Friday, April 6

1 Corinthians 15:35-49: The use of adam as the proper name of the
original man (Gen. 4:25; 5:1–5; 1 Chr. 1:1) indicates that the whole human race was embodied and signified in his person. Adam was humanity in its wholeness.

For this reason, the disobedience of Adam was in truth the Fall of the human race as such. When humanity fell, it fell head first. Human nature and human history, transmitted from the person and flesh of that first father, were heavily burdened with the heritage of death, rebellion, and alienation from God, and bondage to demons. We all fell in Adam. We absolutely needed a new beginning. The entire Old Testament is a sort of cry for God to make it happen.

Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 has to do with the quality of created matter, the “dust” of Genesis 2—3. Paul’s case here is largely centered on Adam’s legacy of death and corruption, to which the apostle contrasts the immortality of the body through the Resurrection of Christ. Adam was formed of dust, to which he returned. Because of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, nonetheless, this inheritance of corruption from Adam is not the final word about the human prospect, says Paul. Although humanity certainly shares in Adam’s corruption, in Christ it is made to share in the incorruption of the Resurrection: “The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption” (15:42). Thus, “as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (15:49).

Ezekiel 6: The prophet, standing in Babylon, faces westward, the direction of Israel, to pronounce this oracle of doom. The threefold destruction predicted here (sword, famine, and pestilence) stands parallel to the three portions of Ezekiel’s shaved hair and beard in the previous chapter, as does the prophecy of a remnant that will be delivered.

Whereas in chapter 5 Ezekiel addresses Jerusalem, in the present chapter he addresses the rural areas of Israel, the hills and valleys. The immediate listeners to this oracle, however, are those Israelites who have already been brought to captivity in Babylon. It is they who must take warning, for they will soon see God’s judgment on idolatry.

Idolatry—the worship of whatever is not the true God—is the root sin against which all the Lord’s interventions in history are directed. Since idolatry always involves human bondage, the Lord’s interventions are directed to deliverance from bondage. The Exodus itself set Israel free from the gods of Egypt.

Idolatry is the sin that is about to bring about the destruction of Judah, says Ezekiel, as well as Israel not so long before; idolatry is the reason that the masses of their population were carried into exile. Indeed, idolatry is itself a form of exile, an alienation from the true God.

Saturday, April 7

John 21:15-25: The Greek word anthrakia (cf. the English derivative “anthracite,” a type of coal), meaning a charcoal fire, is found only twice in the New Testament, both times in the Gospel according to St. John. The first
instance is in 18:18 and designates the courtyard fire where the officers and servants of the high priest stood warming themselves through the chilly night of Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Simon Peter likewise came to that place and stood near a cousin of Malchus, a servant of the high priest. It was there by the charcoal fire that Simon thrice denied even knowing our Lord, going so far as to confirm the denials with an oath.

It is most significant, surely, that that event, so embarrassing to the chief of the Twelve Apostles, is narrated in detail in each of the four canonical Gospels, for it is thus made to stand fixed forever in the memory of Holy Church.

The second charcoal fire in John’s Gospel is the one in its final scene, the fire kindled by the Lord Himself, over which He prepared breakfast for His dispirited Apostles (21:9). After breakfast it was at this fire that Jesus would put to that same Simon Peter his threefold question: “Do you love Me?” The Apostle understood, of course, why the question was asked of him three times, for it was the very number of his own denials. At this point the chastened Peter, no longer trusting himself, relies completely on the Lord’s knowledge of his heart (21:17).

Ezekiel 7: If the Bible likens good to a seed that grows, develops, and matures, the same is likewise true of evil. Like the enemy that Jesus described as sowing tares among the wheat, Ezekiel says that Israel is about to behold the blossoming and fruit of many years of evil sowing.

