Friday, February 1

Matthew 9:18-26: As the Savior begins to walk toward the home of Jairus—where he will raise that man’s daughter from the dead—a large crowd of followers is pressing around him. Hiding within this crowd is a woman who, strictly speaking, is not supposed to be there, mixing indiscriminately with other people. She is ritually unclean.

Twelve years earlier, this woman began to have her period, something she had taken as normal since about the age of twelve. She did not worry about this; it was a scheduled inconvenience, as it were, a nuisance at best, something women had experienced ever since the day when Eve took that first bite of the forbidden fruit. She was confident, however, that the bleeding would be over in a few days.

Meanwhile, this lady recognized a social fact: she was ritually impure, according to the Mosaic Law. And, as ritually impure, she suffered a measure of monthly ostracism: For instance, she did not eat at the common table with her family during this time. She was forbidden, moreover, to prepare the family’s meals. She slept alone and was prohibited from touching her husband and children for a few days. The details were all worked out in the Torah. It would be over soon; the proper sacrifice would be offered, and she could return to her normal life and routine.

Much to her chagrin, the bleeding did not stop. It continued for a whole month, and then a second month, and then a third. At some point she consulted physicians about the problem, but to no avail. Indeed, according to the gospel of Mark, her consultation with the doctors actually made things worse—a detail curiously omitted by “the beloved physician,” the evangelist Luke!

By the end of the year, the lady was in terrible shape. She suffered from severe anemia, from the loss of blood and iron. Her nerves were on edge. She had not touched another human being in twelve months. Instead of enduring ostracism for a few days, she started to suffer the emotional ravages of total isolation. Her responses grew erratic and strange, as depression became chronic. By the end of a year, the woman’s self-image and sense of personal dignity were severely impaired. But a second year followed, and this one much worse.

Let us not regard this woman as a fictional character in one of Jesus’ parables. She is a real person, whose very soul and body are being destroyed by a condition over which she has no control. By the time we find her in the gospel story, this lady has suffered the trauma and devastation of her condition for twelve whole years. Meanwhile, her children have grown up, and now she has grandchildren, whom she is forbidden to touch. Life is passing her by, and her sole hope is that it will pass by quickly.

Nonetheless, the lady has, of late, heard a rumor about the wonder-worker, Jesus of Nazareth. There is word on the street that healings have been conveyed by the mere touch of his clothing (Matthew 14:36). Clinging desperately to this final chance of deliverance, she resolves even to violate the Law by hiding herself in a crowd. Unnoticed, she inches forward to the point where her extended finger, reaching through the closely packed mass of other bodies, can barely touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. “And immediately,” says Luke, her flow of blood stopped” (8:44). She feels the sudden surge of health
rushing into her wasted frame. The trauma of twelve years is over!

Yes, it is over, but something new is just about to begin. This lady is not the only one who felt something when Jesus’ garment was touched. Jesus, also, perceives that power—dynamis—has gone out from him, and he is unwilling to let the matter lie. Turning about, he declares, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.”

Indeed, somebody. For twelve years this woman has thought of herself as a nobody, but to Jesus she is somebody. He will not permit her to be concealed, lost, and absorbed in a crowd. She has an identity. She is somebody! Now healed in body by the physical act of touching, she must begin the healing of her spirit by being spoken to and reassured.

So, he who calls each of his sheep by name requires the lady to come forward and be identified. Now. when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.

Saturday, February 2

Luke 2:22-40: The prophetic words of Simeon indicates a relationship between our Lord’s Presentation and His Passion. The old man said to the Mother of Jesus: “Behold, this One is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a controversial sign—yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul as well—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

The darker aspect of the Presentation was also conveyed in the appearance of the prophetess Anna. St. Luke says of her that “spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”

In our Lord’s first appearance in the Temple, then, this prophetic couple discerns the presentation of the ultimate sacrificial victim. The Child came for dedication. If this was not evident to other bystanders that day, it certainly was to Simeon and Anna.

And through their prophetic words, the message of the Cross was also made plain to Mary, the Lord’s Mother. A sword, said Simeon, would pierce her heart.

In what spirit does Jesus first come to the Temple? According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, “when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.’ Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God.’”

Psalms 42 (Greek & Latin 41): This is one of those psalms taking their rise from the grace-filled experience of the material creation. The poet is gazing at a formidable scene of rugged rock formations, with thundering cataracts of cold, clear water cascading down from pristine mountain springs and melting snow. He stands on the stony ascent of the Golan Heights, at the sources of the Jordan River, from which he looks up and sees nearby Mount Hermon, the loftiest peak of the region. No sound is heard but the loud pounding and roar of the rushing stream. Some deer come to drink from an eddying pool of the fresh water. This stark, yet glorious scene before him becomes a sort of picture of the poet’s very soul, simultaneously yearning and tumultuous, full of both dereliction and desire: “As the deer longs for the water brooks, so longs my soul for You, O God.

