Friday, May 14

Exodus 33: Now comes the order to depart from Sinai (verse 1). It is the second month of the second year of Israel’s journey (Numbers 10:11-12). The Israelites had arrived at the mountain during the third month after their crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 19:1), so they have been in this site for almost a year.

The Lord’s angel will continue to lead them to the Promised Land (verse 2; cf. 23:20). The reason given for this “mediation,” however, is the Lord’s displeasure with the Israelites; He wants to keep some distance from them, as though He could not trust Himself not to destroy them! (verse 3) Learning this, the people put away their jewelry, lest the sight of it remind Lord of the incident with the golden calf (verse 4). One may also note that, by not wearing it, the Israelites will more readily part with it when the time comes for this jewelry to be employed in the adornment of the tabernacle.

There follows a story of Moses’ regular visits to speak with the Lord of a new tabernacle (verses 7-11), which is not so much a liturgical shrine as a sort of oracular place. In short, it is a place where Moses can confer with God.

Unlike the earlier tabernacle, which was placed at the center of the camp (25:8), this one is set up outside the camp. Moses goes there from time to time, to speak with the Lord in great intimacy (Numbers 10:4-8; 17:7-9). When he arrives, he awaits the coming of the Lord in the cloudy pillar, which first appeared at the time of the exodus. The other Israelites observe these encounters of the Lord and Moses from the entrances of their own tents.

This new tabernacle becomes the permanent dwelling of Joshua the Ephraemite who in due course succeeds Moses in the leadership of Israel.

Speaking to the Lord in this new tabernacle, Moses now asks something for himself (verses 12-22), confessing that the coming journey may be simply too much for him to endure unless the Lord gives him sufficient light to make coherent sense of it.

God answers this prayer by granting him a special experience of the divine presence—described as a sort of oblique glance at God, catching sight of the Lord’s glory as it passes by. This description is as close as Moses can come to telling of this fleeting and indirect experience of God’s presence, which has been granted to many of the saints in all ages.

St. Augustine (Questions on the Heptateuch 2.154) interprets “I will pass before you” as a reference to the Resurrection of the Lord. No man has ever seen God, except the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father. To the rest of us is given to perceive the glory of God shining on the face of Christ (cf. John 1:14-18; 2 Corinthians 3:7 — 4:6; 2 Peter 1:16-19).

Saturday, May 15

Exodus 34: We observe that the Israelites, notwithstanding the command to depart from Sinai at the beginning of the previous chapter, are still at the site (verse 2), and it is clear that they will remain there for some time yet.

Moses, we recall, had broken the original tablets of the Decalogue when—in anger because of the golden calf—he had flung them on the ground (32:19). That physical “breaking” of the Law symbolized the true breaking of the commandments by the idolatrous Israelites. Now these stone tablets must be replaced (verse 1).

It is to be remarked that the two stone tables in verses 1-9, though lifeless and hard they seem to the naked eye, actually embody the awesome personal experience of Moses described in these verses. Regarded in faith and in the context of the covenant, these stones are alive with the grace of that experience. They are “God’s word written.”

Verses 10-28 are joined by the common theme of the purity required for an exclusive fidelity to God.

The Christian theological meaning of verses 29-35 is explained by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:7—4:6. This is our earliest Christian commentary on the scene here in Exodus:

But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious. Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech– unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Sunday, May 16

Acts 1:15-26: God’s preference of Matthias, nonetheless, implied no censure of the other man. Joseph Barsabbas was not chosen for that particular apostolate, but there was no implied criticism of him. All through Holy Scripture, indeed, God continually chooses some individuals over others with a view to the divine purposes in history. While each of those choices necessarily implies a rejection of sorts, such rejections are not necessarily condemnations nor repudiations.

