Friday, November 14

2 Thessalonians 2:13—3:5: The vocabulary of call and election came naturally to Paul as a Jew, because God’s choice of the Israelites as a special and consecrated people had long been formative elements in the self-consciousness of that people. Abraham had been “called” from Ur of the Chaldees; Israel had been “called” out of Egypt.

What may at first seem surprising is that in these two earliest of Paul’s epistles, those to the Thessalonians (as in verse 13 of today’s reading), both of them written to predominantly Gentile Christians, he expects them to understand what he means by this vocabulary of call and election. Apparently during the three weeks of his oral instruction to them, to which he refers in these two letters, Paul had stressed election and call as central elements in the self-consciousness of the Christian Church. He had established in the minds of these Thessalonians that they too stood in a direct line of continuity with God’s Chosen People of old, with Abraham and with Moses. The Thessalonians too were called and elect.

After all, they had received “the word of God” (verse 13), a biblical expression that normally refers to a prophetic oracle. Paul sees himself as commissioned to speak this word, like the prophets before him. Thus, when Paul spoke, it was God speaking, just as He had spoken through Moses or Isaiah.

Paul feels the need to remind the Thessalonians of this. There is nothing here to suggest that the sense of being called and chosen involved an overwhelming experience not open to doubt. Otherwise it would not have been necessary for Paul to keep reminding the Thessalonians of the truth of their call and election.

It is important, furthermore, to observe that nowhere does Holy Scripture speak of call and election in a negative way, as though God deliberately chose not to call some human beings to salvation—as though some human beings were somehow outside of God’s love and care. Call and election are always spoken of in positive terms in Holy Scripture, never negative terms.

Saturday, November 15

2 Thessalonians 3:6-18: Verse 11 has a play on words impossible to translate literally without losing the force of the expression: meden ergazomenous alla periergazomenous, which may be paraphrased, “not working but working around,” or “not busy but busybodies.”

This letter was written partly in reply to those who took the “last times” so seriously as to affect their duties and responsibilities in this world, with the result that they lived off of the generosity of other Christians. Paul very seriously insisted that such people should not be helped: “If someone is unwilling (ou thelei) to work, neither let him eat.”

This seems harsh. Jesus has said nothing like this in the Sermon on the Mount or in His Last Judgment parable in Matthew 25. Paul, however, is not teaching an ideal of charity here; he is very practically trying to come to grips with a very practical problem. The resources of the Christian community are always going to be limited. Every effort must be made to assist the poor and helpless, but there is no room in the Church for drones and loafers.

With respect to loafers and drones in the Church, Paul criticizes more than their laziness. Worse, they spend badly the time that they have on their hands as a result of their inactivity. Later on he was obliged to deal with this problem of inactivity among the widows at Ephesus, those ladies who used their retirement to no good purpose, spending their time in idle curiosities and rumor-mongering (1 Timothy 5:13). Paul, the heir of rabbinic wisdom on this point, believed that a proper and useful occupation of one’s mind, energy, and time was good for the soul as well as the pocket book.

Sunday, November 16

The Book of Revelation: This most difficult and mysterious book was written most likely near the end of the first century and in the context of the threatened persecution of the Christian Church by the Emperor Domitian. The Book of Revelation is especially concerned with the events of the Last Times and is the largest work of prophecy to come to us from early Christianity. It is dominated by the vision of the risen Christ living and walking among the churches as they do battle with Satan in this world. After epistles to seven local churches in Asia Minor, it records a series of visions and angelic messages crafted in very elaborate and often difficult symbolism.

This is no book for beginners, and it is my impression that the book is more often misunderstood than correctly understood. Unless a person is extraordinarily familiar with all the rest of Holy Scripture, understanding very much of the Book of Revelation will be an extremely arduous task. Since the book’s arcane symbolism is so rich and subtle, moreover, Christian humility will especially prompt the devout reader to be more than usually careful and tentative in his study of it, bearing in mind that the book’s purpose is not to satisfy our curiosity about the final times (inasmuch as not even the angels in heaven—and therefore certainly no one on earth—truly know the day and hour, as our Lord insisted in the Gospels) but to summon our ongoing repentance.