The scene of the coming judgment portrayed in this chapter is marked by the same cataclysmic finality that characterizes Jesus’ own predictions of the fall of Jerusalem. The “land” of Israel cursed in this chapter is to be understood in a geographical, not just a political, sense. That is, the very earth is cursed, as the ground is cursed in Genesis 3. Drawn from the earth, man pollutes that source by his accumulated sins. God’s patience is immense, but, as it relates to times and seasons, it is not infinite. The end has come, says Ezekiel. When God is “fed up,” there is nothing in this earth that can prevail against His judgment.

Sunday, April 8

John 20:24-31: It came as no great surprise to Thomas, when he learned that disaster lay just down the road. Indeed, Thomas was the first among the Apostles to embrace the imperative of the Cross. Unlike Peter (“Get behind Me, Satan!”), he put up no resistance to the news. When Jesus declared His intention of going to Jerusalem to “wake up” Lazarus, the other Apostles expressed their fear at the prospect. “Rabbi,” they answered, “lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” It was Thomas who found within himself the generous strength to say, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:8, 16). In this scene, Thomas is no skeptic. He is, rather, very much the realist, the man who discerns the stark realities awaiting His Lord at Jerusalem, and he is resolute with respect to his own course in the matter. When it comes to the prospects for tragedy, Thomas is not deceived by any inappropriate optimism. Nor, let it be said, by cowardice. If there is one thing he knows how to take with a stiff upper lip, it is bad news. It is, so to speak, his specialty.

Thomas may also have been something of a loner, which would explain why, when the risen Lord paid His first visit to the assembled Apostles, Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). He apparently had gone off to get a better grip on himself. It had been a very tough week. Just as Thomas had foreseen, Jesus’ life had ended in tragedy. This, the Apostle was sure, was the biggest tragedy he had ever seen. Yet he was coping with it somehow.

Thomas knew how to deal with sorrow. His real problem had always been how to deal with happiness. And that problem was about to get a lot worse. A whole week the risen Lord would make him wait, sharing that room with the ten other men to whom he had hurled his challenge: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (20:25). As each day passed, the case for skepticism was strengthened.

But then it happened. The room was suddenly filled with a great light. New evidence had arrived and stood now undeniable on the scene. Doubting Thomas sensed that his long-established thinking was about to be rather deeply shaken. However embarrassed, he rose and turned toward the entering light, bracing himself to endure the good news.

Ezekiel 8: This startling, detailed, and dramatic vision of Ezekiel occurred on September 17, 592 B.C. He is carried “in the Spirit” to Jerusalem to witness the abominations for which the city was to be punished with the wrath and the inevitability that we observed in the previous chapter. The material of this vision will occupy Ezekiel through Chapter 11, at the end of which he will be returned to Babylon. Prior to Jerusalem’s downfall in 586 many of the prophets fellow exiles in Babylon maintained the hope of returning home soon. The purpose of this and other visions of Ezekiel was to destroy such a hope by showing it to be groundless.

In this vision there are four scenes, each illustrating a discrete abomination in the temple. The first scene is at the north gate of the wall that separated the outer court of the temple from the outside world (8:3-6). (Ignore and omit the word “inner” from verse 3, in accord with the more accurate Greek text of the Septuagint. The received Hebrew text of this chapter is notoriously corrupt.) Ezekiel finds a pagan shrine in this place, an affront to the Lord’s presence in the temple.

In the second scene (8:7-13) Ezekiel goes through the wall of a chamber adjacent to the gate, where he finds Israel’s elders worshipping images of animals.

In the third scene (8:14f) he crosses the outer court toward the temple’s inner court. Not yet entering the latter, Ezekiel beholds Israelite women crying for the death of Tammuz, a Mesopotamian god of vegetation. Even this alien cult is found in God’s temple.

Finally, in the fourth scene (8:16-18), Ezekiel enters the inner court, where he discovers sun-worshippers. Israel’s idolatry is complete. These men have turned their backs to God and are giving adoration to a creature.

