Friday, January 3

Hebrews 3.12-19: Throughout this work the author several times reveals some sense of alarm that his hearers are in danger of not finishing the course undertaken in that profession. In fact, this book contains the New Testament’s clearest warnings against apostasy.

To demonstrate the possibility of a radical falling away, our author’s first example comes from the period of the Israelites’ wandering in the Sinai desert. He was much impressed that only two adults, among the 600,000 who left Egypt, actually made it to the Promised Land. The rest of the people defected in the wilderness.

The author of Hebrews makes this point by citing Psalm 95 (94) and commenting on it over the space of two chapters: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath,‘ They shall not enter My rest.’”

That psalm, used as an invitation to prayer (“Come, let us sing unto the Lord”), daily renewed in the mind of God’s people the terrible fate of that generation of Israelites for whom the Exodus itself came to naught. They left Egypt for nothing. They died without reaching the very purpose of the Exodus—arrival in the Promised Land. That psalm warned all Israelites that the same fate could befall them!

Our author, therefore, cites this text, and then he goes on to comment: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”

Just like the Israelites who left Egypt and then died in the desert, it is possible to fail in the profession of the Christian faith. Ultimate defection is, therefore, a matter of grave concern. How concerned should Christians be on this point? Our author answers, “everyday!” He says, “but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our conviction steadfast to the end.”

Hebrews is not the only place where the New Testament examines that period of Israel’s history in order to learn a warning. St. Paul does exactly the same thing: “I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for they were scattered in the wilderness. . . . Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5,11).

It is important to learn the life in Christ, not only from the good examples, but also from the bad. Why is the story of Judas Iscariot referred to six times in the New Testament, except as a warning to Christians who may become complacent and forsake the fear of the Lord? If the Word of God is truly a lamp unto our feet, it will surely illumine for us the pitfalls along the path. In this way, it is possible to learn as much from the impatience of Saul as from the patience of Job. The study of Ahaz can be, in its own way, as profitable as the study of Isaiah.

Saturday, January 4

Matthew 22:41-46: While the Pharisees are still gathered in Jesus’ presence, He poses for them an additional exegetical problem: To whom was David referring when he spoke of his “Lord” in Psalm 110 (Greek and Latin 109)? If it was the Messiah, who must be David’s own son, how could he be David’s “Lord”? Jesus thus teases the mind to ask a deeper question of the Psalm, just as He earlier (verse 32) indicated a concealed meaning in Exodus 3. In each case this deeper meaning is verified and validated in His person.

As Christians grasped the point of Jesus’ question here, this psalm became ever more important in the development of early Christology (cf. Mark 16:19; Acts 2:34-35; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12).

Hebrews 4.1-13: In his use of the Book of Psalms in this chapter, it is clear that the author of Hebrews believed that the meaning of that text was contemporary to himself and his readers. The cited text was of more than historical interest. The dominant word indicating this persuasion is “today” (semeron), which appears twice in verse 7. The voice of God, he says, must be heard today. He expounds this principle in verses 12-13, speaking of God’s word as living and efficacious, sharper than a sword. It penetrates and divides man’s inner being, judging the reflections and thoughts of his mind.

There is no stronger affirmation of the truth that God lays bare our being by the light of His word searching our souls. When the Bible is read, whether proclaimed loudly in the worship of the Church or pondered quietly in the intimacy of our homes, God speaks. His prophetic word of judgment sears into our being laying bare the secrets of our consciences. It is a “word of judgment”—logos kritikos (verse 12). It does not lie there inert on the page open before our eyes. We search the Scriptures so that the Scriptures may search us, cutting into our being to expose what we are within. This is what makes the Bible different from all other books. Only here does God speak prophetically, in the sense of placing our whole being radically under judgment.

Thus, we do not call the Bible into question. The Bible calls us into question. We imagine that we are alive, and the Bible is inert. On the contrary, the Bible is more alive than we are. It is vibrant and efficacious, because it is the word of God. We open its pages in order to share its life. We do not, then, truly open the Bible unless we open our hearts and invite God’s word to penetrate our minds. We come to the Bible, seeking its judgment, because only in being judged by God’s all holy word may we share in the redeeming life that is offered there.