The message of this psalm is one of encouragement, an inner exhortation to trust the memory of earlier grace and to hope for its abundant return. Even if, like Jonah, our loss of the earlier heights is of our own fault and infidelity, God is yet merciful and can restore to us the joy of His salvation: “The Lord will command His mercy by day, and His song by night. . . . Hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my God, the salvation of my being.”

Sunday, February 3

Genesis 34: Jacob’s daughter went gadding about (vv. 1–4) and came to the
attention of a local young man who was evidently accustomed to getting what he wanted. His name was Shechem too. In spite of the New American Bible’s indication of violence (“he lay with her by force”), the Hebrew wai‘anneha is perhaps better translated as “he humbled her” or “he seduced her.” Subsequent events suggest that this was not an act of violence. As it turns out, in fact, Dinah is already living at the young man’s home.

We noted that this young Shechem was accustomed to getting what he wanted. Now he is about to be introduced to Dinah’s big brothers, who have some ideas of their own and also know what they want. This will be Israel’s first recorded armed conflict. As in the case of the Greeks assembled before the walls of Troy, they will be fighting over a stolen woman.

Jacob and Hamor, the fathers of the two young people, are remarkably patient, but not Dinah’s brothers (vv. 5–7). As we shall see in the cases of Reuben and Judah in the next few chapters, Jacob’s sons are not all models of chastity, but they were genuinely concerned for their sister’s well-being and their family’s honor. To describe what has happened to Dinah, they employ the word nebelah or “folly,” which term rather often indicates a sexual offense.
The word is perhaps better translated as “outrage.”

A meeting takes place, as though by accident (vv. 8–12). Hamor and Shechem offer a deal. After all, Dinah is living at Shechem’s house. Why not simply legitimize the situation? Any solution but marriage would make things worse. Besides, the Shechemites reason, if they were all going to be neighbors anyway, why not a general miscegenation of the two peoples?

Here we touch upon an important point of theology, because the very concept of intermarriage might mean that the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would cease to be distinct; the very notion of a chosen people might be lost. Intermarriage with these Shechemites would have led to quite another result than that envisioned in the Bible (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14–18).

Jacob’s sons make a reasonable proposal, but not sincerely (vv. 13–17). They speak “with guile,” bemirmah. This is the identical expression we saw in 27:35 to describe what Jacob had done: “Your brother came bemirmah and has taken away your blessing.” Guile seems to run in this family.

The sin of Simeon and Levi (vv. 25–29), in addition to its cruelty, has about it a touch of deep irreverence. God gave Abraham’s sons the rite of circumcision as the sign of a special covenant. That is to say, circumcision was God’s chosen sign for blessing. By their actions in this chapter, Simeon and Levi distort that sign, turning it into an occasion of violence against their enemies. They take something sacred and transform it into the instrument of their own vengeance.

Monday, February 4

Matthew 10:1-15: Before sending out His missionaries in Matthew 11:1, Jesus gives a lengthy discourse on the structure and dynamics of mission; this is the second great sermon of the Gospel of Matthew. This initial mission, unlike the Great Commission at the end of Matthew, is directed only “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

The disciples are endowed with exsousia, “authority” (10:10:1), which we have seen to be a characteristic of Jesus’ own ministry in deed and word. Sometimes the shaking-off of dust from the feet has been taken very literally by Christian preachers; cf. Acts 13:51.

Among many curious features of this list of the twelve apostles, it is instructive to note that the list includes someone who worked for the Roman government (Matthew) and someone sworn to its overthrow (Simon the Canaanite; cf. Luke 6:15). Much of this chapter will be concerned with the resistance that the world will offer to the proclamation of the Gospel. This message has been prepared by Chapter 8-9, where Jesus’ own ministry was constantly resisted by those who felt it to be a threat.

Genesis 35: In this text we come to the birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel (vv. 16–20), Jacob’s favorite wife. Benjamin is the only one of Jacob’s
sons to be born in the Holy Land. His mother’s choice for the boy’s name, Benomi, meant either “son of my strength” or, more likely, “son of my affliction.” The name Benjamin means “right-hand son.” This could mean something close to our own metaphor of “my righthand man,” or it could simply mean “southerner” (for an “oriented” or east-facing person). If this latter signification is what is intended, it may mean that Benjamin was born the furthest south of all the sons of Jacob. Whatever the specific meaning, the reader should not forget that we are reading here the partial genealogy of the apostle Paul (cf. Romans 11:1; Philippians 3:3–4).