Monday, April 9

John 6:1-14: When our Lord multiplied those desert loaves that symbolized the Holy Eucharist, He made everybody sit down on the same level. This act of sitting down on the grass, which places all Christians at the same height, corresponds to their baptism—their immersion—in the same water level. This act of descent removes the distraction of individual ascendancies; it places Christ in the center as the unifying principle of the Church. For this reason, “the bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”

Psalms 1: This Psalm 1 is not a prayer in the usual sense, inasmuch as there is no direct address to God. It is, rather, a meditation on a specific Wisdom theme: How the righteous man lives and what he hopes for. The affirmations in this psalm are made in the calm, apodictic style of Proverbs and the Bible’s older Wisdom tradition.

If the form of the psalm is given by the Wisdom literature, its matter is from the early pages of the Torah. Who, after all, is this Man of Psalm 1?

Well, to begin with, he is the first Man of the Torah—righteous Adam—Man before the Fall, when he was still God’s friend. As Adam tilled the Garden irrigated by four rivers (Genesis 2:8-15), the Man in Psalm 1 is likened to “a tree / planted by the rivers of water, / that brings forth its fruit in its season, / whose leaf also shall not wither, / and whatever he does shall prosper.”

Of the Man described in this psalm, we are told that his “delight is in the Lord’s Torah, / and on His Torah he meditates day and night.” The “day and night” of this psalm were also introduced, we recall, at the beginning of the Torah; they are the most basic divisions of time.

In contrast to the stability of this godly Man, Psalm 1 speaks of the “wicked”—the rasha‘im, who are likened to “the chaff which the wind drives away.” Just as the former does not stand in the path of sinners nor sit in the seat of pestilence, so “the rasha‘im shall not stand in the judgment, / nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”

Ezekiel 9: The marking of the foreheads of the Remnant is a sort of renewal of the marking of the houses of the Chosen People in Egypt on Passover night.

Those thus marked will be spared on the day of wrath, for the simple reason that they “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in Jerusalem.” Sometimes the just man is left so powerless in this world that all he can do, in the face of overwhelming evil, is “sigh and groan.”

The temple offers no sanctuary from the punishment; those in the temple are the first to fall, because they have defiled God’s house. The divine judgment begins, then, not with the world, but with the household of God.

The seven heavenly figures — the scribe and the six executioners — are angelic figures representing God’s just will in what is about to transpire in Jerusalem. Revelation 7 is a very good text to read with this chapter, which is surely in part its literary inspiration.

Tuesday, April 10

John 6:15-21: The opening verses of this text indicate the considerable messianic expectation among the crowd when they witnessed the miracle of the loaves. Jesus, knowing the spiritual weakness and worldly ambition of His disciples, immediately sent them away by boat, so that they would not succumb to this dangerous enthusiasm on the part of the crowd. He went off to pray alone.

Apparently, it had already been late in the day when the miracle of the loaves took place (Matthew 14:15), and it was well into the night when Jesus finished praying. The apostles were out in the middle of the lake, rowing against the wind. While it was still quite dark, they suddenly beheld Jesus walking to them on the water. Responding to their fear, He answers with the auto-identification that is standard in John’s Gospel, Ego eimi, “I AM.”

Psalms 11 (Greek & Latin 10): One may safely argue that the most important line of this psalm is sentence sustaining its message as a whole, is the one that says: “The Lord is in His holy temple. The Lord! His throne is in heaven.” In a prayer that deals largely with the soul’s experience of turmoil and dissolution, God’s throne is the source of our stability and the foundation of our hope.

Ezekiel 10: The wooden statues of the Cherubim, with their wings spread over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, were but symbols of the angels of the Presence, the heavenly Cherubim who serve to support the Throne of God.

Now Ezekiel sees these heavenly spirits themselves, and they are identical with the Four Living Creatures that he had beheld in his inaugural vision in Chapter 1, where they bore, as here, the Cloud of the divine Presence. They will appear again, of course, in Revelation 4.