Sunday, January 5

John 1.19-28: The Evangelist presents a double interrogation of John the Baptist by the religious leaders from Jerusalem (verses 19-27). It appears that John has conflated stories of two delegations, one from the Sadducees (priests and Levites), the other from the Pharisees. John found it easy to conflate the two interrogations, since both groups apparently asked very much the same questions—all of them about John’s identity. We should presume that John the Baptist was questioned on this point several times (cf. Luke 3:7-18).

Both groups are said to represent “the Jews,” an expression that now appears for the first time in John’s Gospel. In most of the instances of this word in John, it designates Jesus’ enemies—the “Jews” as distinct from the Christians. That is to say, John’s use of this word appears to come from a period in which the Church was becoming an entity readily distinguished from the Synagogue. Although not consistently, we find the word “Jews” already use in this sense long before John. Indeed, it appears in the earliest book of the New Testament, twenty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets and have persecuted us” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15).

In John’s Gospel this form of expression has become consistent. The “Jews” represent a religion that has set itself against Jesus the Messiah. In that context, the Church became “of age,” as it were; indeed, She has been expelled from Judaism and has begun to think of herself as a separate quid.

The first delegation comes to John from a delegation sent by the priestly family (verses 19-23). This line of questioning has to do with John’s identity: Is he the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 19? John answers “no” to each question. John’s reiterated denial may be contrasted with Jesus’ own use of the words “I AM” all through this Gospel. This continues the contrast between Jesus and John, begun with the assertion regarding John, “He was not that light, but in order to bear witness to that light.”

Of these three negations by John the Baptist, the first is the most important: “I am not the Messiah.” He also denies being Elijah, the prophet expected to return in immediate preparation for the coming of the Messiah (cf. Malachi 3:23; Sirach 48:4-12; Luke 1:17). Although John the Baptist did not regard himself as the Prophet Elijah, Jesus regarded in the light of those prophecies of Elijah’s return (cf. Matthew 11:14; 17:12).

John also denies being the Prophet foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15,18 (cf. Acts 7:37). According to this Gospel, there were those who suspected that Jesus Himself was that Prophet foretold by Moses (6:14; 7:40).

Finally, when John is asked point-blank, “Who are you?” he responds by quoting Isaiah 40:3—“The voice of someone crying in the wilderness:
‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” John’s understanding of himself in the light of this Isaian text is found in the Synoptic Traditions as well (cf. Matthew 3:3).

Matthew 3:13-17: The scene of the Lord’s baptism is the explicit revelation of God as Holy Trinity: The voice of the Father testifies to His Son, and the Holy Spirit, appearing in the form of a dove, confirms the truth of that witness. Jesus’ baptism by John was understood among the early Christians as being the inauguration of His ministry in this world (cf. Acts 1:22; 10:37f; 13:23-25), which closes in Matthew by the great mandate to baptize all nations in the name of the Holy Trinity (28:19).

Monday, January 6

Luke 3.21-22: Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism is contained in a single, condensed, and tightly constructed sentence: “Now it happened, when all the people were baptized, and Jesus—having been baptized—was praying, that heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form like a dove, came down upon him, and there was a voice from heaven: ‘You are My beloved Son; in you I am well pleased’” (3:21-22).

In this Lukan account, six details of the baptism seem especially worthy of attention: First, John the Baptist is not mentioned in the scene at all; Luke, having already spoken of John’s arrest (Luke 3:20), leaves him out of the baptismal story completely.

Second, the baptism itself is not Luke’s central concern. Indeed, it has already happened and is mentioned only in a subordinate expression: “having been baptized.” Luke’s focus is directed, not to the baptism, but to Jesus’ experience of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Third, Jesus’ baptism is not isolated from that of the other people: “. . . when all the people were baptized . . .” The evangelist’s stress on this point indicates Jesus’ solidarity with the rest of humanity. This emphasis is important to Luke’s theology of the Incarnation. In the immediate context, Jesus’ organic solidarity with the human race is addressed by Luke’s inclusion—immediately after the baptism—of the Savior’s genealogy, in which his ancestry is traced all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). In other words, the mention of “the people,” in this baptismal scene, pertains to Luke’s larger interest in the humanity of Jesus: He is at one with the whole human race, descended from the fallen Adam.

