Sunday, June 9
Acts 8:14-25: The importance of these verses would be difficult to exaggerate, because of what they convey respecting the structure of the Christian Church. Philip was an ordained minister of the Gospel (6:6), authorized to baptize converts and to begin new churches. This is clear from what he did at Samaria. In the present text, however, it is clear that something further was required. Namely, a more direct line of communion with the apostles themselves and to the “mother church” at Jerusalem. Although ordained by the apostolic laying-on of hands at Jerusalem, Philip was not adequately qualified to provide that direct line of communion. The baptized Christians in Samaria were obliged to receive that provision from men of a higher rank than Philip, the apostles themselves, delegated by the Church at Jerusalem. This is our earliest historical evidence for the authority of those early churches recognized as “apostolic,” founded immediately by the apostles and pastored by their direct and validated successors. Through the early centuries of Christian history these were the churches to which all the newer churches looked for the assurance of doctrinal orthodoxy, liturgical propriety, and sacramental validity. New churches could not simply start on their own; they had to be validated by, and remain in full communion with, the mother churches. These were the churches that gathered and canonized the writings of the apostles into what we now call the New Testament. Founded by such men as Peter, Paul, John, Matthew, Barnabas, Luke, and Mark, these ancient churches of great canonical authority and prestige included Jerusalem, Antioch, Cyprus, Caesarea, Ephesus, Smyrna, Hierapolis, Athens, Thessaloniki, Alexandria, and Rome. In all matters of church discipline, doctrine, and worship, these were the churches that set the tone.
Monday, June 10
Psalm 59: The structure of Psalm 59 (58 in Greek & Latin) is divided into halves, each of which contains, near its end, the refrain: “You, O God, are my helper.” Each half also speaks of the psalmist’s enemies as a pack of vicious dogs threatening to devour him. The context of this psalm is that sacred Passion by which we were redeemed, and the psalm’s voice is that of Christ our Lord, the only one who could make the claim of innocence found near the beginning: “For behold, they have stalked my soul, the powerful have assaulted me. Not for any wrongdoing of mine, nor for any sin in me, O Lord. Without wrongdoing have I run, and straight have I kept my course.” Jesus said exactly the same thing to his enemies: “Which of you can convict me of sin” (John 8:46). This innocence of Jesus appears rather frequently in the Book of Psalms, as it does in the New Testament. For example the Apostle Paul wrote that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (Second Corinthians 5:21). This is clearly a passage about the Lord’s atoning death. Sinlessness, blamelessness, and innocence, as such words apply to Jesus designate far more than a merely moral trait. To say that God made Jesus “to be sin” is a very strong way of saying what John the Baptist had already proclaimed: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). God’s making Jesus “to be sin” means that He was God’s chosen “sin offering,” the sacrificial victim of the atonement. The innocence that Holy Scripture predicates of Jesus has to do with the efficacy of His redemptive suffering and death upon the cross. His blamelessness, His freedom from blemish, is a quality of that oblation by which we have been delivered from the power of sin.
Tuesday, June 11
Psalm 62: Salvation in this psalm, as frequently in the Bible, is something for which we wait in patience. In the grammar of Holy Scripture, salvation is very often spoken of in the future tense: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13 [also 10:9]). From heaven “we eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20), “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). This future perspective of salvation is especially true of the Epistle to the Romans: “Much more, then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (5:9f). The Apostle quotes Isaiah to the effect that “a remnant shall be saved” (9:27), and he hopes that “all Israel will be saved” (11:26). Indeed, “our salvation is nearer than when we first came to believe” (13:11). Even when Romans speaks of salvation in a past tense, it is still a matter of hope for the future: “In hope were we saved, but hope that is seen is not hope” (8:24). Awaiting God’s salvation in this psalm, the believer muses within himself: “Be subject to God, my soul, because from him comes my patience. He is my God and my savior. He is my protector, and I will not wander. On God depends my salvation and my glory. He is the God of my help, and my hope is in God.” The Epistle to the Romans, once again, provides the best commentary: “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (8:25). In Israel’s darkest moment Jeremiah wrote: “It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26).