Psalms 56 (Greek & Latin 55): This psalm speaks of the very situation we find with respect to Jesus in the Gospels. Early in Mark, for instance, there is a series of five episodes (2:1—3:6) in which the enemies of Jesus interrogate and investigate Him, spy on Him and finally reach their sinister resolve: “Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (3:6). There are five more such stories nearer the end of Mark’s Gospel (11:27—12:34), leading at once to the conspiracy to put Jesus to death (14:1). The present psalm may certainly be prayed as the sentiments of our Lord in that context, revealing His trust in the Father even in the midst of the evil plots against Himself.

Tuesday, February 5

Matthew 10:16-26: Four animals are mentioned in the first verse, all of them for their symbolic value. Although this initial mission is only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,”

it is significant that the “nations” are mentioned in 10:18; again, this foreshadows the Great Commission given at the end of Matthew. These verses make it clear that the proclamation of the gospel by the Church will be met with resistance, just as we saw to be the case in chapters 8 and 9. Like Jesus, the disciples will be “handed over” to “councils” (synedria). This description, contained here in prophecy, was very much the experience of the Christians whom Matthew knew when he was writing these words. Similar experiences are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.

Hebrews 9:11-22: Because the blood represented life at its deepest contact with God, all of the Old Testament sacrifices prescribed for sin were blood sacrifices. Other sorts of sacrifices were offered, but for the sin offering only blood would suffice. As Hebrews will say a little later on, “without the shedding of blood is no remission” (9:22).

The shedding of the blood of the sacrificial victim was the symbolic gift of self to God on the part of the sinner. He was reconciled to God—found atonement with God—through the symbolic shedding of the animal’s blood in place of his own. Whenever the relationship between God and man was disrupted by sin, it was required that that disruption be mended by the total gift of self, symbolized in the mactation of the sacrificed animal.

Because the sacrifices of the Old Testament were only symbolic, it was “not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (10:4). As we read here, “if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (verses 13-14)

It is in this sense that the blood of Christ is the price of our redemption: Jesus poured out His inner being in loving adoration to His Father on our behalf. The image of Christ’s blood in the New Testament always implies the understanding of the blood in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, in which the shedding of the blood means the restoration of the sinner to friendship with God.

This imagery of the blood, which is ubiquitous in the New Testament, began with Jesus himself, who told His disciples, on the night before His death, “this is My covenant blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

Because Jesus used this language within the liturgical ceremony at the center of the Christian religion, it is not surprising that we find it everywhere in the New Testament.

Thus, St. Peter wrote, “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

And St. John wrote, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

And St. Paul wrote, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7).

Wednesday, February 6

Matthew 10:27-33: This section continues to portray the resistance with which the proclamation of the Gospel will be met. In His exhortation to confidence in the face of such adversity, the Lord takes up an image from the Sermon on the Mount, God’s care of the birds (verses 29-31). Will He not be even more solicitous on our behalf, if He displays such regard toward the tiny sparrows? (Cf. 6:26) As we face the animosity of the world, He warns us, there is the real danger that we will end by denying Him. Indeed, confessing and denying, the two verbs spoken of in verses 32-33, are both illustrated in the case of Simon Peter, who both confessed Jesus (16:16) and then denied Him (16:22f; 26:31-35,69-75).

Hebrews 9:23—10:4: In Leviticus the verb used to “make” the sin offering is ‘asah (three times in Leviticus 4:8-9), 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 was translated as poiein. This is the same verb used by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where he says that God “made [Jesus] a sin offering” (hamartian epoiesen).

This latter text is concerned with man’s reconciliation with God through the sacrifice of Christ: “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ . . . God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (5:18-19). This is the context in which Paul wrote, “He made Him, who knew no sin, a sin offering for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (5:21).

That is to say, while St. Paul used the theology of the sin offering to interpret the sacrificial death of Christ, the Epistle to the Hebrews extends that theology to describe the glorification of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary.

Genesis 37: Hardly any scene of the Joseph narrative could stand alone and still make sense. It is one and only one story. No one of the parts is of interest without the rest. The Joseph epic forms one long dramatic unity, characterized by the careful planning of particulars, sustained irony, a very tight integration
of component scenes within a tension mounting to a dramatic denouement, followed by a more quiet sequence that calmly closes Genesis and systematically prepares for the Book of Exodus.

The story of Joseph is staged in various ways. For example, Joseph’s different changes of fortune are symbolized in his clothing. His famous
and elaborate tunic, which focuses the hatred of his brothers in 37:3f, is dipped in blood in 37:23–32, thus symbolizing Joseph’s alienation from his family. Then, in vv. 12–18 of the present chapter, his ill-fated encounter with Potiphar’s wife is imaged in the loss of the cloak used as evidence to imprison him. His eventual release from prison will again involve a change of clothing in 41:14, and finally a whole new wardrobe symbolizes his new state in 41:42.