Thus, the Lord was not condemning the other sons of Abijah, years earlier, when he caused the lot to fall on Zachariah. It was simply the case that God chose Zachariah to offer incense that day, and not one of the other priests. Not because Zachariah was worthier than his brethren; it was simply that the all-knowing Lord had some rather specific intention in mind, an intention involving Zachariah’s meeting, that day, with an archangel. God knew what He was about.

So with Matthias. The Lord had some specific plans for him. And while Matthias perhaps spent the rest of his life discovering what these plans were, he was keenly aware that God was reading his heart.

Exodus 35: The final chapters of Exodus (35—40) tell of the execution of the sundry directions given in chapters 25—31. Moses simply repeats, mostly verbatim, the directions he had received on the mountain, and the Israelites strive to comply.

This section of Exodus seems to have undergone extensive editing, an impression strengthened by the great divergence of order between the inherited Hebrew text and the ancient Greek version handed down in the ancient manuscripts of the Christian Church. The traditional Greek version was clearly based on a Hebrew text greatly at variance with the Hebrew text handed down from the Middle Ages, the Massoretic Text.

Although the instructions in this chapter are given quickly and all at once (verses 1-19), one should probably think in terms of several months for their accomplishment (verses 20-29). There was evidently a great deal of hustle and bustle in progress at the foot of Mount Sinai.

After the instructions, the building and proper appointing of the tabernacle must begin with the gathering of the materials. As we shall see in due course, something in the neighborhood of eight tons of precious metals and stones would be required in this work. In addition, there would need to be wood and various kinds of expensive cloth. The present chapter describes how this vast array of materials is assembled by the generosity of the people. This tabernacle would be the consecration of their own material resources, the fruit of their labor.

Because the tabernacle and its appointments were to be modeled on Moses’ vision of the heavenly and eternal tabernacle of heaven, the construction of all these things was dependent on the grace of the Holy Spirit, who would inspire and guide the minds and hands of the artisans (verse 31).

Monday, May 17

John 14:25-31: As we prepare, all this week, for the celebration of Pentecost this next Sunday, the assigned Gospel readings point our minds to the coming Holy Spirit, of whom Jesus speaks repeatedly in John’s Last Supper discourse. Today Jesus refers to “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.” This Holy Spirit “will teach you all things and will put you in mind of everything I have said to you.”

According to Isaiah 11, the first and major gifts of the Holy Spirit pertain to the intellect: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel, . . . the spirit of knowledge. Christians are expected, in some measure, to understand and grasp the meaning of what they believe.

In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul prays for Christians—as he says—“ That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.

Exodus 36: In the account of the gathering of the various materials for the tabernacle, considerable stress is laid on the people’s generosity. Over the course of history, it is a rare thing that God’s people have to be told, as they are told here, to “stop giving!” (verses 5-7) One suspects that this eager generosity in the present instance was in part prompted by the people’s shame and fear at the recent defection and the divine punishment that ensued.

One may compare the generosity shown here with the unselfishness of the Christians in Philippi in Macedonia who, during the three weeks that St. Paul spent in neighboring Thessaloniki (cf. Acts 17:2), twice sent offerings for the maintenance of his ministry (cf. Philippians 4:16). The Apostle would be speaking about that Macedonian generosity for years to come (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

Particularly to be noted in this chapter of Exodus is the use of the “veil” in all of Israel’s worship. Even as God “reveals” (a word that literally means “unveils”) Himself, He is manifested, not as an object open to direct regard, but as supreme Mystery, chiefly to be adored.

When God and man are finally reconciled by the death of Jesus on the Cross, this symbolic veil of the Old Testament is rent asunder (Matthew 27:51). The sacrificed Jesus Himself enters behind the veil of the heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews 6:19). In another sense of the same image—because it houses His divine person—the very flesh of Christ is also called the veil of the divine presence (Hebrews 10:20).

Tuesday, May 8

Exodus 37: This chapter narrates that the ark, the table of the presence bread, the lamp stand, and the incense altar were constructed according the specifications Moses received in his Sinai vision of the heavenly sanctuary.

