Friday, August 15

John 2:1–12: We come now to Cana, the third Galilean town mentioned in John (cf. 1:44–45) and the place where Jesus did “the first of His signs.” In this way “He manifested His glory, and His disciples came to believe in Him.” That is to say, Cana is the place where the Church was first formed, that initial body of believers to whom the Lord revealed His glory.

We observe that His Mother, His relatives, and His disciples were all present (verses 11–12; compare Acts 1:13–14). These gather at Capernaum, the fourth Galilean city named by John (verse 12).

In this story of Cana, John introduces the Mother of Jesus. She appears only here and at the foot of the Cross (19:26–27). These two portrayals, both found only in John among the evangelists, have several things in common. First, Mary does not appear in John’s Gospel outside of these two places. Second, in both places she is called only "the mother of Jesus" and is never named. Third, in each instance Jesus addresses his mother as "Woman" (gyne). Fourth, in both cases a "new family" is formed—in the first scene by the wedding itself, and in the second scene by a kind of adoption in which the beloved disciple "took her to his own home."

John’s "mother of Jesus" thus plays an important part near the beginning of his account of the Lord’s ministry, in "the first of his signs," wherein he "manifested his glory" at Cana (John 2:11). In the dialogue leading up to this manifestation, Jesus seems at first to bridle at his mother’s hint that he relieve the shortage of wine at the wedding feast. He explains to her, "My hour has not yet come" (2:4).

These words closely tie this scene at Cana to the scene at the cross later on. When the "hour" of the passion does finally come, it will once again be in reference to the manifestation of Jesus’ glory: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may also glorify you" (John 17:1). John uses similar language of Jesus’ mother, telling us that it was "from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (19:27). When the hour arrives for the King to be identified upon the throne of the cross (19:19), John is the only one of the evangelists to speak of the King’s mother standing beside it (19:26).

John 2:12–25: This is the first of three times John speaks of the Passover (verse 13; cf. 6:4; 11:55). John’s triple reference to the Pascha has always prompted Christians to picture Jesus’ public ministry as lasting three years. Since we know Jesus was about thirty years old when that ministry began (Luke 3:23), it is commonly calculated that our Lord lived on earth to age thirty-three.

Saturday, August 16

Job 1:1-12: The Book of Job begins, like the Book of Psalms, by describing “the blessings of a man” (’ashrei ha’ish). “A man there was, in the land of Uz,” it commences, ’ish haya b’erets ‘uts. This parallel between Job and Psalms is significant. In the Hebrew text of Holy Scripture, though not in the Septuagint (LXX), the Books of Psalms and Job stand in immediate sequence. In the Greek and Latin Bibles, the Book of Job serves as a kind of transition from the narrative books (Joshua through Esther) to the wisdom literature (Psalms through Ecclesiasticus). Job is at once a work of narrative and a work of sapient reflection; it is both history and (for want of a better term) philosophy.

This sequence, moreover, prompts comparative reflection on the beginnings of both Job and Psalms. The first chapter of Job describes him, in fact, as the embodiment of the ideals held out in the first psalm. Job “walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, / Nor stands in the path of sinners, / Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” On the contrary, he is “like 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.”

Whereas the “man” in the first psalm is clearly a Jew, whose “delight is in the law of the LORD,” Job is only a man—any just man, anywhere. St. John Chrysostom drew special attention to the fact that Job is only a man, not a Jew. That is to say, Job does not enjoy the benefits of the revelation made to God’s chosen people. The only revelation known to Job is that which is accorded to all men, namely, that God “is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

The first verse of Job introduces the narrative prologue (1:1—2:13) preceding the lengthy and complicated dialogue that forms the long central core of the book. This prologue contains six scenes:

(1) an account of Job’s life and prosperity in 1:1–5;

(2) the first discussion in heaven in 1:6–12;

(3) Job’s loss of his children and possessions in 1:13–22;

(4) the second discussion in heaven in 2:1–7;

(5) Job’s affliction of the flesh in 2:7–10;

(6) the arrival of Job’s three friends in 2:11–13.

Chapter 1, then, contains the first three of these six scenes.