Another element of staging and cohesion in the story is introduced by Joseph’s two dreams in 37:5–10, in each of which his brothers bow down before him. This double prostration is prophetic, inasmuch the brothers bow before him on each of their trips to Egypt (42:6; 43:26; 44:14; 50:18), and Joseph specifically remembers the dreams on the first of these instances (42:9).

Thursday, February 7

Matthew 10:34-42: The New Testament provides a number of stories in which entire households accepted the Gospel, which then became the basis of a whole new way of family life. These verses of Matthew, however, affirm that such is not always the case. The Gospel proclamation can divide as well as unite, and family unity has sometimes been destroyed by the Gospel’s acceptance by some family members and its rejection by others. This is a matter of history experience.

Consequently, there is the principle announced in verse 37 about the priorities of love. This “he who” sentence becomes the first of a series of ten such sentences that close out the chapter on the more positive note of those who actually accept the Gospel. In this series of short sayings, we particularly observe the emphasis on the first person pronoun, “Me” or “My,” with reference to Jesus. It appears seven times.

Genesis 38: Although this last section of Genesis centers on Joseph, the text does not lose sight of the bigger picture, the bigger picture here understood
as the entire biblical message. In that bigger picture, Judah plays a more important role than Joseph. Ultimately the descendants of Joseph, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, pertain to the ten lost tribes, whereas the tribe of Judah will provide the royal house of David and the Messiah (49:8–10; Matthew 2:6; Revelation 5:5). It is ultimately Judah who will give the “Jews” their name.

Between chapters 37 and 45, some twenty years elapse, and a significant number of those years are required by the events in chapter 38. Hence, this chapter allows the reader to put Joseph out of his mind for a while. It is something of an interlude, permitting Joseph to become settled in Egypt. It is a “here and there” style of narrative, inserted to fill in a gap and convey the impression of the passage of time until the thread of the larger narrative is taken up again. (Other biblical examples of this technique must include the narrative between Mark 6:7 and 30, contrasted with that of Luke 9:2 and 10).

The interest of this chapter, however, is less in Judah as a person than in Judah as the father of his tribe. In the larger picture this is a story about Judah’s descendants. Since it is the story of his lineage, it must start by getting him married (vv. 1–5). This family too has its problems (vv. 6–11). Once again there is a deception by means of disguise, an unfortunate characteristic which, as we have seen, tends to run in the family (vv. 12–19).

We note that the Bible is not hard on Tamar here; she is simply trying to get what she has coming to her—namely, children. Judah, thinking he has managed to avoid Tamar all those years, now discovers an easy way to get rid of her for good (vv. 24–26), but the young lady turns the tables on him. There is nothing Judah can do but acknowledge his paternity and get on with life.

This story is, in addition, one of the Bible’s great accounts of an underdog getting back at an oppressor. In this respect, Tamar’s story runs parallel with those of Esther and Judith. The irony of it continues into the New Testament, where Tamar enters the genealogy of the Savior (Matthew 1:5).

Friday, February 8

Hebrews 10:19-39: What the Jewish high priest could do only once a year—enter the Holy of Holies—the Christian can do everyday, by reason of the blood of Christ. It is the blood of Christ that gives the believer intimate access to God.

The author begins by speaking of boldness—parresia, an expression of which he is fond: “having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus.”

In context, this boldness comes from the full certainty of faith: en plerophoria pisteos: “having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full certainty of faith.”

This word, plerophoria is found four times in the New Testament, two of them in Hebrews. The other place is 6:11—“and we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full certainty of hope [plerophoria elpidos] until the end.”

And what does “full certainty” bring? Boldness—parresia. The full certainty of faith finds expression in boldness of the heart.

Whereas the Acts of the Apostles had used this word, parresia, to describe the proper tone in Christian preaching (Acts 4:13,28,29,31), St. Paul used the expression to speak of our relationship to God. He wrote that in Christ, “we have boldness [parresia] and access with confidence by the faith of Him” (Ephesians 3:12).

This is the normal sense of the word also in Hebrews, which is similar, in this respect, to Ephesians. Thus, our author says that we are the house of Christ, “if we hold fast the boldness [parresia] and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (3:6). Again, he exhorts his readers, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16). And somewhat later in the present chapter, he further exhorts, “Therefore do not cast away your boldness [parresia, which has great reward” (10:35).

This attitude of boldness in the Epistle to the Hebrews is not limited to the four times when the word is used in this book. The boldness of the Christian soul in approaching God is, rather, a presupposition of the whole book. We find it later, in chapter 12, where the author contrasts Mount Sinai with Mount Zion. Mount Sinai, he says, “burned with fire, and . . . blackness and gloom and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet” (12:18). It was a very scary place, of which Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling” (12:21). This was the kind of place where no one could safely feel bold.

It is not to Mount Sinai, however, that Christians are called, but to a gentler mountain: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (12:22).