This distinction between the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries was important to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who made it the framework for his soteriological exposition. He speaks of the same elements we find in the present chapter of Exodus: the Ark of the Covenant, the table for the Showbread, the golden lamp stand, the altar of incense. He disappoints us (if one may be completely frank) by finishing his description with the comment: “Of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebrews 9:5). One so wishes he had gone on to speak of these things at much greater length!

The author’s point in the Epistle to the Hebrews, however, is not to satisfy our curiosity with respect to the tabernacle that Moses made. He is interested, rather, in directing our attention to that heavenly sanctuary, “the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (9:11). It was into this heavenly tabernacle that Christ entered, unto the fulfillment of our redemption.

This heavenly sanctuary is the one that Moses, in mystic vision, saw on the mountain. It is the one that St. John saw when the door opened into heaven (Revelation 4:1). It is to this eternal and heavenly sanctuary that Christians, in their prayer, have eternal access, because Jesus entered into it as the culminating act of our redemption.

Thus, the various appointments in Moses’ tabernacle corresponded to heavenly models. The seven-branched candlestick (verses 17-24) is modeled on that which John beheld in his vision on the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:12). There are also the altar of incense (verses 25-28 and Revelation 8:3-4) and the Ark of the Covenant (verses 1-9 and Revelation 11:19).

Psalms 44 (Greek & Latin 43): The prayer begins, however, with an appeal to Tradition: “We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us.” Such an appeal to the lessons of history is, of course, standard in the Bible, for the biblical God is, first and last, “the God of our fathers.”

Thus, the message of Genesis has to do with God’s fidelity to Israel’s patriarchs, while Exodus tells of Israel’s redemption by that same patriarchal God. Other historical books of the Bible narrate the continued faithfulness of His promises to an unfaithful people. The prophetic literature, likewise, constantly looks back to God’s redemptive work throughout Israel’s history, as both paradigm and prophecy of what He will do for His people in the future.

A similar note is sounded strongly in the Wisdom literature of the Bible. The Book of Proverbs, for instance, is forever appealing to the moral lessons of history, that complex of disciplines and standards learned by experience, prescribed by the authority of Tradition and handed down through succeeding generations. In this case too, biblical religion is essentially an inherited religion, and its Lord is “the God of our fathers.”

Tradition is also the note on which our psalm begins, then, almost its entire first half being taken up with a review of past experience. But God is not only the God of the patriarchs in the past; He is also our own God, one and the same: “You are my king and my God, You who command victories for Jacob.”

Wednesday, May19

1 Corinthians 12:12-17: 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.”

Exodus 38: We come now to the construction of the sacrificial altar (verses 1-7), the basin for washing (verse 8), and the outer court (verses 9-20).

When, at their departure, the Israelites “borrowed” silver, gold, and precious stones from their Egyptian neighbors, the text (11:2) did not indicate just how large was the amount. Now we begin to gain a staggering idea of it (verses 21-31). Although the measurement of the ancient talent varied somewhat, it has been reasonably approximated at over 75 pounds, with three thousand shekels to the talent.

Thus, even on the most conservative estimate, we are dealing here with an enormous amount of precious metal: more than a ton of gold, three and a half tons of silver, nearly three tons of bronze. Moreover, if the weight is being computed according to the later temple measurements, these figures may need to be adjusted up to 20% higher.

We surmise that some of this treasure came from the head tax mentioned earlier (verse 26).

Thursday, May 20

John 15:18-27: Jesus speaks again of the coming Holy Spirit. Later in John’s Gospel he tells of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance in the Upper Room, saying that the Lord “breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” It is theologically important to reflect that the Holy Spirit comes to the Church through the resurrected flesh of the Savior.

The very word “Spirit,” or Pnevma in Greek, means breath, and we readily recognize here the root of such terms as “inspire” and “expire.” The Holy Spirit is God’s own living Breath, and it comes to the Church through the flesh of Christ. He breathes the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes from within his very lungs.

