Friday, June 21

Leviticus 11: We come now to five chapters specifying many rules concerning ritual purity and impurity. These rules form a logical sequence after the story of Nadab and Abihu, who perished from their thoughtlessness about the holiness required in God’s true worship. They also prepare the reader for the section on Yom Kippur (chapter 16), which provides a general rite of purification. These five chapters, then, join Yom Kippur back to the tragedy of Nadab and Abihu.

This section, which interrupts the narrative of Leviticus, is sometimes called the Manual of Purity. Its structure consists of six divine revelations: four to Moses and Aaron (11:1; 13:1; 14:33; 15:1), and two to Moses alone (12:1; 14:1). In these three instances, when the subject matter of the revelation is intended for the general instruction of the Israelites as God’s holy people, Moses is instructed to hand the material on to them (11:2; 12:2; 15:2). Each of these revelations concludes with a summation of the material contained (11:46-47; 12:7; 13:59; 14:32,54-57; 15:32-33). The final revelation ends with a general summary (15:31).

This first chapter deals with the difference between “clean” and “unclean” meats, both adjectives being understood in a ritual and cultic sense. The distinguishing characteristics of these two classifications were probably more obvious at the time than they are to us, but this consideration is not important to the theology of the chapter. In principle, the Israelites are to be governed, even in their diet, by distinctions that do not govern the rest of mankind. This restricted diet was a sign of the holiness of God’s people. Why God chose to make one animal “clean” and “another” unclean is, after all, a matter that can safely be left to God.

That principle established, it is worth reflecting on the Bible’s general classification of the animal world into wild, tame, and swarming (Genesis 1:26). Only the tame animals, the domesticated animals, properly share in man’s daily life. Some of these could be used for food (sheep, cattle), others for labor (horses, oxen). No animal could be used for both.

Among wild animals, preference is shown for animals that feed on grass, not those that feed on flesh. Those animals that feed on carrion (vultures, bottom-feeder fish) are unclean.

For two reasons these rules do not govern the diets of Christians (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:9-16):

First, Gospel purity is of a more spiritual nature. This is why the determining factor for dietary purity in the Christian Church is related to demon worship (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:21).

Second, the distinction between Israelite and Gentile, a distinction expressed in these ancient dietary laws, is destroyed by the common source of holiness, which is the sanctifying blood of Christ.

Saturday, June 22

John 19:31-42: It was to Nicodemus that Jesus made His earliest explicit reference to His coming crucifixion: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (3:14–16).

John next speaks of Nicodemus as the sole member of the Sanhedrin to raise his voice against the plot to take Jesus’ life (7:45–52). We do not hear of Nicodemus again until immediately after the death of Jesus, who was, at last, “lifted up” on Golgotha. In this third instance, Nicodemus appears as the companion of Joseph of Arimathea, assisting him in the Lord’s burial, as we read today.

The expression “be lifted up,” used by our Lord in His discourse with icodemus, is repeated halfway through John’s Gospel, again with reference to the crucifixion: “‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (12:32–33). In addition to being a reference to the crucifixion, the expression “lifted up” also alludes to a prophecy of God’s Suffering Servant: “Behold, My Servant will prosper; He shall be lifted up and glorified exceedingly” (Isaiah 52:13, LXX). As this text makes clear, the Lord’s lifting up refers not only to His crucifixion but also to His exaltation in glory.

John’s account of the Lord’s sufferings stresses that Jesus died as a king (18:36–37; 19:2, 15, 19, 21), and Nicodemus certainly witnessed the death of a king. Whereas all the Gospels credit Joseph of Arimathea with the burial of Jesus, John tells us that it was Nicodemus who determined that Jesus would be buried as a king. First, Jesus would be laid to rest in a garden (19:41), like His royal ancestors, the ancient kings of Judah (2 Kings 21:18, 26). Then, to the ministry of properly burying this King of the Jews, the now-converted Nicodemus would bring a kingly measure of myrrh and precious spices, about a hundred pounds.

This burial garden was, after all, the King’s garden of which Holy Church says, “My beloved has gone to his garden, / To the beds of spices” (Song of Solomon 6:2). It is on this “mountain of myrrh” that He will lie in rest “until the day breaks and the shadows flee away” (4:6).

Sunday, June 23

1 Corinthians 16:13-24: When Paul writes, “Stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong,” all three of imperative verbs are in the plural. Obviously the plural is required, inasmuch as Paul is addressing all of the Corinthians. Nonetheless, the use of the plural also indicates that he has in mind a joint effort. These are the things that a commander says to soldiers who are about to be attacked: stand fast, be brave, be strong. The survival of all of them depends on the combined efforts of each of them.