Written for public reading in the churches, Revelation also resembles the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is really a sermon composed for identical public reading. Like Hebrews, too, it has much to say about the heavenly sanctuary. Still, the many differences between these two works are manifest. In short, the Book of Revelation is unique, in the sense that no other book of Holy Scripture is entirely like it.

Monday, November 17

Luke 22:7-13: The time has now arrived, declares Luke. All the previous parts of his account have led to this moment. From the beginning of his story, when the life of the First Born Son was redeemed by two turtle dove or young pigeons (2:24), through the Lord’s entire earthly life, during which His face was steadfastly set toward Jerusalem, all has been directed to this hour when the Paschal Lamb (to Pascha; see also 1 Corinthians 5:7; Deuteronomy 16:26) would be offered and the new Exodus (9:31) inaugurated.

All of this must happen, says Luke, using one of his typical words, dei (cf. 9:22; 13:33; 17:25; 24:7,26,44).__

Luke is the only Evangelist to name Peter and John as the two apostles deputed to make the Seder arrangements for Jesus and the apostolic band (verse 8). Luke’s considerable attention to these two apostles (cf. Acts 3:1,3; 4:13,19; 8:14) suggests that they may have been among the chief sources of his information about the events of Holy Week. Indeed, among the three Synoptic Evangelists, Luke’s account most resembles that of John’s Gospel.__

Verse 7 refers not only to the impending annual sacrifice of the paschal lamb in obedience to the Mosaic Law, but also to the approaching immolation of the true Paschal Lamb on the following day, the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Two things are particularly to be noted in verse 10. First, a man carrying water would easily be picked out in a crowd, because in the Middle East this labor was (and is) normally allotted to women. Second, Jesus is portrayed as clairvoyant with respect to the future (cf. also 19:29-30).__

One did not simply show up in Jerusalem at Passover time and expect to find a suitable place for the Seder, because the holy city at such a time was crowded with thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, and accommodations were precious. In such a setting, nonetheless, Jesus was provided with a large room upstairs (verse 12).__The preparations made by Peter and John included obtaining a sacrificed lamb from the Temple and procuring wine, unleavened bread, and the other foods requisite for the Seder (cf. Exodus 12:1-27)._

Tuesday, November 18

Luke 22:14-23: The extant manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel differ greatly among themselves with respect to these verses. Indeed, the great differences among the Lukan manuscripts draws me to the tentative conclusion that Luke wrote two versions of his gospel. Leaving aside that question, I base the present comments on the longer Received Text represented in the Eastern manuscripts, special attention being given to the earliest extant manuscript of Luke, the Papyrus Bodmer XIV.

__Luke refers explicitly to the Kingdom of God in regard to both the Eucharist (verses 14-15,29-30) and the Lord’s Passion (22:69; 23:37-38,42). In the Church’s celebration of the Holy Eucharist the Kingdom itself becomes present in the presence of Christ.__

It is a feature of the longer text of the Gospel of Luke that there are two references to the cup (verses 17,20). In both cases Luke uses the standard Eucharistic verbs: took, gave thanks, said, take, share (cf. also the multiplication of the loaves in 9:12-17). __In fact there were three cups consumed in the traditional Seder, and Luke’s two cups seem to be identified with the second and third cups of that ritual meal. That is, the cup following the Passover narrative (the haggadah) and the “cup of blessing” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16) that came after the consumption of the paschal lamb.

The distribution of unleavened bread came between these two cups, exactly where we find it in Luke. Thus, the Seder itself was transformed into the Christian Eucharist through the symbolic attention given to the bread and the third cup.__

The drinking of this third cup was placed between the first and second parts of the Hallel Psalms (113-118 [112-117 in Greek and Latin]). It was associated with the words of Psalm 116:12-13 (115:4), “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.” This is one of the psalms, then, that Jesus prayed immediately before going out to the Garden of Gethsemani and accepting, from the Father’s hand, the cup of His sufferings (verse 42).

__Luke is careful to say that only the Apostles were present with Jesus for the institution of the Lord’s Supper and only they received the dominical mandate to “do this.” From the very beginning of Christian history the presidency of the Eucharist has been reserved to those men who received from the Apostles this particular mandate through the direct succession of ordination.__

The “remembrance” of verse 19 refers to God’s remembrance. That is to say, in the Eucharistic rite God remembers His covenant with the Church in Christ (cf. Genesis 9:9-17).