The burning coals from within their whirling wheels, full of the divine holiness, are destructive of those whose brows have not been marked by the angelic scribe, who also appears again in this chapter.

Besides destroying the wicked, this divine fire purifies God’s loyal servants (cf. Isaiah 6:6f). As the chapter closes, the action moves to the east gate of the temple, facing the Mount of Olives. It is at this gate that Ezekiel will receive the two oracles in Chapter 11.

Wednesday, April 11

1 Corinthians 11:17-26: Among the several places where St. Paul speaks of the Apostolic Tradition, perhaps none is more striking than this disciplinary section of 1 Corinthians, where he describes the Lord’s Supper.

I draw particular attention to this text because it suggests a dimension of “tradition” not quite so clear in other Pauline passages. If we did not have this passage, we might suppose that by “traditions” Paul always intended to mean matters of doctrine and behavior, the sorts of things that later theology called “faith and morals.”

What makes this reference to tradition in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 is that it involves something more than plain instruction. It includes what, for want of more adequate terms, what may be called rite and sacrament. “I received from the Lord,” he says, “what I also delivered to you.” Just what did he receive from the Lord and hand on to the Corinthians? It was the enactment of the Communion rite itself. And how did Paul hand it on to the Corinthians? By celebrating it with them.

That is to say, the rite of the Lord’s Supper, in this text, is what Paul has received and handed on. Thus, the Apostolic Tradition includes handing on the Body and Blood of Christ in a specific and inherited ritual. This rite is called the breaking of the bread” within the communion and teaching of the Apostles. Recall Luke’s description: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and communion, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” It is clear in this text that the Apostolic Tradition is not just a set of teachings. It includes also a context of communion and sacramental worship.

Ezekiel 11: The first oracle in this chapter addresses a slogan going around Jerusalem at the time, descriptive of the city’s coming destruction. The slaying of Jerusalem’s citizens, says the oracle, will ultimately be the fault of its leaders, not of the Babylonian besiegers. The latter are but instruments in the divine judgment.

The leaders back at Jerusalem planned big things for themselves, and their big plans are addressed in the second oracle. When Ezekiel and his other companions, including the cream of Jerusalem society and its most competent citizens, were taken hostage to Babylon in 597, some of those Israelites who remained in the Holy Land began to feel pretty good about their own prospects, now that the better rivals were gone. With respect to their brethren who had been carried away, they reflected: “Well, too bad for them, but that leaves more for us.”

The burden of this second oracle is to reassure those captives in Babylon that the Lord had not forgotten them and that He was determined to restore them. Indeed, it was on them that His coming blessings would fall, for their restoration is the substance of the great prophecy here about newness of heart, which becomes so important a theme in the New Testament (See especially Hebrews 8.)

As this chapter ends, the Cloud of the divine glory moves east onto the top of the Mount of Olives, and Ezekiel is restored to Babylon, where he narrates his visions and oracles to his companions in exile.

Thursday, April 12

John 6:41-59: The great significance of the multiplication of the loaves among the early Christians may be discerned from the fact that: (1) outside of the events of Holy Week, it is one of the very few scenes recorded in all four gospels; (2) aspects of it are depicted numerous times in the earliest Christian iconography; (3) normally recorded in language identical to, or at least reminiscent of, that of the Last Supper, it is clearly one of the events of Jesus’ life perceived to be weighted with the greatest theological significance. This is clearest in John, where it is accompanied by the lengthy and elaborate Bread of Life discourse we are currently reaidng.

This miraculous event brought to the minds of those present the expectation that the coming Messiah would renew the events of the Exodus, including the feeding of the people with miraculous bread in the wilderness. This sense of expectation and fulfillment accounts for the considerable emphasis on Messianic themes in early Eucharistic texts of the Christian Church.