The mission of the Holy Spirit, then, is not something independent of Jesus of Nazareth. The risen Lord, in His transformed body, is the only medium of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of Christ is not a reality separable from Christ.

Like most breath, the Holy Spirit is invisible. What is visible is Christ. It is to Christ that the Holy Spirit directs our attention. Indeed, the Holy Spirit has relatively little to say about Himself.

The Holy Spirit becomes the atmosphere in which the Church lives. Consider once again the image of breathing. We can take air into us, only because we are surrounded by air. It is thus with the Holy Spirit. We do not have the Holy Spirit in us, unless we are in the Holy Spirit.

This image indicates the moral responsibility we have with respect to the Holy Spirit. That is to say, we have a spiritual atmosphere to protect. In order to guarantee that the Holy Spirit can come into us, it is imperative that we keep ourselves in the Holy Spirit. There is a certain kind of air pollution that we use considerable force to keep out.

This is the reason why we Christians guard our senses. There are certain things we do permit ourselves to see. There are certain sounds to which refuse to attend. There are certain thoughts that we drive from our minds. We have an atmosphere to protect. That atmosphere, on which we depend for our very life, is the Holy Spirit, in whom we live, and move, and have our being.

Exodus 39: The text moves now to the vestments of Aaron and his priestly sons. Worthy of particular notice among the priestly vestments is the ornate “breastplate” to be worn by the high priest for purposes of divining (verses 8-21). Its twelve polished stones are arranged according to the marching order of the twelve tribes they represent. Thus, when he appears before God, the high priest is adorned in such a way as to represent the whole chosen people. These stones are themselves symbolic, of course, of the great foundational stones of the heavenly city, that final company of the redeemed (Revelation 21:19-20).

Friday, May 21

John 16:1-24: Once again our Lord speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Church’s Counselor, Parakletos this time in the sense of “counsel for the defense.” This Counselor will “turn the tables” on the enemies of Christ, convicting the world of sin, of justice, and of judgment.

It has long been the custom for the Church, during the lengthy season of Pentecost, to adorn herself in green, preeminently the color of life and hope. It is the color of chlorophyll. Indeed, this very interesting word is the combination of two Greek words, the adjective chlorós, which means “green,” and the noun phyllos, which means “leaf.” It is a normal sign by which we recognize plant life. Because this chlorine pigment, called chlorophyll, most strongly absorbs the red and blue wave lengths in the electromagnetic spectrum, it looks green.

At Pentecost each year, let us say, the Church puts on her chlorophyll. And she does so in order to absorb light in order to produce food.

This is, after all, what chlorophyll does. It is a catalyst for a process called “photosynthesis,” another Greek word that literally means “joining things by means of light.” A major function of chlorophyll molecules is to absorb light and transfer the energy of light to the photosystems of the living plants. It is by means of this light energy that the plant converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars. This process is the primary food source of all living things.

The Holy Spirit is the chlorophyll of the Church. He is the living principle that draws the diving light into the living structure of this true Vine, of which we are the branches. The Holy Spirit thus feeds us by uniting the components of our lives through a process of light.

The light of the sun is a resource of life only for plants—those creatures that are blessed with chlorophyll. The sun does not give life to rocks or dirt or even animals. That is to say, nothing receives life from the sun except those creatures endowed with chlorophyll.

The same is true of Christ our Lord, the true Sun that has arisen in our hearts. The light of Christ is life-giving by reason of the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is through the agency of the Holy Spirit that the light of Christ joins together the sundry components of our existence in order to feed us.

This happens, first of all, by the Holy Spirit’s transformation of the processes of our thought and consciousness. In the Holy Spirit, we are given a new atmosphere of self-consciousness. We are internally different by reason of the Holy Spirit’s presence as a cognitive principle in our minds.