Sunday, June 23
Mark 3:20-30: In response to His exorcisms in Chapters 1 and 3, Jesus’ critics advance the accusation that He is using demonic force to expel demons. The Lord’s answer breaks into three parts: (1) Their accusation violates logic, implying that the demonic world had radically turned on itself (verses 23-26). (2) The expulsion of the demons is much more plausibly explained by their having met a superior force (verse 27). (3) The accusation itself is an act of blasphemy, because it ascribes to the demons what is in truth accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Such a confusion of light and darkness indicates total intellectual and moral depravity, so radical a commitment to evil as to preclude repentance. The scribes’ accusation of blasphemy (2:7) is thus turned back on them (3:29). In the course of His argument, Jesus uses certain plays on Aramaic words that are rather lost in translation (whether English or the inspired Greek!). For example, the “house” in verse 25 is zebul in Aramaic, which is part of the name “Beelzebul” (“lord of the house”). Similarly, the verb “divide” (verses 24-26) is pharas, which is the root of the word “Pharisee.”
Monday, June 24
Psalm 89 (Greek & Latin 88): This psalm is composed of three parts. The first has to do with God’s activity in the creation of the heavens and the earth, the second with His covenant and promise with respect to the house of David, and the third with certain crises of history that threaten that covenant and put its promise at peril. All three themes are organically connected. The first part of the psalm, taking up the theme of the divine imposition of form over chaos, emphasizes the structural constancy of the universe, but already this cosmic theme is introduced in a setting best described as messianic. That is to say, already anticipating the psalm’s second part, the permanence of the Davidic throne is related to the unvarying dependability of the heavenly bodies, for both things are given shape by God’s holy Word and sworn resolve. Now, as Christians, we know that God’s solemn promise to David, with respect to the everlasting stability of his throne, is fulfilled in the kingship of Christ, for the Son of David now sits forever enthroned at God’s right hand, executing both prophecy and promise. The theological bond, then, joining the creation to David, is Christ. The regal, messianic covenant of sonship is related to the fixed structure of the very world, because both realities are rooted in Christ. As font and inner form, He is their common warrant. In fact, nonetheless, both things, God’s creation and His covenant, appear ever under threat throughout history, which theme brings us to the third part of our psalm. In this section we pray repeatedly for God’s vindication of the messianic covenant, which man in his rebellion endeavors ever to overthrow. Indeed, in our own times this struggle seems to have intensified and entered a new phase. After deism, rejecting God’s messianic covenant with us in Christ, strove to content us solely with the rational structure of creation, it was only a short time before creation itself came under siege. Now we live in a world where even the clearest manifestations of intelligent order are routinely dismissed as chaos, so grievously has the human spirit lost its use of reason.
Tuesday, June 25
Mark 3:31-35: The Lord’s own blood relatives have already been introduced in a negative way in 3:21, assessing Jesus as “out of His mind” (exseste; cf. the same assessment of the Apostle Paul in Acts 26:24 and 2 Corinthians 5:13). In the present scene these relatives are endeavoring to reach Jesus, but the press of the crowd, as seems often to have been the case (cf. 2:2; 5:31), prevents their entrance into the house where He is teaching. They remain “outside” (3:32). Mark thus introduces the distinction between “outsiders” (hoi exso) and “insiders” (hoi esso), which will function in Jesus’ teaching in parables. The “outsiders” are those to whom it has not “been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God” (4:11). In the present scene the Lord’s own relatives, because they have not yet understood Him, fall into that category. Jesus’ real family, He says, is made up of those who do the will of God (3:35). Fortunately, as we know, even the Lord’s relatives will become “insiders” to the kingdom in due course (cf. Acts 1:14), but the principle remains that true kinship in Jesus is a matter of the Spirit and not of the flesh.