In the first scene (1:1–5) Job is called a devout man who feared God, a man who “shunned evil.” He thus enjoyed the prosperity promised to such folk in Israel’s wisdom literature. As we have reflected in our introduction to this book, Job is the very embodiment of the prosperous just man held up as a model in the Book of Proverbs.

The second scene (1:6–12) describes the first discussion between God and “the Satan,” “the Adversary.” Satan, the name of the “accuser of our brethren, who accused them . . . day and night” (Revelation 12:9–10), was also known to the Prophet Zechariah (3:1–4). The LXX identifies Job’s tempter as “the Slanderer” (ho Diabolos, whence the English derivative “devil”). Satan and “the devil” are identified in Matthew 4:8–10 and elsewhere in the New Testament.

According to the Hebrew text of Job, Satan is numbered among the “sons of God,” an expression the LXX understands as a reference to the angels. The Christian Church, following the lead of such passages as Matthew 25:41 (“the devil and his angels”), understands Satan to be the leader of the fallen angels.

Satan’s argument against Job is simple and plausible: If a just man is so richly blest in his uprightness, who is to say that this just man is really so loyal to God? May it not be the case that the just man is simply taking good care of his own interest? Let the alleged just man, then, be put to the test.

Indeed, ever since the first man who lived in prosperity, Adam in the Garden, this demonic Adversary has been endeavoring to put man to the test. The greatest trial of Job will come in the consideration of his own mortality, which is the sad inheritance he has received from Adam. We must not lose sight of Job’s antithesis to Adam. Job’s faithful service to God in this book stands in sharp relief against the disobedience of Adam, which brought death into the world.

In this second scene (1:6–12), the discussion between God and Satan, we do well to observe three things: First, the trial of Job will be like that of Abraham, who also enjoyed the rich blessings of a just man. Indeed, Job appears as a sort of Gentile Abraham. As St. Hesychius of Jerusalem remarked in his homilies on Job back in the fifth century, we should not wander too far from the trial of Abraham in Genesis 22 when we consider the trials of Job.

Second, God is an optimist (for want of a better word), in the sense that He has great confidence in Job. In this whole book, God is truly on Job’s side. Indeed, God is the only one in the story completely on Job’s side.

Third, Satan appears as a skeptic and a cynic, persuaded that men act only from selfish motives. That is to say, Satan believes that men are very self-centered, pretty much like Satan himself. Thus, Satan has a rather low view of man. God does not have a low view of man. Not least of the ironies of this book, in fact, is the great confidence that God places in Job’s fidelity.

When God consents to the testing of His faithful servant, the third scene (1:13–22) describes Job’s loss of his children and possessions. Now begins Job’s testing. In fact, here begins Job’s tragedy.

One does not have to live very long to perceive a certain perverseness about this world, life’s strange but innate contrariness that cripples man’s stride and corrodes his hope. Indeed, in terms of plain empirical verification, few lines of Holy Scripture seem supported by more and better evidence than St. Paul’s testimony that “creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). This futility is what Job is now going to taste.

This dark sense of things is what the ancient Greeks called “tragedy,” a subject the Greeks appear to have pondered more than most. The root word for “tragedy” means “goat” (tragos), an animal commonly associated with stubbornness, mischief, aberrance, and even damnation (Matthew 25:32–33). Tragedy is the cup that Job will drain before this book is finished.

(Taken from The Trial of Job by P. H. Reardon)

Sunday, August 17

Mark 13:14-27: This section of Mark, about the Abomination of Desolation and the Great Tribulation, is shared with Matthew (24:15-28) and Luke (21:20-24). Jesus first alludes to a past event. In going to the remembered past in order to prophesy about the near future, Jesus follows a pattern of historical interpretation common to the Old Testament prophets.