Yet, those combined efforts are more than a mere accumulation. It is not as though the faith of ten believers is ten times as strong as the faith of one believer. It is more likely the case that the faith of ten believers is closer to a hundred times as strong as one believer.

The reason for this is simple: Believers not only believe for themselves, they also support the faith of one another. For this reason, a community of faith has vastly more than the accumulated faith of individual believers. The spiritual chemistry of each believer affects the spiritual chemistry of those around him.

The major sin of those Corinthians was their failure to support the faith of one another. Each of them was acting without regard for the others. It is a plain fact that Christians cannot live that way and very long remain Christians, because the Christian faith is a corporate concern.

Leviticus 13: Modern readers, sensitive to the dangers of infection, will be more kindly disposed toward the prescriptions in this chapter, which have to do with various skin diseases, most of which are covered in the Bible by the noun “leprosy.” These, too, “defile” a person, in the sense of rendering inappropriate his participation in the congregation’s sacred worship.

The priests are authorized to declare when such an affliction has been healed (Luke 17:14).

Jesus’ curing of such people was one of the signs by which His contemporaries could recognize Him as the Messiah (Matthew 8:3; 11:5; Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13; 7:22). Indeed, after curing these lepers Jesus goes on to commission His apostles to do the same (Matthew 10:8). The curing of leprosy, then, becomes one of the great symbols of the power of the Gospel itself.

The real healing, however, takes place when Jesus Himself becomes, as it were, a leper in order to take away the sins of the human race (Isaiah 53 passim).

Monday, June 24

Leviticus 14: We come now to purification from blights, both blights of the flesh and blights of the home.

With respect to the first (verses 1-32), we have already considered its significance in our reflections on leprosy in the previous chapter.

The blights on human flesh lead to a consideration of the blights on human homes (verses 33-57). This sequence is both logical and symbolic. As a person’s social relationships are “defiled” by his appearance, the same is true for the appearance of his home. The rules for each, accordingly, are similar.

In this legislation we perceive a relation between the Israelite’s house and the house of God. This relation is continued in the New Testament, where Jesus enters the homes that would receive him (Mark 2:14-15; 14:3; Luke 19:9).

Indeed, the apostolic ministry itself was directed to the home. This truth is very clear in the Gospels: “And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace [shalom] come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace [shalom] return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet” (Matthew 10:12-14). It was to homes, to households, that the authority of the Apostles was sent.

A Christian home is a home where the Apostles are invited in and well received. A Christian home is a household where the apostolic authority holds sway, and this fact proposes a challenge for all our homes. Do we live in households that are governed by the presence of the Apostles? Or are our homes places where the apostolic authority is not admitted? When the Apostle bids shalom to our homes, does that greeting abide therein, or does it return?

The authority and teaching of the Apostles is not something found in a church building. After all, Christians spend very little of their time at church. Indeed, we would be subject to apostolic authority on a few hours each week if we found it only in church. In the Gospels, however, the Apostles are chiefly sent to homes, places where people actually live.

This truth poses certain questions for each household: “In what measure does the authority of the Apostles actually live and prevail in my home? Do the behavior and conversation in my home reflect the active presence of the Apostles? Do the values and entertainment in my home manifest and respect the authority of the Apostles? Worse yet, do we live in homes where the Apostles have already left in disgust and shaken the very dust from their feet?

In this respect the Apostles replace the Old Testament priests in their capacity of “home inspectors.”

Tuesday, June 25

Leviticus 15: The rules in this chapter, we notice, all pertain to “case law.” Because it has no strict parallel in the New Testament, this chapter’s concern with the defilement occasioned by the discharge of bodily fluids is more difficult to appreciate in a Christian context. How should a Christian approach these rules?

He should recognize, first of all, that sexuality in the Bible is hardly ever neutral. As St. Augustine recognized in the experience of his own life, God created human sex as one of His highest goods in the physical order, but man’s Fall from grace, as described in Genesis 3, seems to have infected the experience of sex more deeply than other aspects of man’s life. This is why Adam and Eve, after they had disobeyed, became aware of their nakedness before anything else. Indeed, Augustine speculated that all sexual expression had at least some amount of sin in it.