Ezekiel 12: Once again Ezekiel is charged to act out an elaborate pantomime as a message for his fellow Israelites in exile. Whereas the previous such actions, in Chapters 4-5, had to do with the destruction of Jerusalem and the sufferings of her citizens, the present instance is concerned with the experience of the coming new exile of those who still remained back home.

When his fellow exiles ask him, “What are you doing?” (12:9), Ezekiel responds with a stirring oracle by way of explanation: To those Jewish exiles already in Babylon who are imagining that they may soon be returning to the land of Judah, Ezekiel is stressing the point, “You think this is exile? You haven’t seen anything yet!”

He emphasizes in particular the suffering destined for Zedekiah, the King of Judah. Ezekiel’s walking with covered face (“that you may not see the land”) is an eerie prophecy of the day when the Babylonians would gouge out the eyes of Zedekiah, so that the execution of his sons would be the last thing he saw in this world before going into exile (2 Kings 25:4-7; Jeremiah 39:4-7; 52:7-11).

In verse 17 the prophet begins yet another pantomime, this one much simpler, and in verses 21-28 Ezekiel is charged to challenge two more cynical slogans popular at the time. These slogans, concerned with apparently unfulfilled prophecies, will lead into his condemnation of false prophets in the next chapter.

Friday, April 13

John 6:60-71: As this Eucharistic discourse closes, John introduces the treacherous resolve of Judas Iscariot. This corresponds to an emphasis found in each of the Synoptic Gospels, which place the institution of the Eucharist as the setting in which Jesus identifies His betrayer.

1 Corinthians 3:1-17: In his description of the Church as a building, Paul is talking about an historical institution, not some abstract, invisible reality. A purely spiritual or “invisible” Church has no problems; Paul is clearly talking about a Church with problems. The Church Paul hs in mind is a real body, a religious organization, in the sense of a living organism. This church is composed of actual people who live and worship together in a common faith. Specifically, it is the Church at Corinth. This church at Corinth is composed of real people. Paul would not countenance for one minute the idea that the real Church is something distinguishable from the Church at Corinth.

Paul did not write his epistles for some invisible, trans-historical reality. He wrote for specific groups of people who were joined together in organic, institutional ways. Later on, in this epistle he refers to the joints and ligaments that hold the body together. These are the organizations of communion, without which there is no such thing as Church. The visible, organized Church is the only Christian Church recognized in the New Testament. Like any other historical institution, it has an invisible life and being, but that invisible life and being cannot be separated from the visible, social institution itself.

The deepest foundation for this building is Christ Himself: “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” The rest of us are living stones built on top of that foundation stone, as St. Peter tells us: “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

That is to say, the only way to “come” to Christ is by incorporation into Him, becoming a living stone joined to the other living stones that make up the edifice of which He is the foundation stone. We do not “come to Christ” by invisibly receiving Him into our hearts. We come to Christ by visibly and audibly confessing His Lordship in the setting of the Sacraments by which we are incorporated into Him.

Ezekiel 13: This chapter contains an oracle against false prophets (13:2-16) and an oracle against false prophetesses (verses 17-23). The major problem with all such folk is that they “prophesy out of their own minds” and “follow their own spirit” and “divined a lie.” Thus, grave spiritual harm befalls those who listen to their fantasies and follow their counsels.

Even though a wall is just about to fall, says Ezekiel, they daub it with whitewash to make it look new and secure. Well, the whole thing is about to come down, he warns, in spite of the false hopes raised by false prophets.

In his oracle against the false prophetesses, Ezekiel speaks of wristbands and headbands (if these things are, indeed, what these rare Hebrew words mean), evidently the paraphernalia of their rituals and incantations. We should probably think of these women as fortune-tellers, the sort of charlatans that are still among us. The prophet’s point here is that this sort of thing is not harmless; foolish individuals, who probably need sound counsel for important decisions, really do pay heed to such imposters, rather often to the harm of their souls. God will thwart the designs of these deceivers, says Ezekiel, by showing their predictions to be false.