In verse 15 the bdelygma tou eremoseos—literally “the Abomination of Desolation”—is a translation of a Hebrew expression found three times in the prophet Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11; cf. 1 Maccabees 1:54), to refer to the idol erected to Zeus in the Second Temple by the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (1 Maccabees 1:54-64). The desecration, which had occurred in 167 B.C, only two centuries earlier, was still a vivid memory to the Jews, who understandably regarded it as a low point in their history and a source of profound shock and outrage. At that time the Temple itself was stripped of its adornments; other pagan altars were erected, and unclean animals were sacrificed upon them (Josephus, Antiquities 12.54). This had been a time of great persecution of the righteous Jews by the unrighteous, not only by pagans but also by fellow Jews.

We observe that Matthew, unlike Mark and Luke, explicitly sends the reader to Daniel in order to explain this reference to the Abomination of Desolation. In Daniel the Hebrew expression for Abomination of Desolation is hashuqqus meshomem, which appears to be a parody of the name that refers to Zeus, ba‘al shamayim, “lord of heaven.”

Matthew repeats Mark’s parenthetical note, “let the reader understand.” This exhortation, which clearly comes from the evangelists and not from Jesus, perhaps calls attention to the plan of the Roman emperor Caligula to erect a statue of himself in the Temple in A.D. 40. This proposed desecration of the holy place would have repeated what had occurred two centuries earlier under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This seems to be what both Mark and Matthew had in mind.

Luke (21:20), on the other hand, appears to use this term to describe the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem in A.D. 70. All of this, and worse, says Jesus, will fall on the Holy City very shortly. For Luke this dominical prophecy was directed to the Jewish Civil War against the Romans, which would climax in the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 (cf. Josephus, The Jewish Wars 5.10).

This diversity among the gospels should tell us of a certain fluidity of understanding of prophetic discourses of this sort. It should warn us of the exegetical perils of trying to pin down this kind of prophecy with scientific precision. As we see in the present instance, even the infallible gospel writers recognized this fluid quality of eschatological prophecy. The very images of the prophecy render it open to more than one interpretation.

After all, the function of such prophecy is not to convey information, but to encourage vigilance.

This period is what Matthew’s version calls the Great Tribulation, thlipsis megale. It is history’s ultimate trial. The description of this period seems to be drawn from the Greek text of Daniel 12:1, which introduces the victory and the resurrection of God’s righteous ones.

That Great Tribulation will be shortened, says our Lord, for the sake of the elect. As everywhere in the New Testament, this reference is to the Christians, who have become God’s Chosen People.

What is the Great Tribulation? In principle it is all the time prior to the return of the Lord. Some periods of history, however, seem more especially to embody the characteristics of the Tribulation. The church at Thessaloniki in Macedonia experienced this thlipsis almost immediately after its founding. In the first chapter of the earliest piece of Christian literature, for example, St. Paul wrote, “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction (en thlipsi), with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

The same was true for the church at Smyrna in Asia Minor, to whom St. John wrote, “I know your works, tribulation (thlipsin), and poverty (but you are rich); and the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation (thlipsin) ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:9-10. The word is found 45 times in the New Testament.

Monday, August 18

Psalm 106: Whereas the previous psalm used historical narrative as an outline for the praise of God for His deeds of salvation, Psalm 106 uses it as the structure of a sustained confession of sins and ongoing motive for repentance. The praise of God in this psalm, then, springs from the consideration of God’s fidelity to His people notwithstanding their own infidelities to Him: “Praise the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever!”

The examples of the people’s continued sin are drawn from the accounts of the Exodus and the Desert Wandering, a period of such egregious unfaithfulness that only a few of that entire generation were finally permitted to enter the Promised Land. The examples are detailed: the constant murmuring against the Lord both in Egypt and in the desert, the rebellion of Dathan and Abiron, the cult of the golden calf, the succumbing to temptation from the Moabites and other moral compromises with the surrounding nations, child-sacrifice to Moloch, and so forth. In all of these things God nonetheless proved His patience and fidelity to the people of His covenant: “Who will tell the mighty deeds of the Lord, or make all His praises heard?”

This poetic narrative, which summarizes much of the Books of Exodus and Numbers, deals with the period of the Desert Wandering as a source of negative moral example: “Don’t let this happen to you.” Such is the approach to that period through much of biblical literature, from Deuteronomy 33 to 1 Corinthians 10.

