Friday, May 1

1 Corinthians 15:35-49: Although humanity certainly shares in Adam’s corruption, in Christ it is made to share in the incorruption of the Resurrection: “The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption (15:42). Thus, “as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (15:49).

The perceived analogy between Adam and Christ was the basis for contrasting them. They are both “Adam,” wrote Paul: “The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). And he went on, “The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven” (15:47).

Ezekiel 21: The deep, very personal lamentation in this text will remind the reader of Ezekiel’s older contemporary, Jeremiah, who expressed very much the same sentiments during that decade immediately preceding the fall of Jerusalem in 586.

There are four oracles in this chapter (the first oracle actually beginning in 20:45), three of them against Jerusalem, and the fourth against the Ammonite capital of Rabbah (the present city Amman, capital of the modern country of Jordan). Even as Ezekiel speaks, the Babylonian army, with its “well-polished sword,” is already on the march toward those two cities.

The imagery alternates between fire (particularly a forest fire, with Jerusalem being the timber) and sword, both images combined in that of the lightning.

The references to the “Negev” in the first oracle (20:45—21:7) should be understood simply as “the south,” which is often the case in Ezekiel. The invading army, marching from Babylon, did not go directly westward toward Jerusalem, a march through the Arabian Desert being quite prohibitive. Instead, it marched up and around the Fertile Crescent, following the course of the Mesopotamian and Syrian rivers, so that now it has turned southward, in the direction of the Negev Desert, tramping toward Jerusalem and Rabbah.

In the second oracle (verses 8-17) Ezekiel addresses the Babylonian sword itself, which is the instrument of God’s vindication. The Babylonians, though they are acting as God’s instrument in history, do not know this, no more than a sword recognizes who wields it.

The third oracle (verses 18-27), continuing the image of the Babylonian sword, portrays another of Ezekiel’s symbolic actions, which must be explained to those who witness it. It pantomimes a fork in the road; which city, Jerusalem or Rabbah, will Nebuchadnezzar strike first?

The final oracle (verses 28-32) addresses to Rabbah the same threats that have been spoken to Jerusalem.

Saturday, May 2

John 6:15-21: John’s narrative sequence here, in which the Lord’s walking on the water follows immediately on the multiplication of the loaves, is identical to that in Mark 6 and Matthew 14. That is to say, the remembered order of these events was identical at Ephesus (John), Rome (Mark), and Antioch (Matthew).

Psalms 149: This is a psalm of triumph in warfare, specifically that warfare described in Ephesians 6, the battle “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12). As we have had occasion to observe so often in the psalms, combat and invocation, battle and blessing, are inseparable in the evangelical life.

To pray this psalm properly, we must be numbered among those warriors that it thus portrays: “The saints shall exult in glory; they will rejoice in their quarters. The exaltations of God are in their throats, and two-edged swords in their hands.” The latter blade so described is, of course, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). It is part of that “whole armor of God” which the Apostle Paul tells us to put on that we “may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, . . . [to] be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (6:11, 13).

Ezekiel 22: This chapter contains three oracular prophecies, joined together by a common theme: ritual uncleanness, understood either literally or as a metaphor. Ezekiel, as a priest dedicated entirely to the correct worship of the true God, was particularly sensitive to this matter of cleanness, or purity, in both the sacrifice and the priest.

The first oracle (verses 1-16), directed against Jerusalem, is full of the imagery of blood, any flowing of which rendered a person ritually unclean. Blood is also, however, an image of violence.

The second oracle (verses 17-22) is directed against all unfaithful Israelites, who are described as dross (that is, metallic impurity), which God will clean away in the coming smelting process of His historical judgment. Ezekiel doubts that any true metal will be found once this process is complete.

The third oracle (verses 23-31) is against the Holy Land itself, which suffers uncleanness because of those who live there. These have defiled God’s land with bloodshed and other forms of impurity, rendering the land unholy and no longer fit to contain the Lord’s true worship.

Sunday, May 3

1 Corinthians 11:17-26: This epistle reading, our earliest extant account of the Lord’s Supper, is chosen because of its thematic tie to today’s reading from the Gospel of John, the Bread of Life Discourse.

This Pauline text relates the Lord’s Supper to the Passion of our Lord. Indeed, in order to grasp the sacrifice of Christ, we—as the worshipping Church—begin with that breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup, through which we proclaim the death of the Lord. We begin by faithful participation in the Holy Eucharist, the sacrifice of the altar. Anything we come to know about sacrifice, we know because we celebrate—and live consecrated lives on the basis of—the Mystery of the Lord’s Body and Blood.

Our access to the Cross is through the Holy Eucharist, because “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). It is in this particular and supreme “proclamation,” the sacrament of the altar, that we are joined to the unique sacrifice offered by Christ on Calvary. Once that is established as our starting point, we may begin to consider the sacrificial nature of what happened on the Cross.