Fourth, only Luke speaks of the Savior at prayer in the baptismal story: “. . . Jesus—having been baptized—was praying . . .” This is the first of many times Luke describes Jesus communing with God as other human beings commune with God—namely, by prayer.

Fifth, Luke emphasizes the visible way the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus: “. . . the Holy Spirit, in bodily form (somatiko eidei) like a dove, came down upon him . . .” Although Luke has already made the activity of the Holy Spirit thematic in his version of the Gospel, a particular theological note attends the Spirit’s appearance here in the baptismal scene—namely, the baptism is portrayed as Jesus’ public anointing by the Holy Spirit. Jesus will soon speak of this “anointing,” when, in the first words of his public ministry—and quoting the Book of Isaiah—he announces, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, / Because He has anointed me” (4:16; Isaiah 61:1).

The Spirit’s baptismal anointing of Jesus is theologically decisive for Luke. It is, in fact, the chronological starting point of the apostolic message (cf. Acts 1:21-22). In respect to Jesus’ baptismal anointing, moreover, Luke will later quote St. Peter’s assertion that the Gospel itself “began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:37-38 emphasis added).

Sixth, in Luke’s version of the baptism—as in Mark’s—the voice of the Father addresses Jesus directly. It does so twice: “You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.” We take note of the vigorously repeated I/you structure.

The proclamation of Jesus’ sonship hardly comes as “news” to Luke’s readers, of course, who recall the announcement of Gabriel to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

Tuesday, January 7

John 1.29-34: Jesus is identified as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” For John the Baptist, who preached a baptism of repentance of sins, this was the most fundamental fact about Jesus of Nazareth—He is the sacrificial victim, the definitive sin-offering, by whose oblation the sin of the world is removed.

When Jesus is called the “Lamb” in the New Testament, two OT images come particularly to mind: the Paschal Lamb and the Lamb offered for sin on the Day of Atonement.

Jesus as the Paschal Lamb will later appear in John in the story of the Passion: “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. . . . For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken’” (19:36; Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20). This also appears in Paul: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Both Paul and John, then, regard Jesus as the true Paschal Lamb, who delivers the Chosen People on the night of the Exodus.

In identifying Jesus in this way, John sees Him as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53 (verses 7-12): “You make His soul an offering for sin.” This image of the biblical sin-offering became the earliest of the categories of Christology. Before we find it in Epistles of St. Paul, even before we find it in the Lord’s own words at the Last Supper, we find this thematic image already in the preaching of John the Baptist. John is the first to proclaim the message of the Cross. He is the first determined to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified.

This image appears likewise in St Peter: “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Indeed, this image appears in the earliest preaching of the Christian Church, as we see in Acts 8:32, where Isaiah 53 is quoted (by Philip to the eunuch) and explained.

Both images—the Paschal Lamb and the lamb offered for sins—seem to be present in the Book of Revelation, which most refers to Jesus as the Lamb (27 times).

John’s proclamation of the Cross pertains not only to the doctrine of Redemption; it pertains also to his own vocation. Because the One greater than he is the Lamb offered in sacrifice, John himself must accept in his own life and vocation the standard of the Cross. He too must taste the bitterness and the gall. He too must be mutilated in his flesh and bear the darkness of abandonment. Even before Jesus, John would die in testimony to the truth. Even with respect to the Cross, John would be the forerunner.

Wednesday, January 8

John 1:35-42: Only in this Gospel do we learn that Jesus’ first disciples had been disciples of John the Baptist.

Today’s Gospel reading presents us with the two quite different brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew. Even though Peter often served as a spokesman for the other Apostles, one has the impression that he sometimes went out of his way to distinguish himself, to set himself apart, from the rest of the apostles — “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be” (Mark 1:29). A consummate alpha personality, Peter simply cannot be overlooked; like the very sun, a boisterous giant rejoicing to run his course, there is nothing hidden from his heat.

Andrew, on the contrary, appears not to draw attention to himself but serves entirely as a conduit for others to come to the Lord. Even in this scene that prompts the Church to remember him as the first-called, he immediately went to share his blessing with his sibling. It is no wonder that he was known among the first Christians simply as “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.” There is more attention given to Andrew in this Gospel than in the other three.