The value of this perspective is that it tends to discourage a false confidence that may otherwise deceive the believer. Never has there been missing from the experience of faith the sort of temptation that says: “Relax! God has saved you. You are home free. Once saved, always saved. Don’t worry about a thing. Above all, no effort.”

Certain discerning men in the Bible itself recognized this temptation. Thus, the Prophet Jeremiah saw it working insidiously in the hearts and minds of his contemporaries near the end of the seventh century before Christ. They reasoned among themselves that God, because of His undying promise to David, would never permit the city of Jerusalem, to say nothing of His temple, to fall to their enemies. After all, had not the Lord, speaking through Isaiah a century earlier, promised King Hezekiah that such a thing was unthinkable? And had not the Lord, at that time, destroyed the Assyrian army as it besieged the Holy City? Even so, reasoned Jeremiah’s fellow citizens, there was no call now to fear the armies of Babylon. Thus, fully confident of divine deliverance, they permitted themselves every manner of vice and moral failing. After all, once saved, always saved. Much of the message of Jeremiah was devoted to demolishing that line of thought.

The identical sort of temptation seems likewise to have afflicted the first readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews, whose author also took the period of the Desert Wandering as exemplifying their moral dilemma. Repeatedly, then, he cautioned those early Christians of the genuine danger of stark apostasy facing those who placed an unwarranted, quasi-magical confidence in their inevitable security. This entire book is devoted to warning believers that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).

The gravity of this temptation, of course, arises from its resting on a solid truth. God is faithful to His promises; He will never abandon those who place their confidence in Him. The danger here is not that of excessive trust in God’s fidelity, but of not guarding sufficiently against man’s infidelity. Just as the Galatians were warned against forsaking the Gospel of pure grace, they were also instructed that “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Even the believers at Philippi, though manifesting no discernible disposition to false confidence, were admonished to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).

And even as the Ephesians were reminded of being sealed and rendered secure “with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:13, 14), they were earnestly exhorted not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed” (4:30).

The history of Israel in the desert of old, a sustained account of such grieving, is the theme of Psalm 105.

(Taken from Christ in the Psalms by P. H. Reardon)

Tuesday, August 19

2 Kings 18: King Hezekiah (715-687), because of the relatively short life of his hapless father Ahaz, was a young man–only twenty-five–when he assumed the throne of Judah (2 Kings 18:2).    

The new king, moreover, inherited a mess. His kingdom was impoverished by his father’s irresponsibility, and much of the Holy Land lay in ruins from local wars and a recent invasion from afar. Seven years earlier, in 722, the Assyrians had destroyed the Kingdom of Israel, to Judah’s north, and then deported the great mass of its people to regions over in the far end of the Fertile Crescent.

Furthermore, Hezekiah well knew that his own father had been the culprit responsible for earlier inviting the Assyrians to interfere in the politics of the Holy Land (2 Chronicles 28:16-21). The problem was part of his father’s own legacy, then, and the new king himself was obliged to pay annual tribute to Assyria, further impoverishing his realm.

Over the next two decades, however, Hezekiah undertook measures toward resisting that ever-looming menace from the east. First, he endeavored to re-unite the remnant of Israelites in the north with his own throne in Jerusalem, thus enlarging his realm by restoring the borders of David’s ancient kingdom. In this effort he was somewhat successful (30:1-11).

Second, Hezekiah strengthened Jerusalem’s defenses by cutting an underground conduit through solid rock, so that water could be brought secretly into the city from the Gihon Spring. This remarkable feat of technology, unearthed by modern archeology, is not only recorded twice in the Bible (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:30) but also in the contemporary Siloam Inscription. In this effort Hezekiah was very successful.

Prior to either of these efforts, however, Hezekiah initiated a religious reform, convinced that the nation’s recent apostasy under his father, Ahaz, was the root of Judah’s unfortunate plight. Thus, he began his reign by purifying the Temple, lately defiled by pagan worship (2 Chronicles 29:3-19), in order to restore the edifice to the proper service of God (29:20-36).

