Friday, May 8

1 Corinthians 11:2-16: The Apostle Paul believed that the customary differences between men and women, with respect to in hair style, were not arbitrary. For him, men’s hair must be proportionately shorter than women’s, and women, when they worship, should have their hair covered.

Even though these disciplines are determined, as Paul says, by “common custom” (synetheia), he clearly regards this custom, universal among God’s assemblies (hai ekklesiai tou Theou), as weighted with authority. Indeed, it is rooted in “nature itself” (physis aute). Consequently, he calls “contentious” (>i>philoneikos) anyone who treats subject of hair styles, respecting the difference of the sexes, as arbitrary.

Church History testifies to a universal assent on this matter. Although Christians have not always been of one accord respecting very serious questions of Christology and the Sacraments, they were always. until about 1960, agreed on the points Paul makes in these verses.

Ezekiel 28: This chapter contains two oracles: one against Tyre, the other against the Phoenician city of Sidon. In the first, no particular king of Tyre is indicated; the message is directed, rather, at that monarchy itself, as an embodiment of wealth and power in idolatrous rebellion against God. Idolatries of wealth invariably become idolatries of power, and in this respect it is significant that the king of Tyre is also indicted for cruelty.

The king, in addition, represented the nation itself, given over to economic aggrandizement and the love of power. As in individuals, so in nations, economic prosperity tends to breed pride, and Tyre, as we have seen, was very prosperous. Quite self-satisfied, it was no longer subject to the Divine Authority that rightly holds sway over the nations, whose eternal law is written into the structure of the world as binding on all men, and before whose Throne the peoples of the earth will in due course be summoned for judgment.

Tyre, in short, thought of itself as a god, and in this respect it was a political form of man’s initial rebellion in Eden. Satan had tempted Tyre as he had tempted Eve, and Tyre, succumbing to the temptation, now thought itself a god. Fallen like Adam, Tyre must now be expelled from the rock garden of Eden. “Stones of fire” (28:13f)—a most striking image—pictures the gold and precious stones of Genesis 2:11f as still being in their molten stage, still radiant with the heat that formed them. (Those stones will appear again in the final chapters of the Book of Revelation.)

The second oracle in this chapter, directed against the Phoenicians’ alternate capital of Sidon, is supplemented by a prose message of hope, renewal, and restoration for Israel. The editorial juxtaposition of these texts creates a literary irony that opposes Tyre’s expulsion from the garden of Eden with Israel’s restoration to its land to plant and care for its vines (verse 26). No longer will Israel be obliged to contend with the thorns and briars of Adam’s fall (verse 24).

Saturday, May 9

Ezekiel 29: The prophet’s attention is now turned southward, to Egypt, the land where Israel of old had first learned the ways of idolatry. In Ezekiel’s eyes Egypt is worthy of special blame for enticing Judah into rebellion against Babylon (verse 16).

This first oracle (29:1-16) was delivered on January 7, 587 (verse 1), when the siege against Jerusalem was in progress. Two years earlier, in 589, King Zedekiah of Judah had turned to Egypt for help against Babylon. In response, Pharaoh Hophra (known outside the Bible as Apries, 589-570) sent an army, which had temporarily driven off the Babylonians and made Jerusalem feel safe. But when the Babylonians came back in force, the Egyptian army fled, and the siege was renewed in earnest (cf. Jeremiah 37:5-10). Such were the events that prompted the present condemnation of Egypt, a nation that proved to be a broken reed. (To complete our story of him, Hophra was not fortunate in his attempts to help his allies. The Greeks at Cyrene later defeated him when he tried to come to the aid of his friends the Libyans. In 570 he was deposed by Amasis [’Ahmose-si-neit], who replaced him as pharaoh and reigned from 570-526.)

In Ezekiel’s present oracle, the pharaoh embodies the nation, just as the king of Tyre represented the Phoenicians in the previous chapter and, like the king of Tyre, the pharaoh, too, is condemned for his arrogance. The dragon of the Nile, the crocodile, is the pharaoh’s mythic symbol, which also represents the ancient serpent of Eden (cf. Revelation 12). As the kingdom of Judah was beginning to sink, it had unwisely reached out and grabbed this reed to keep from drowning, but the reed broke at once.

For Egypt’s sin Ezekiel prophesies forty years of suffering, including refugee status for many of its citizens. Never again, says Ezekiel, will Egypt be a great political power.