Ezekiel 23: About to see the ruin of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, Ezekiel thinks back to the year 722 B.C., when the Assyrians had destroyed Samaria, the capital of Israel. As Samaria fell then, Jerusalem will fall now. How closely the two cases resembled one another, the prophet reflects, both cities unfaithful to God, like two loose women who could not be trusted. This comparison of the two cities is the basis of the long allegory that fills the present chapter.

Once again, Ezekiel traces the problem back to Egypt, where the Israelites first learned the seductions of idolatry (verse 3). Samaria, having handed herself over to Assyrian seductions, was finally destroyed by Assyria (verses 5-10). Jerusalem was worse, falling under the idolatrous sway of both Assyria and Babylon in turn (verses 11-18). In addition, as a final irony, Jerusalem was now turning once again to the gods of Egypt (verses 18-21), Ezekiel’s reference to King Zedekiah’s recent appeal to Egypt against the Babylonian overlord.

The various nations of the Fertile Crescent (verse 23), all now part of the Babylonian Empire, will attack Jerusalem from the north (verse 24). History, Ezekiel saw, was about to be repeated. Thus, in this chapter the prophet extends the metaphor of marital fidelity that was the theme of Chapter 16.

Monday, May 4

John 6:28-40: The descendants of the murmurers in Exodus, immediately after the feeding of the people by miraculous bread in the desert, begin to murmur and ask for a sign. Thus begins the Lord’s Bread of Life discourse, in which Jesus contrasts the ancient Manna with the superior bread of His own Eucharistic flesh.

Psalms 5: “They have rebelled against You,” the psalm says. Sin is abhorrent to God. He not only loves justice; he also hates iniquity. “Fools shall not stand in Your presence,” our psalm goes on, “You hate all workers of iniquity.” When the psalmist prays for the destruction of the wicked, this is not his personal sentiment, so to speak. It is not a prayer of private vindictiveness but of foundational justice. It is a plea that God vindicate His own moral order. When Jesus refused to “pray for the world” (John 17:9), He was recognizing the existence of those who, willfully unrepentant and deliberately hard of heart, have placed themselves beyond hope. Inveterate sinning against the light—unrepented evil—does exist in human hearts, and God hates it. He hates it vehemently. Jesus on the Cross had not one word to say to the blasphemous, unrepentant thief.

Ezekiel 24: This chapter is constructed of two quite separate parts, the first being the allegorical oracle of a pot cooking on the fire, the second a prophecy and prophetic action connected with the death of Ezekiel’s wife.

The first oracle (verses 1-14) is dated on January 15, 588 B.C., the day that Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Jerusalem. This siege is compared to the flames surrounding a pot until its contents are cooked. This pot is, of course, Jerusalem, where the long siege has begun. The rust on this metal pot, which is the same color as blood and is likened to blood, carries forward the image of dross from Chapter 22.

The second oracle (verses 15-27) is occasioned by the sudden death of Ezekiel’s wife. He is not the only biblical prophet whose “home life” becomes part of the prophetic message. Thus, Hosea was obliged to marry a prostitute as part of his prophetic vocation, both Hosea and Isaiah were told to give strange and symbolic names to their children, and Jeremiah is commanded to remain celibate as a witness to the imminent passing of the era.

In the case of Ezekiel, he is ordered not to mourn at the death of his wife, no matter how grieved he feels. He must then interpret this strange behavior to his neighbors, giving him the opportunity to explain why, in their concrete historical circumstances, it would be inappropriate for them to mourn, even though their hearts are broken. Thus, in his grief Ezekiel himself becomes a “sign” to the people who are soon to see their beloved city destroyed.

Tuesday, May 5

1 Corinthians 10:1-13: Paul warns Christians about the evils of “murmuring,” a theme that appears also in today’s Gospel reading from John. This English word “murmur,” the mere pronunciation of which forces the mouth and throat to imitate the very sound of the thing, signifies a hopeless, powerless discontent that we correctly associate with the selfishness of childhood. It is an extension of a baby’s indistinct cry for the relief of its undefined needs, but in the present case it does contain one further element beyond the cry of the infant. It conveys a general note of blame. The murmurer is not only complaining; he is implicitly blaming somebody for his discontent.

Worse still, the act of murmuring does not quite find its way to explicit words—much-less, clear ideas. As the sound itself indicates, there is something frustratingly inarticulate about murmuring. It is extremely difficult to get a “handle” on the thing.

The opposite of murmuring is thanksgiving. It is thanksgiving that brings true healing to our lives. It is thanksgiving that separates us from those whose lives are spent in complaining and murmuring. The habit of complaining, after all, is profoundly unhealthy. Murmuring eats away the soul. Few things are more destructive of health than routine recourse to murmuring. It is no wonder that murmuring is the sin most condemned in Holy Scripture. Murmuring is never an expression of faith. Thanksgiving is.