Unlike the unbelieving Ahaz, who treated a spiritual dilemma as merely a political problem, to be addressed by political means, Hezekiah was determined to regard the spiritual dilemma for exactly what it was. Indeed, Hezekiah’s programmatic reform maintained the proper priority indicated by our Lord’s mandate that we "seek first the Kingdom of Heaven." Nothing else in Judah’s national life, Hezekiah believed, would be correctly ordered if anything but the interests of God were put in first place. What was first must emphatically be put there, not second or somewhere else down the line.

This priority of God’s Kingdom, for Hezekiah, involved more than the cleansing of the Temple and the restoration of its worship. It also meant the renewal of spiritual wisdom, which explains the new king’s interest in preserving Israel’s ancient wisdom literature (Proverbs 25:1). Such a pursuit of wisdom also had to do with the priority of the Kingdom of Heaven.

To Hezekiah, however, the "first-ness" of God’s Kingdom was not a mere point of sequence but a matter of principle. The quest of the Kingdom was first, not only in the sense that it preceded everything else, but also in the sense that it laid the basis for everything else.

The foundation of an edifice, after all, is put down prior to the rest of the edifice, not simply because that is the usual and accepted order. It is the usual and accepted order because it is the only conceivable order. Indeed, the foundation of something belongs, in this sense, to a different order, because the rest of the thing is impossible without that foundation. It is the basis that supports the whole enterprise.

And this is what is meant by the priority of a principle. Such priority is more than mere succession–of getting things in the correct order. What is first pertains to another order–the order of principle. This is so plain a fact that it should not even have to be said. Yet, Jesus did say it, recognizing that some folks tend not to notice the obvious.

Just as that man is thought insane who imagines that he can first build a house and then lay its foundation, so is he insane woo pretends to arrange a well-ordered life and then later start on the foundation of it. Seeking God’s Kingdom is the real foundation of the well-ordered life, and the Lord warns against building on any other.

Wednesday, August 20

Job 4:1-21: Job is addressed eight times by his three comforters, an arrangement that permits the first of those speakers, Eliphaz the Temanite, to address him three times. It is probably because he is the eldest of the three men (cf. Job 15:10) that Eliphaz speaks first, and this is surely also the reason why, near the end of the book, God addresses Eliphaz directly as the spokesman of the group (42:7).

A native of Teman, Eliphaz exemplifies the ancient wisdom of Edom (cf. Genesis 36:11), concerning which Jeremiah inquired, “Is wisdom no more in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom vanished?” (Jeremiah 49:7). Eliphaz represents, then, the “wisdom of the south,” the great desert region of the Negev and even Arabia, where only the wise can survive.

In his initial response to Job (chapters 4—5), Eliphaz appeals to his own personal religious experience. Eliphaz, unlike the other two comforters, is a visionary. He has seen (4:8; 5:3) and heard (4:16) the presence of the divine claims in an experience of such subtlety that he calls it a “whisper” (shemets—4:12). This deep sense of the divine absolute, born of Eliphaz’s religious experience, forced upon his mind a strongly binding conviction of the divine purity and justice. This profound certainty in his soul became the lens through which Eliphaz interprets the sundry enigmas of life, notably the problem of human suffering.

If we compare Eliphaz to Job’s other two comforters, moreover, we observe a gradated but distinct decline in the matter of wisdom. Eliphaz begins the discussion by invoking his own direct spiritual experience, his veda. The second comforter, however, Bildad the Shuhite, can appeal to no personal experience of his own, but only to the experience of his elders, so what was a true insight in the case of Eliphaz declines to only an inherited theory in the case of Bildad. Living mystical insight becomes merely an inherited moral belief.

The decline progresses further in the case of Job’s third comforter, because Zophar the Naamathite, unlike Bildad, is unable to invoke even the tradition of his elders. He is familiar with neither the living experience of Eliphaz nor the inherited learning of Bildad; his is simply the voice of established prejudice.

In these three men, then, we watch insight decline into theory, and then theory harden into a settled, unexamined opinion. As they individually address Job, moreover, each man seems progressively less assured of his position. And being less assured of his position, each man waxes increasingly more strident against Job.