Wednesday, June 12
Acts 8:26-40: The conversion of the Samaritans, who may be described as half-Jewish, was a step toward the universalizing of the Gospel. Now, however, we come to the case of someone of completely Gentile blood, one of the many Gentiles who maintained some active interest in Judaism without joining it. It should be noted that this first completely non-Jewish person to become a Christian was from Africa. He was a governmental official of “Candace,” which is not a proper name but, like the word Pharaoh, the title of an office, in this case the queen of Ethiopia (the kntky of Egyptian inscriptions). This man is obviously reading the Bible out loud (which was the common practice among the rabbis and, with the exception of St. Ambrose, the Fathers of the Church) and is overheard by Philip. The man wants someone to “guide” (hodegein in verse 31) him in understanding Isaiah. Instructed in the Church’s understanding of the Old Testament (cf. Luke 24:27,44-45), Philip interprets the text for him, going on to explain other passages as well. This exercise terminates in the Sacrament of Baptism. (The Scriptures are intrinsically, and of their very nature, ordered to the Sacraments. All proclamation outside the Church is ordered to Baptism, as in this case. All proclamation within the Church is ordered to the Eucharist; cf. Luke 24:30-35.) Sad as I am to say so (for I love it), verse 37 is a later addition to the text, not found in the older and more reliable manuscripts of the New Testament.
Thursday, June 13
Mark 1:14-22: The image of the waterside is very important in Mark, because the waterside was spontaneously associated with baptism in early Christian experience. The waterside is the place where believers confessed their faith in Jesus as part of the baptismal rite. Indeed, in Mark the waterside first appears at the Lord’s own baptism (1:9-11). The waterside, then, is the place of faith and conversion, the place of one’s encounter with Christ. Thus, it is not surprising that the first apostles are called at the waterside, not only the fishermen (1:16-20), which would be natural enough, but also the tax collector (2:13-14). It is to the waterside that Jesus summons His disciples (3:7), where He teaches them (4:1), purges them from demons (5:1-2), and feeds them (6:42-45). Although Christians are to receive the waters of baptism only once (cf. Ephesians 4:5), they are never to stray from the waterside. That is to say, they must strive to spend their lives in the faith and conversion that are the proper disposition of baptism. Thus, today’s command “Repent and believe” is expressed in the original Greek text by recourse to the “present imperative,” which subtly bears the sense of continued action — “Continue to repent and believe.” Conversion is not something that a believer does once and “gets passed” it. Spiritual growth is always a growth in conversion. It is both the state in which the believer abides and the road along which he journeys. This is what it means to say that we constantly return to the waterside, that sacramental place where we first laid down our heavy loads.
Friday, June 14
Mark 1:23-34: This first day of Jesus’ public life sets the tone for His activity through the rest of Mark. Jesus teaches with authority (verse 22, a comment that Matthew places immediately after the Sermon on the Mount) and drives out demons with apparent ease (verses 26,27,32,34). Already one observes a great deal of unrest among the demons, who sense that their hold on humanity is about to be shaken. Aware that Jesus is not just another man, they are the first “characters” in the narrative to suspect His true identity (verses 23-24). This matter of Jesus’ true identity is, of course, a major structural thesis in the Gospel according to Mark. The opening line of this gospel informs the reader that Jesus is “the Son of God” (1:1). In the scene of the Lord’s baptism the Father’s voice tells Jesus, “You are My beloved Son” (1:11), but there is no indication, in Mark, that anyone but Jesus and the readers hears that voice. Jesus’ identity continues to remain concealed from the other characters in the narrative, but the demons begin immediately to suspect it, and therefore greatly to fear.
Saturday, June 15
Mark 1:35-45: The leper’s hypothesis (“If you are willing . . .”) expresses, not a doubt about Jesus’ ability to cleanse him, but about His willingness to do so. Ostracism and other social aspects of the man’s condition have evidently taken their toll, and the plight of this leper is pitiful indeed. The Lord’s response is to reassure the man’s wavering soul (“I am willing”), even as He reaches out to touch his afflicted skin. The better and more likely manuscript reading of verse 41 ascribes anger to Jesus in this instance. This is not the response we would expect; in truth, if “moved with anger” were not in the original text, it is nearly impossible to imagine how that expression would ever have made its way into the manuscripts which have it. This most improbable response of anger on the part of Jesus is doubtless what caused later copyists to change the reading to “moved with compassion,” the more expected response. What, then, causes Jesus to be angry here? Surely He is not angry with the poor leper who kneels before Him. More likely He is angry for what the man has suffered, the years of sustained humiliation that have so reduced the man’s spirit that he even doubts Jesus’ willingness to help him. In reaching out to touch this leper, moreover, Jesus violates the letter of the Law, thereby assuring His own legal contamination. This is a gripping image of Jesus’ assumption of our fallen state.