We observe that John translates the word “rabbi,” something he would not do if he had only Jewish readers in mind (verse 38). The same is true for the names “Messiah” (verse 41) and “Kephas” (verse 42).

These things happened “about the tenth hour,” which would be bout 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The events in this next chapter took place the next day.

Titus 2.1-15: In the previous chapter Paul had spoken about being “sound in the faith” (hygiainosin en tei pistei-—1:13). Such “soundness” is the mark that he further inculcates in the present chapter, exhorting Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (hygiainousei didaskalioi-—verse 1), so that mature men may be “sound in faith” (hygiainantes tei pistei-—verse 2) and of “sound speech” (logon hygie-—verse 8). This “soundness” (in the Greek root of which, hygi, we recognize our English words “hygiene” and “hygienic”) is a noted theme also in the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3). Christian teaching, that is to say, should carry the marks of intellectual, moral, and emotional health. It will not recommend itself if it encourages thoughts, sentiments, and behavior that are manifestly unhealthy.

Thursday, January 9
Titus 3:1-15: There are three things on which we want to remark in these closing verses of the Epistle to Titus.

First, the maintenance of the life in Christ requires consistent work. Paul says this twice today: “I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have put their trust in God should be careful to maintain good works,” and “et our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.” The life in Christ is something at which we work.
We speak of people “practicing” their faith, and perhaps we should look more closely at this word “practice.” Those who seriously “practice” something do not merely dab at it. They work at it. A person will never learn to play the piano if he practices only twice a year, and only then if it is convenient. A person will never learn the piano, if he practices only once a week. What we want to do well, we practice every day. Athletes, dancers, and musicians practice by the hour — everyday.

Second, this attention to practice means that we don’t waste or time and energies. Especially, says St. Paul, we don’t waste time and energies arguing with heretics: “Reject a divisive man (hairetikon anthropon) after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” (It is worth mentioning that this is the only place in the NT where we find the word “heretic.”) That is to say, we deliberately avoid getting bogged down in theological arguments. St Paul forbids it. Arguing with heretics is as strictly prohibited as murder and adultery. God is not pleased nor served by such activity. One or two conversations and it must stop.

Third, these directions are for people whom St. Paul describes as “those who have put their trust in God” — hoi pepistevkotes Theo. To “believe” in the Scriptural sense is not simply to assent to a proposition. It is an assent to a Person. To believe, as the Bible uses that term, establishes a relationship of trust. This is the force of the dative case. I have never been to the North Pole, but I believe in the North Pole, meaning that I assent to it as a proposition. That is not what is meant in the Bible by faith.

Faith, as understood in the Bible, is always a personal thing, not a merely propositional thing. To believe in someone is entirely different thing than to believe in something. The second is propositional, the first is personal; it denotes trust.

Thus, when merely I assent to the existence of God as a proposition, that is not what the Bible means by faith. To believe in God by faith is not merely to affirm His existence. It is to affirm my trust in Him. This personal trust in God is what we mean by faith, and it is the foundation of our lives.

Friday, January 10

John 2.1-12: 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). Thus, John places Mary at both the beginning and the end of Jesus’ public ministry. 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. She frames the Lord’s public ministry.

Second, in both places she is called only “the mother of Jesus” and is never named. Uniting John’s portrayal of Mary at the wedding at Cana (the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry) and at the foot of the cross (the end) is what we might call “the theme of the royal mother.” John stresses Mary’s maternal relationship to Jesus; his use of the term “mother of Jesus” seems to convey a certain reverence, much as it does in Luke’s portrayal of the nascent Church gathered in the upper room, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Third, in each instance Jesus addresses his mother as “Woman” (gyne). This, too, unites the two stories. Though this bare expression strikes the modern ear as impolite, perhaps even harsh, it was in fact a formal and decorous way for women to be addressed in biblical times (see, for example, Matthew 15:28 [Canaanite woman]; Luke 13:12 [crippled woman in the synagogue]; John 4:21 [Samaritan woman]; 8:10 [woman taken in adultery]; 20:13 [Mary Magdalene]).

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 should 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; cf Psalms 45 [44]:9).