While this latter view is not that of the Bible nor of the Christian Tradition as a whole, it does express the reserve and restraint that the Christian conscience properly feels with respect to this subject. In the prescriptions of this chapter we gain some sense of this reserve and restraint.

That is to say, while sex itself is not inherently defiling, it is defiling in most circumstances. For starts, it is always defiling outside of the relationship of marriage. It is always morally defiling in adultery, fornication, homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, and the intentional cultivation of wrong sexual fantasies (cf. Matthew 5:27-28). Even within marriage, sex is morally defiling when accompanied by brutality, anger, selfishness, and those expressions that place the marital intercourse outside of its natural and divinely intended purpose.

In other words, God’s law, as expressed in nature and divine revelation, hedges the proper expression of sex into a fairly narrow set of circumstances. This truth, hardly popular in any period, seems most offensive in today’s atmosphere of moral glibness. It is difficult for contemporary man to understand that “safe sex” involves a great amount of caution, circumspection, reserve, and restraint. It is arguable that the Puritans understood this truth better than most, and consequently seemed to have appreciated the joys of sex better than many people today.

Wednesday, June 26

Mark 1:21-28: At this point in Mark’s narrative, Jesus has performed no miracle. He has called his first disciples to accompany him, but he has done nothing obviously supernatural. Yet, the demons sense, already, that a Presence has now arrived in the world, to challenge their dominion over it. One supposes they became suspicious when they endeavored to tempt him in the wilderness.

It is instructive to observe that the demons are the first ones to recognize in Jesus something more than a mere human being. It will take a bit longer for the disciples themselves to discern what the demons have begun to surmise.

Acts 3:11-26: This story, like the one that precedes it, takes place on Solomon’s portico, or porch. In Greek the word is stoa, from which was derived the name of philosophers called “Stoics” (cf. 17:18), so named because they studied under Zeno at the Poecile, a colonnaded porch in Athens.

As the Fathers of the Church observed in this connection, Luke is thus contrasting the Solomonic wisdom of the Bible with the pagan wisdom of the Hellenic philosophers. Peter preaches wisdom from that “porch of Solomon.”

The “walk” in verse 12 is literally “walk around,” in Greek peripatein, the root of “Peripatetic,” meaning the philosophy of Aristotle, who “walked around” the Lyceum at Athens discussing thorny questions with his students. Thus, Luke presents us with a Peripatetic on the Stoa!

Now Peter, like a good philosopher, sets himself to clear up a misunderstanding (verse 12). Relating his remarks immediately to the theme of his Pentecost sermon, the glorification of Jesus, Peter summarizes the Lord’s trial (verses 13-15) in a way that reflects Luke’s narrative of that trial (cf. Luke 23:4,14,16,20,22).

In verse 22, where Peter quotes Deuteronomy, the context provides a subtle word-play in “the Lord God will raise up (anastesei) for you a Prophet.” This “raising up” of Jesus (cf. verse 26 too) is, of course, the unifying theme of these first two sermons of Peter.

After his citation from Moses, he goes on to announce that “all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow,” had borne witness to the very message that he was preaching. This note again fits Luke’s motif of biblical fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. Luke 24:27,45), a motif that had so dominated Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.

He finishes by quoting Genesis 22:18, clearly understanding the “seed” (sperma) of Abraham as referring to Jesus (as does Paul in Galatians 3:16).

Thursday, June 27

Leviticus 17: The following ten chapters, referred to frequently as the Holiness Code, is a very early collection of precepts, a collection with its own literary integrity. Its underlying theme, which serves as a motive for the precepts themselves, is the holiness of the Lord, a holiness to be recognized and honored in every aspect of Israel’s life. This application of respect for the Lord’s holiness pertains not only to the precision of the prescribed ritual but also to the entire moral life.

The pertinence of this principle of holiness to the entire human life remains an important element of true holiness for all times, including our own. The Book of Leviticus remains in the Bible so that no one can ever imagine that holiness pertains only to sacral situations. Biblical holiness pertains, rather, to every dimension of our lives. That is to say, God is interested, not only in the authenticity of my worship, but also in the sanctity of my entire life.

The present chapter is concerned with the sacred nature of blood, all shedding of which has about it something akin to sacrifice. The life, or soul, was in the blood (cf. Revelation 6:9-10).

Thus, the shedding of blood was the pouring out of life and represented the handing back of that life to God (verses 3-4). The shed blood, representing the life offered to God, was to be sprinkled on the area of worship, to dedicate and purify the place for worship (verse 6; Hebrews 9:18-22).