This chapter’s second oracle, much shorter (verses 17-21), was delivered much later, on April 26, 571. Indeed, this is the latest of all the oracles for which Ezekiel provides a specific date. According to the historian Josephus, the Babylonians had maintained a siege of thirteen years against Tyre, and by 571 the siege had ended without Ezekiel’s predicted fall of Tyre (verse 18). We may imagine what this circumstance did to Ezekiel’s reputation as a prophet. Had not Deuteronomy commanded that a prophet be stoned to death if his prophecy did not come to pass?

Ezekiel addresses these concerns in the present oracle, arguing that the Lord would give Egypt to the Babylonians in recompense for their failure to take Tyre (verses 19-20). In short, the Lord is free to change His mind. In this instance the evils prophesied against Tyre have been transferred to Egypt. Prophecy, which is a great deal more than factual prediction, is often founded on an hypothesis—an “if”—even though that “if” may be only implicit. We recall that Jonah learned this lesson in his dealings with the Ninevites.

Sunday, May 10

1 Corinthians 12:12-19: The foundation for the teaching of these verses was stated in chapter 10 of this epistle: “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For the many of us are one bread, one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”

Paul does not say that the Church is like a body. The Church is, rather, an extension of Christ’s own body, in which Christians share through the joint worship centered in the Lord’s Supper.

The essential fact of the body of Christ—the unity of the Eucharistic worshippers—places concrete moral and social responsibilities on all members of the Church. Each of them is irreplaceable in the specific ministries and services to which God calls them. Such is the burden of the verses we read today. The teaching of these verses Paul later summarizes in his Epistle to the Ephesians: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all humility and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, one body and one Spirit.”

Psalms 23 (Greek & Latin 22): The popularity of this psalm is doubtless related to the traditional attraction of the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the latter a fact readily demonstrable from the New Testament and the very earliest Christian art.

This attraction, still very widespread, was absolutely universal among the first Christians. For instance, in Matthew, written in Syria, the theme of Jesus as the Good Shepherd was especially related to that of evangelism and the sending out of the Apostles (9:36–38). This emphasis is consonant with the parable of the Shepherd’s searching for the lost sheep, preserved in 18:12–14.

In Mark’s Gospel, written in Rome, the theme of the Good Shepherd was especially associated with the Multiplication of the Loaves (Mark 6:34). Here one sees Jesus making his flock recline on the green grass (6:39), an image clearly drawn from our psalm. Evidently this became a favorite image among the Christians at Rome, for pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd appear everywhere in the catacombs and other early art in that city. Another New Testament work written at Rome twice refers to Jesus as the shepherd (1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4), and the image likewise appears in Hebrews (13:20), which also seems to be connected with Rome (13:24).

Ezekiel 30: There are two parts in this chapter, the first of which (verses 1-19) is a series of short oracles directed against the cities of Egypt and Sudan (Kush, which is inaccurately translated as Ethiopia in several modern versions), to regions with close political and economic ties.

The second part (30:20-26) is an oracle delivered on April 29, 587 (verse 20). The “broken arm” of the pharaoh refers to the recent defeat of the Egyptian army near Jerusalem when that army was driven away by the Babylonians who had returned to renew their siege of the city. Egypt, Ezekiel foresees, will share in Judah’s exile in some measure.

It is not surprising that some ancient Christian liturgical texts took inspiration from this chapter, especially verse 13, to speak of Jesus’ flight into Egypt as narrated by St. Matthew.

Monday, May 11

John 7:40-53: Near the beginning of John’s Gospel, he introduced Nicodemus as a Pharisee, “a leader (archon) of the Jews,” and “a teacher of Israel.” In today’s text, we learn that he is, in fact, a member of the Sanhedrin.

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.” In today’s reading we learn of his presence in the Sanhedrin as that body deliberated the fate of Jesus. Nicodemus raises his voice in protest.

After the Son of Man is, at last, raised up on the Cross, Nicodemus appears as the companion of Joseph of Arimathea, assisting him in the Lord’s burial: “And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.” To the ministry of properly burying the King of the Jews, the now-converted Nicodemus would bring a kingly measure of myrrh and precious spices, about a hundred pounds.

Ezekiel 31: The oracle in this chapter is dated June 21, 587 B.C. (verse 1). It is constructed of a lengthy and highly detailed poem describing Egypt as a large, imperial tree, dominating the landscape and offering shelter to all the nations (31:1-9). In his portrayal of this tree, Ezekiel once again resorts to the imagery of paradise (verses 8-9).

This poem is followed by a commentary in prose (verses 10-18), prophesying the downfall of Egypt. The great height of the tree, reaching up into the clouds, symbolizes man’s political and economic endeavors to attain heaven on earth by his own resources. To Ezekiel it is a symbol of arrogance, which he describes in terms reminiscent of the Tower of Babel. The cedar, which in olden times was symbolic of great longevity, represents man’s quest for a utopian permanence, a quest common to political idolatry.