Consequently, along with the decline of moral authority among these three men, there is a corresponding decline in politeness, as though each man is obliged to raise the volume of his voice in inverse proportion to his sense of assurance. Thus, we find that Eliphaz, at least when he begins, is also the most compassionate and polite of the three comforters.

Still, Eliphaz is shocked by Job’s tone. Instead of asking God to renew His mercies, Job has been cursing his own life. And since God the Creator is the source of that life, Job’s lament hardly reflects well on God. This perverse attitude of Job, Eliphaz reasons, must be the source of the problem. Job’s affliction, consequently, is not an inexplicable mystery, as Job has argued, but the result of Job’s own attitude toward God. Job’s lament, Eliphaz believes, is essentially selfish, expressing only Job’s subjective pain. Therefore, Eliphaz becomes more severe in his criticism of Job, referring to him as “foolish” (5:2, 3).

This severity becomes the dominant temper of Eliphaz’s second and third speeches (chapters 15 and 22), where he no longer demonstrates deference and compassion. His former sympathy and concern for Job are no longer possible now, because Eliphaz has repeatedly listened to Job professing his innocence. Job, Eliphaz believes, by emphatically denying a moral causality with respect to his afflictions, menaces the moral structure of the world.

Therefore, Eliphaz responds with aggression and even a tone of threat. Is Job older than Adam, he asks, or as old as wisdom itself (15:7; cf. Proverbs 8:25), that he should engage in such dangerous speculations about the hidden purposes of God?

The irony here, of course, is that Job is the only one whose discourse manifests even a shred of intellectual humility. Job has never, like Eliphaz (4:12–21), claimed to discern the divine mind.

What should finally be said, then, of this Edomite’s argument against the suffering Job? Though it is too severe and personally insensitive, Eliphaz does make a basically reliable case. Indeed, in God’s final revelation to Job near the end of the book, we meet some of the very themes that initially appeared in the first discourse of Eliphaz. Moreover, in the final verses of his first speech (5:25–26), Eliphaz ironically foretells the blessings that Job will receive at the end of the story (42:12–17). However much, then, Eliphaz managed to misinterpret the implications of his religious experience, that experience itself was valid and sound.

(Taken from Christ in His Saints by P. H. Reardon)

Thursday, August 21

Mark 14:22-31: While the plot is in progress, Jesus comes to that part of the Seder where the Berakah, the blessing of God, is prayed at the breaking of the unleavened loaf. Jesus, after praying the traditional Berakah, breaks the loaf and mysteriously identifies it as His body: “Take, eat; this is My body.”

Because the Greek noun for “body,” soma, has no adequate equivalent in Aramaic or Hebrew, we presume that Jesus used the noun basar (sarxs in Greek), which means “flesh.” Indeed, this is the noun we find all through John’s Bread of Life discourse (6:51-56). In the traditions inherited by St. Paul and the Synoptic Gospels, the noun had been changed to “body.”

Then, when Jesus comes to the blessing to be prayed at the drinking of the cup of wine, He identifies the wine in the chalice as His covenant blood. It is the blood of atonement and sanctification, originally modeled in the blood of Exodus 24:8—“And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words’” (cf. Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 1:2). In biblical thought the soul, or life, is contained in the blood. Thus, those who share this chalice of the Lord’s blood participate in the very soul, the life, of Christ.

There are four verbs associated with the Lord’s action with the bread: taking, blessing, breaking, and giving. These four verbs, which are part of the narrative itself, provided the early Church with a structural outline for the Eucharistic service. This outline has been maintained to the present day. Each verb indicates a part of the Eucharistic service. To wit:

First, the “taking” of the bread became a distinct part of the service. Just past the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr wrote, “Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought” (First Apology 67). It is not surprising that this bringing of the Eucharistic elements to the table was elaborated into a procession, called the Offertory Procession in the West and the Great Entrance in the East.

Second, the “blessing” (evlogia) or “thanksgiving” (evcharistia) gave its name to the service as a whole. This long prayer always included a summary of God’s wondrous works in salvation history, coming to a climax in the recited narrative of the Lord’s Supper itself, as we see in 1 Corinthians 11.

Third, the “breaking” of the bread, which symbolizes the Lord’s Passion.