Certainly such sacrifices must not be offered to demons—literally, satyrs ( se‘irim—verse 7). Indeed, the text prescribes that this practice should not be done “any more” (‘od), indicating that the Israelites had engaged in it hitherto. Such an abomination was radically at odds with the holiness to which Israel was called (cf. 2 Kings 23:8).

Verses 8-12 repeat the prescriptions of verses 3-7, adding thee particular applications. First, these rules apply also to non-Israelites sojourning among God’s People (verses 8,10,12). Second, these rules apply to all sacrifices, including the holocaust (‘olah). Third, all consumption of blood is proscribed, because of its sacral nature as the bearer of life (verse 10). All of this is to say that, nephesh habbashir badam, “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (verse 11).

Weighing the gravity of this assertion, along with its concomitant prohibition against the drinking of blood, we sense the shock of Jesus’ listeners when He commanded them to drink His blood (John 6:53-54.60). Nonetheless, in each case—in both Leviticus and John—the symbolic reason is the same; namely, the life is in the blood. Because the life is in the blood, Leviticus forbids the consumption of blood. Because the life is in the blood, Jesus commands the drinking of His own blood. Infinitely more than the sacrificed blood of bulls and goats, the blood of Jesus is appointed “to make atonement,” lekaphpher.

Like the body, the blood is to be buried. This is why blood shed outside of the liturgical setting is to be immediately covered with earth (verse 13).

Friday, June 28

Leviticus 18: The consideration of blood, which is the symbol and bearer of life, is appropriately followed by regulations concerning sex, the sole means appointed by God for the transmission of life. The biblical laws governing sex are mainly negative and apodictic (as in “Thou shalt not . . .”).

The core material embracing the twin concerns in this chapter (listed below) is contained by an introduction (verses 1-5) and a conclusion (verses 24-30). Since the introduction and conclusion lay the foundation for the chapter’s core material, we will discuss these first.

The introduction (verses 1-5) establishes the serious tone of the chapter. It is stated, as a first principle, that Israel’s sexual behavior is to resemble neither that of Egypt nor that of Canaan—the place that Israel was leaving and the place where Israel was going. The Lord’s “judgments and ordinances,” it should be noted here, do not mean that Israel is suddenly faced with “rules” about sex, whereas Egypt and Canaan had no such rules. On the contrary, both Egypt and Canaan had their own sexual ordinances. No nation or culture is without rules and ordinances governing sex, in the sense of social expectations. The important thing, however, is that such expectations be correct and proper, and this is the tone in which Israel is to receive the ordinances of God on this subject. (Our own modern American culture certainly has its rules, or social expectations, on the matter of sex. Alas, they are almost all wrong!)

The conclusion of the chapter takes up once again the theme established in the introduction, namely, Israel’s separation from the sexual deviations of the Canaanites, among whom the Israelites will soon be living (verses 24-26). Just as those Canaanites were dispossessed of the Holy Land by reason of committing these abominations, so Israel runs the identical threat (verses 27-28). The teaching of this passage is the same as that of Israel’s prophets, who later traced Israel’s exile back to Israel’s copying the behavior of the Canaanites.

Thus framed, the central core of the chapter contains the specific laws governing sex for God’s Holy People. These laws do address concrete social questions of two kinds:

First, in a culture where normally all the members belong to the same tribe, it is not surprising to find prohibitions against marriage within identified degrees of consanguinity and affinity (verses 6-18). Questions concerning these matters were bound to arise, and it was imperative to have clear, non-negotiable norms by which to address them.

The various prohibitions regarding consanguinity and affinity govern the household and family, where members of both sexes live in greater proximity than with other people. They are also bound by affections that are not shared outside of the family. Hence, the relationships established within the household are to be regulated with intentional severity, and on this severe code depends the stability of the whole society. A society that does not abhor incest has no future (verses 6-18). If relationships within the family are not closely and strictly governed, society collapses in one generation.

Second, because the experience of sex is so closely related to the imagination, it is inevitable that a society must eventually cope with more “imaginative” expressions of the sexual experience. Hence, there are rules to govern the proper judgment of such matters (verses 19-23). The Sacred Text is understandably severe about sex outside the family, such as adultery (verse 20), homosexuality (verse 22), and bestiality (verse 23).

It is instructive that in the midst of these references there is a prohibition of child sacrifice (verse 21). We gain some sense that sexual offenses and child sacrifice go together, a sense confirming our suspicions that a society that encourages promiscuity will be permissive with respect to the murder of children.