Throughout the entire chapter the reader will observe in particular the image of water, bearing in mind Egypt’s long-time reliance on the Nile River and its highly developed system of irrigation.

Tuesday, May 12

Psalms 31 (Greek & Latin 30): In this psalm we enter into the sentiments and thoughts of Jesus in His sufferings. We see the Passion “from the inside,” as it were. There is the plot, recorded in the Gospels, to take His life (cf. Mark 3:6; 14:1): “Pull me out of the net that they have secretly laid for me. . . . Fear is on every side; while they take counsel together against me, they scheme to take away my life.” There are the false witnesses rising against Him (cf. Mark 14:55–59): “Let the lying lips be put to silence, which speak insolent things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.”

We learn of the flight of His friends and the mockery of His enemies (cf. Mark 14:50; 15:29–32): “I am a reproach among all my enemies, but especially among my neighbors, and am repulsive to my acquaintances; those who see me outside flee from me. I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind.” There is, moreover, that awesome mystery by which God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21), “so the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’” (Mark 15:28): “For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.”

The reason that the voice of Christ in His Passion must become our own voice is that His Passion itself provides the pattern for our own lives: “But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues” (Matt. 10:17). “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (24:9). We are to be baptized with His baptism; the bitter cup that He drinks we too are to taste in our own souls. The prayer of His Passion becomes our own, because “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).

Ezekiel 32: This chapter contains Ezekiel’s final two oracles against Egypt. The first of these (though given later than the one that follows it), is dated on March 3, 585 (verse 1). Although it was delivered during the winter that followed the downfall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, no reference is made to that event. Some of the imagery of this oracle recalls the plagues with which the Lord had long before struck the land of Egypt: the floods of blood and the great darkness (the first and ninth plagues). The great sin of Egypt declared in this oracle was pride.

The second (and earlier) of these two oracles was delivered on April 27, 586, prior to Jerusalem’s downfall. In his massive and detailed description of the nether world, Ezekiel sounds a theme from classical literature; the attentive reader can hardly fail to notice the similarities that this oracle has to the nether world descriptions in the Odyssey and the Aeneid.

Ezekiel’s description is similarly preoccupied with the thought of warfare and conquest. As Homer and Virgil portrayed the netherworld in the context of the fall of Troy, Ezekiel portrays it in the context of the fall of Jerusalem. Thus, it is in the netherworld, the realm of death, that the prophet finishes his oracles against those nations that rose up in rebellion against God’s authority over history. This second part of the Book of Ezekiel comes to an end.

Wednesday, May 13

Psalms 30 (Greek & Latin 29): This psalm bears a curious title that tells us something interesting of this psalm’s use in ancient Judaism: “A Psalm of David. A Song at the dedication of the House of David.”

First, it is ascribed to King David, nor is it difficult to think of him praying this psalm of thanksgiving for the Lord’s deliverance. After all, David came to the throne of Israel after years of oppression and exile under Saul, and these are the sentiments we would expect on his being delivered from those hard times.

Second, however, besides its individual and personal use in the case of David, this psalm was later sung as part of a communal, liturgical festival celebrated every year—the Dedication (Hanukkah) of the temple. This was a winter feast (cf. John 10:22) dating from 165 B.C., and Jews around the world continue to celebrate it even today, long after their temple has disappeared from history.

Ezekiel 33: This chapter has four parts. In the first (verses 1-9) the prophet is portrayed as a watchman keeping vigil over a city, responsible for warning the citizens of any impending peril. It is not the concern of the watchman whether or not the citizens pay him any heed; his responsibility is simply to sound the warning. The remaining responsibility belongs to the citizens themselves. The dominant images in this part are the sword and the trumpet.

This theme of warning is what joins the first part to the second (verses 10-20). In biblical prophecy there is often an implied hypothesis: “Such-and-such will happen, unless . . .” Many prophetic predictions contain, by implication, a conditional clause: “If . . . then . . .”

In this second part of the chapter Ezekiel repeats much of the message that we saw in Chapter 18 — namely, it is not what a man was that is important, but what he becomes. Consequently, neither former good nor former evil will be credited to a man who has changed his ways.

The third part of this chapter (verses 21-22) takes up the narrative of Ezekiel’s life, broken off after Chapter 24 by the insertion of the oracles against the nations (Chapters 25-32). We recall that Ezekiel’s wife had died, leaving him struck dumb with grief. At that time the Lord foretold to him that he would recover his speech when a messenger arrived to tell of Jerusalem’s downfall (24:25-27).