Fourth, the Holy Communion is “given.” After that, the service ends rather quickly, almost abruptly.

In these four verbs, then, the Christian Church received the outline of its Eucharistic worship.

This meal is also a foreshadowing of the eternal banquet of heaven. There is an “until” component in the Holy Eucharist, as well as a past: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

After the Seder, Jesus and the apostles “sang a hymn” (hymnesantes–verse 26). This final song of the Seder is the Hallel, that portion of the Psalter where each psalm begins with Hallelujah—Psalms 113-118. One of those psalms contains the line, “What shall I render to the Lord/ For all His benefits toward me? / I will take up the cup of salvation, / And call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalms 116:12-13). This “cup of salvation” is manifold.  It is the cup of the Lord’s blood that He has just shared with the apostles, but it is also the cup of which He will soon pray, “Take this cup away from Me” (verse 36).

Friday, August 22

Mark 14:32-42: Quoting select Bible verses to prove a point of theology is usually, at best, a risky business, because what the Bible may say on a given subject is, as often as not, difficult to reduce to a single proposition. Let me cite the example of petitionary prayer in order to illustrate this risk and also to initiate a reflection on the subject of such prayer. 

Times out of mind we have been told by sincere Christians that the promise given by Jesus—the promise of His Father’s granting us whatsoever we ask in His name (John 16:23-24)—is absolute and “allows of no exceptions.” Some folks, citing this text, go on to remark that even the addition of “if it is Thy will” bespeaks a want of sufficient faith, inasmuch as it suggests that the person making the prayer is failing in confidence that his prayer will be answered. That is to say, a prayer containing an “if,” because it is ipso facto hypothetical, expresses an inadequate faith. What the believer should do, I have been told, is simply “name it and claim it.”

What the Bible has to say about petitionary prayer, however, is contained in many biblical verses, all of them worthy of careful regard. For example, should we say that the Apostle Paul, when he prayed three times that the Lord would remove from him the thorn in his flesh, the angel of Satan sent to buffet him (2 Corinthians 12:8), was wanting in faith because this severe affliction was not taken away?

If this was the case—if the Apostle to the Gentiles really was so deficient in personal faith—it is no wonder that he was obliged to leave Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). Poor ailing Trophimus, languishing there on his sickbed; he should have been prayed over by a person with a sounder, fuller, more unfailing faith–not that slacker Paul, a man apparently deficient in the art of naming it and claiming it.

The truth of the subject, however, is quite different. The addition, “if it is thy will,” is neither a limitation imposed on our confidence nor a restriction laid on our prayer. It expresses, rather, a constitutive feature of true prayer and an essential component of faith. The real purpose of prayer, after all, is not to inform God what we want, but to hand ourselves over more completely, in faith, to what God wants. The purpose of prayer, after all, even the prayer of petition, is living communion with God. The man who tells God, then, “Thy will be done,” does not thereby show himself a weaker believer but a stronger one.

After all, was Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith,” weak in faith when He added the “Thy will be done” to the petition “Take this cup from Me”? Did He not, rather, give us in this form of His petition the very essence of true prayer?

“If it is Thy will,” then, is not a limit on our trust, but an expansion of it. It does not denote a restriction of our confidence but an elevation of it. It is an elevation, because by such a prayer—“Thy will be done”—we grow in personal trust in the One who has deigned, in His love, to become our Father. Indeed, when Jesus makes this prayer in the Garden, the evangelists are careful to note exactly how He addressed God—namely, as “Father.” Indeed, they even preserve the more intimate Semitic form, “Abba.”

The “will of God” in which we place the trust of our petition is not a blind, arbitrary, or predetermined will. It is, rather, the will of a Father whose sole motive (if this word be allowed) in hearing our prayer is to provide loving direction and protection to His children. “According to Thy will” is spoken to a Father who loves us because in Christ we have become His children.

All of this theology was contained in Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, by which His own human will was united with the will of God. Jesus, in praying for the doing of God’s will, modeled for us the petition contained in the prayer that He gave us in the Sermon on the Mount. This prayer, which significantly begins with “Our Father,” goes on to plead that His will may be done.