Ezekiel 25: Chapters 25 through 32 of Ezekiel contain oracles directed against the other nations with whom the Lord has reason to be displeased, Israel’s neighbors to the east and west (Chapter 25), the north (Chapters 26 to 28), and the south (Chapters 29 to 32). Chapter 25 is critical of the neighbors to the east (the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites) and to the west (Philistines).

Those to the east are criticized in order, going from north to south. Since the oracles refer to the unseemly and unconscionable rejoicing of these nations at Jerusalem’s destruction, they should be dated no earlier than the summer of 586. Otherwise, the oracles in this chapter are not dated.

Oracles of this sort, scathing moral criticisms of Israel’s neighbors, go back to the earliest of Israel’s literary prophets, Amos, in the eighth century before Christ. Ezekiel’s references to the “people of the East,” who will punish these offending nations, may refer to the Babylonians, but the reference is perhaps more probably to the marauding Bedouin tribes that frequently attacked from the Arabian Desert.

Wednesday, May 6

Psalms 11 (Greek & Latin 10): Perhaps a good place to start thinking about this psalm is the drama described in Genesis 19, the destruction of Sodom and the flight of Lot. The similarities are striking. Consider the psalm: “Snares will He rain upon the sinners—fire, brimstone, and windstorm—these are their portion to drink.” And Genesis: “Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens” (19:24).

Or, again, in the psalm: “In the Lord have I trusted. How say to my soul, ‘Fly to the mountains like a sparrow’?” And the angels say to Lot in Genesis: “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed” (v. 17). To which Lot answers: “I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil overtake me, and I die” (v. 19).

And yet again in our psalm: “For the Lord is just, and justice He loves. His face beholds what is upright.” But according to the Apostle Peter, this explains precisely what transpired in Genesis 19, where God, “turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)” (2 Pet. 2:6–8).

And the psalm once more: “The Lord is in His holy temple. The Lord! His throne is in heaven. His glance regards the poor man; His eyes will examine the sons of men. The Lord will test the just man and the unjust. The lover of evil hates his own soul.” And once again Peter, commenting on Genesis 19: “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:9).

Similarly, when Jesus would tell us of the final and catastrophic times, it is to Sodom that He sends us: “Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:28–30).

Yes, “even so,” for we too yet abide in the cities of the plain, “as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these” (Jude 7). Living in the world where injustice thrives and the wicked flourish, daily our prayer rises to God with the sentiments of Psalm 10.

This is a psalm, then, about the plight of the upright, the overthrow of the earth, the crumbling of foundations hitherto fixed: “For behold, sinners bend the bow, their arrows stand ready in the quiver, to shoot down in darkness the upright of heart. For they pull down what You established, and what has the just man done?” The “just man” of Psalm 10 is ultimately Jesus the Lord, that Righteous One of whom it is said: “We indeed [suffer] justly, . . . but this Man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41).

Thursday, May 7

John 6:60-71: If we bear in mind that the Last Supper, the original service of the Eucharist, was the setting in which Jesus finally identified his betrayer, it is significant that Judas’ defection from the faith is first traced, in today’s reading, to his reaction to the “Bread of Life Discourse.” The unanimous testimony of the New Testament declares that Jesus gave us the mystery of his Body and Blood “on the night he was betrayed.”

Ezekiel 27: This chapter continues the theme of Chapter 26. Ezekiel is told to “lament” as though Tyre had already fallen, because it most certainly will fall. Indeed, Ezekiel’s imagery of the fall of Tyre will be taken up in the New Testament to describe the final fall of the “world” itself, that “world” for which Jesus refused to pray (John 17:9), the immense geopolitical and economic empire of man and materialism in intellectual and moral rebellion against God. The final times themselves, then, are prefigured in the fall of Tyre.

A thousand industries and tens of thousands of farms depended on Tyre for their prosperity. Tyre drew the wood for its shipwrights from its native forests of Lebanon and from nearby Cyprus. The textile industry of Egypt and elsewhere supplied its sails. Its mariners were recruited from every coastal city of the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Black, and Aegean seas, and all the waterways from Sudan to India.

Direct Phoenician trade held together a vast economic system that extended from the Persian Gulf to as far west as Cadiz (Tarshish) on the distant side of the Strait of Gibraltar. Thanks to Tyre and the Phoenician fleets, the coastal cities of southern Europe received the exports of Arabia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Fittingly, the fall of Tyre is likened to a shipwreck (27:27). When the ship sinks, all of its accumulated wealth is lost. So, when Tyre comes to ruin, it will mean economic disaster for all the many industries that depended on Phoenician shipping. Deeply affected by this catastrophe will be such places as Javan (Ionia, on the Aegean Sea—27:3), Put (Libya, in northern Africa—27:10), Lud (Lydia, in what is now the Turkish peninsula), and distant Persia at the other end of the Fertile Crescent. Because Phoenicia represents the financial unity of three continents, its collapse will have a devastating effect on masses of people who live very far from Tyre. (Compare the economic fallout from the fall of “Babylon” in Revelation 18.)

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).