This third part of Chapter 33 now tells of the arrival of that messenger on January 8, 585, narrating Jerusalem’s fall the previous summer. The walls of Jerusalem had been breached in July (cf. Jeremiah 39:2; 52:6f), and a month later the temple had been deliberately destroyed (2 Kings 25:8f; Jeremiah 52:12). When this news reaches him, Ezekiel’s tongue is loosened, and he is once again ready to be God’s spokesman.

Therewith follows the fourth part of this chapter (verses 23-33), which blames the desolation of the Holy Land on the sins of its inhabitants. Ezekiel’s fellow hostages in Babylon love to hear him for his eloquence, and they come often to listen to him. But it will do them no good, for they refuse to repent. Too late will they learn what they missed.

Thursday, May 14

Psalms 35 (Greek & Latin 34): Among the many truths that the Lord taught the fledgling Church on the night of His betrayal was the very sobering truth that believers would suffer persecution just as He did: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Thus began that night’s prediction of the coming sufferings of the Church for His sake. The Lord went on to say: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (15:20).

The Passion of the Lord and the subsequent suffering of His Church are not mere historical phenomena, He told us; they are rooted, rather, in a point of theology—man’s deliberate ignorance of, even his resolved hatred of, God: “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. . . . He who hates Me hates My Father also. . . . but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father” (John 15:21, 23, 24).

At this place in His discourse our Lord explicitly appealed to the present psalm, to show that this hatred and this persecution by the world are a realization of prophecy: “But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause’” (15:25). Thus Jesus Himself gave us His own interpretation of our psalm.

Ezekiel 34: Ezekiel knows that the recent disaster at Jerusalem and its dire consequences, such as the scattering of God’s people, were in large measure the fault of those appointed to care for them: the royal house and the government, the priesthood, the teachers. All of these were Israel’s shepherds, commissioned by God to tend, govern, and feed the sheep. Not only did they fail to do so, but also they used their relationship to God’s people in order to serve themselves.

Thus, unfed and without guidance, the flock had “been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” God Himself, however, will come to shepherd them, and He will do so through His Anointed One—the new David—who will inherit the promises made to his ancient forebear (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89 [88]). This imagery and its promise will in due course be taken up by that new David who, in John 10, describes Himself as the Good Shepherd.

Ezekiel then (verses 17-22) criticizes some of the sheep themselves, who have exploited and ill-treated one another. God will judge them, not by classes, but as individuals (“sheep by sheep”) responsible for their decisions and their behavior.

The final section of this chapter (verses 25-30) describes the coming care of the Good Shepherd in terms reminiscent of paradise (compare Psalm 72 [71]).

Friday, May 15

Psalms 38 (Greek & Latin 37): Whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual—or all of them together—what we suffer in this life are the incursions of death, and death is simply sin becoming incarnate and dwelling among us, for “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

Such is the essential conviction of our prayer in this psalm: “For my iniquities are gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my folly.”

The proper response to sin and suffering? Confession of sins and the sustained cultivation of repentance, for “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Thus we pray in this psalm: “For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin.” Notwithstanding a widespread heresy that says otherwise, repentance is not something done once, and all finished; it is something to be perfected until the end of our lives. This sorrow for sin, says our psalm, is continual, ongoing. Every suffering we are given in this life is a renewed call to repentance. Every pain is, as it were, the accusing finger of Nathan: “You are the man” (2 Sam. 12:7).

Ezekiel 35: In this chapter we find expressed toward the Edomites, symbolized in Mount Seir, that same spirit of bitter condemnation that inspired the entire prophecy of Obadiah and the last several verses of Psalm 137 (136).

The material here expands on ideas found in a seminal form in Ezekiel 25:12-14. Edom has assisted and cheered on the Babylonians in their wanton destruction of the temple (cf. 1 Esdras 4:45). Ezekiel is our witness that the Edomites hoped to annex territory left open by the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (verse 10), but they will not do so, he tells us, because God has other plans for that land. Those plans of God form the substance of the next chapter.

The Edomites in the Bible comprised what we may call . . . well, a special case. Israel did not like them very much. Indeed, the Lord had to command Israel not to despise the Edomites (Deuteronomy 23:7), a thing they were prompted to do, perhaps, on the excuse that the Lord Himself was said to hate Esau, the father of the Edomites (Malachi 1:2; Romans 9:13). Truth to tell, the Edomites were not easy to love. They had obstructed Israel’s path from Egypt during the days of Moses (Numbers 20:21). They were known to be without pity (Amos 1:11) and engaged in international slave trade (1:6,9). For Ezekiel, as for Obadiah, however, the major sin was their attempt to exploit Babylon’s destruction of Judah.