even in a congregation that he had not yet visited.

Still later in our psalm stands the line: “Let their dwelling be deserted and let no one live in their tabernacles.” Even prior to the Pentecostal outpouring, the Church knew this verse for a reference to Judas Iscariot (cf. Acts 1:20), that dark and tragic figure who guided the enemies of Jesus and betrayed his Lord with a kiss.

This is the prayer of Him “who, in the days of His flesh . . . offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death” (Heb. 5:7). The Christian Church has ever been persuaded that this psalm expresses the sentiments of that soul “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). In Psalm 68 we are given a vision into the very heart of Christ in the circumstances of His Passion: “Deliver me from those that hate me, and from the depths of the waters. Let not the flood of water submerge me, nor the depth swallow me down, nor the mouth of the pit close over me.”

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.

Thursday, May 28

Psalms 66 (Greek & Latin 65): The “works” of God being celebrated in this psalm, then, 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 (1 Cor. 5:7).

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.

Friday, May 29

Ephesians 5:8-21: There are three features on the life in Christ especially to be observed in this text: the life in Christ is fruitful, it is wise, and it is melodious.

First, the life in Christ is fruitful. It yields results. Jesus said, “a tree is known by its fruit.” Alas, some Christians seem not to know about it. Jesus tells us to look for the fruit. They 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.” A more ample list is available in Galatians 5: “the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

Second, the life in Christ is wise. That is to say, it is a life characterized by discernment. Paul writes in this text, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise,”

The Apostle here contrasts the wise man with the fool, a contrast elaborated at great length in the Wisdom books of the Bible. In the Book of Proverbs the wise man is described as circumspect, honest, industrious, obedient, vigilant, cautious, and self-controlled. He is contrasted with the fool, who is described as mentally lazy, dishonest, slothful, rebellious, imprudent, and undisciplined. These are the qualities that Paul mentions in the present text as “the unfruitful works of darkness.”

Wisdom is a quality of the mind and heart. It is the highest form of understanding. Wisdom is a high quality of thought, and those who avoid thinking will never become wise. God is to be loved “with the whole mind.” There is no fruitful life in Christ without the use of the mind. Therefore Paul says in the present text, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. . . do not be unwise but understand.”

Third, the life in Christ is melodious. It is a musical life, described in Holy Scripture as singing a new song to the Lord. Thus Paul proclaims in the present text, “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” The Bible describes Paul and Silas as singing to the Lord in prison in the middle of the night.

Singing to the Lord is supposed to be a daily activity of the life in Christ. It is not something for just Sunday morning. The texts of worship are supposed to be always in our hearts, so that they may rise to our lips in melodies of praise. The cultivation of hymnody in our lives should be a matter of personal discipline.

Indeed, the memorization of psalms and hymns is part of loving God with our whole mind. How else are we to fulfill the mandate that Paul lays on our conscience in the present text, to speak “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”?

The melodies we sing in church are not just for church. They are to nourish our hearts and minds at other times as well—while driving our cars, for instance, while cutting potatoes in the kitchen, or sweeping the floor, and certainly when taking a shower. The Christian Church is a hymn-singing religion, and it has been from the beginning. Christians are hymn singing people.