Wednesday, November 19

Luke 22:24-30: The shameless dispute over rank among the Apostles, which Matthew (19:28; 20:25-28) and Mark (9:33-34; 10:41-45) place much earlier in the narrative sequence, is found during the Last Supper in Luke’s account. In this respect, Luke description of the disciples’ attitude during this meal resembles the account of it in John (13:1-20). __

The proper answer to the question of apostolic rank is that it should never arise. This being the wrong question, any answer to it is necessarily the wrong answer. The ministry of the Christian Church is modeled, rather, on the example of Christ our Lord, who became the Servant of His people. In John’s account of the Last Supper this servant quality is illustrated by the Lord’s washing of the disciples’ feet.__

By placing this discussion during the Last Supper, Luke brings it into greater proximity to the Lord’s Passion, in which He does show Himself to be God’s Suffering Servant foretold in the Book of Isaiah. __In verses 28-30 the Eucharistic table becomes the effective symbol of God’s table in the Kingdom, where these same Apostles, scandalously squabbling among themselves for rank, will be afforded places of prominence. They will receive such prominence because they have persevered with Jesus in His trials.__

Thursday, November 20

Luke 22:31-34: The dispute over rank among the Apostles shows how spiritually vulnerable they really are, and these next verses address that spiritual vulnerability.__

The scene described here is found at the table of the Last Supper in Luke and John, whereas in Matthew and Mark it is narrated as taking place while Jesus walked with His disciples on the way to the Agony in the Garden. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the conversation was somewhat longer than is recorded in the Gospels and that it extended for some time, both in the upper room and after they left it.

__In either setting the prediction of Peter’s denials is placed in the context of the Lord’s Supper and is included in all four Gospels as an exhortation to Christians with respect to the temptations that may befall them even while partaking of the Lord’s body and blood. Satan does not boycott the Eucharist.

__In contemporary English (which makes no distinction between “thou” and “ye”), it is difficult to discern all the subtlety in these verses. The “you” in verse 31 is plural. That is to say, it is not only Peter that Satan desires to sift as wheat; it is all of the Apostles. Indeed, it is all Christians. Satan has “asked,” he has sought permission, to try them, just as he had formerly asked such permission with respect to Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). In the Lord’s Passion the disciples will be tried as Job was tried, and the Lord warns them of this in His words to Peter.__

The “you” in verse 32, however, is singular, not plural. That is to say, it is Peter himself for whom the Lord prays. In fact, as the story goes on to show, Peter is the one most in danger, and Jesus foresees this. He also foresees Peter’s repentance, for which He prayed. In connection with this repentance, the Lord commands him to strengthen his brethren. Indeed, the story of Peter’s fall and repentance has been strengthening his brethren down to the present day.__

Friday, November 21

Luke 22:35-38: These verses are found only in Luke, who is also the only one of the Evangelists to treat of Christian evangelism in the context of the Lord’s Supper. This fact is significant, suggesting the outward thrust of the Eucharist into the Church’s mission to the world.__

Comparing these verses to 10:4, we see that the terms of the Church’s engagement with the world are now changed. Those earlier restrictions, though they did not impede the ministry at the time, are now lifted, and the Church is instructed to take such measures as will prove necessary for the greater and lengthier mission. (To borrow a metaphor from Matthew 24, the Church will need to provide oil for the lamps, because time will be the trial of her success, as the return of the Bridegroom is delayed.) __

According to nearly all commentators (and certainly to all those commentators that the present writer disposed to trust), the purse, the wallet, and the sword are to be understood figuratively. They imply that the Christian mission will be costly, strenuous, and fraught with peril. The Church must be ready for anything (verse 36). __A crisis is now about to fall. With the betrayal of Christ begins the last age of world history. What has been written must be fulfilled (to gegrammenon dei telesthenai, verse 37). The Lord refers here to His own fulfillment of the Suffering Servant prophecies from the Book of Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 53:12. This is the proper context for considering the Church’s mission in the world.__

Alas, the Apostles, misunderstanding the Lord’s reference to the sword, announce that they have two swords (at least one of which will be used in the Garden that night!). To this announcement our Lord expresses a definite despondency. “Enough of that,” He sighs.__