Wednesday, June 26
Mark 4:1-12: Having established the seaside as the “catechetical place” (3:7), Mark now narrates Jesus’ return there to preach the parables of the kingdom (4:1). Why did Jesus preach from a boat? Modern acoustical studies, particularly experiments conducted on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (near Capernaum), demonstrate the advantages of His procedure. A slightly concave, sloping hillside, running down some sixty meters to the water’s edge, provides something of an amphitheater effect, enabling a large crowd to sit in rows and tiers, as it were, on the grass overlooking the lake. We now know that a person speaking from a boat in the harbor can be heard with great ease, if the boat stands about ten meters from the shore. He can be heard, in fact, to the very top of the hill. This experiment, demonstrated repeatedly, was first published in 1976 in Biblical Archeology. Jesus was simply exploiting the natural acoustical advantage of the site, the dynamics of which resemble those of the great Greek theaters like Ephesus and Epidaurus, where even the faintest voice on the stage can be heard by the audience at the topmost row. In antiquity, long before modern electrical devices, there was a great deal more sensitivity to such acoustical advantages. The choice of Shechem and Shiloh as places of tribal gathering, for example, was in no small part dictated by considerations of acoustics.
Thursday, June 27
Mark 4:13-20: The story of the sown seed is one of the very few parables of our Lord in what modern literary study calls “allegory” (that is, with a specific meaning for each narrative detail). (In the ancient theological hermeneutics of the Church, the word “allegory” meant something quite different.) Regarding the seed as an image of the Word of God was not uncommon among the early Christians (cf. James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). Since God’s Word is what Jesus has been proclaiming all along through the Markan account, this is actually a parable about the ministry of Jesus Himself. His preaching is completely frustrated among certain people because “Satan comes immediately and takes away the Word that was sown in their hearts” (4:15). The identity of such folk, those under the dominion of Satan, is easy to detect in Mark’s gospel (cf. 3:22-30). The seed fallen on shallow ground, soil sitting thinly over a rock foundation, springs up quickly because such soil is more rapidly heated by the sun. These conditions, however, do not permit the putting down of deep roots. Shallow people become quickly enthusiastic about God’s Word, but real growth in that Word requires sustained and prolonged discipline. In our Lord’s explanation of this part of the parable, He refers to the troubles associated with His coming sufferings, the tribulation and persecution that arise “for the Word’s sake” (4:17).
Friday, June 28
Mark 4:21-34: Of the remaining four parables in this chapter, two more also use the image of the sown seed, each exploiting an individual aspect of the seed’s growth. Thus, the quiet spontaneity of the seed’s development illustrates the subtle, almost imperceptible force of the Gospel’s influence (4:26), while the parable of the mustard seed demonstrates the unsuspected vitality of the Gospel’s very small beginnings, ultimately capable of universal growth (4:30-32). The other two parables use the images of the lamp and the measuring unit. The lamp, which is said to “come” (erchetai — 4:21), is Jesus Himself, whose message, now spoken quietly to the “insiders,” will in due course be proclaimed “on a lamp stand” (4:22). This universal light corresponds to the universal haven provided by the mustard plant (4:32). The parable of the “measure” also points to the overflowing abundance of divine grace. All four of these parables have something to do with the expansion of God’s Word, its exposure to ever greater numbers of people. This principle of growth and vitality stands in contrast to the narrow and selfish views of the Lord’s enemies.
Saturday, June 29
Acts 9:1-19: Having described the initial overtures that Christian evangelism made to the Gentiles, Luke is ready to tell of the conversion of the man who would extend that evangelism in a dramatic way. Here we have the first of three accounts that the Acts of the Apostles gives of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. (Paul himself provides another account in Galatians 1:11-16.) These three versions of the event are strategically placed in the Book of Acts in order to mark significant points in the narrative. This first account, framed between the conversions of the Ethiopian minister and the Roman centurion, relates Paul’s conversion to the evangelism of the Gentiles. The second (22:3-21) is found in Paul’s last public proclamation in the temple at Jerusalem, and the third (26:12-18) launches his trip to Rome. (Just as Luke’s gospel begins and ends at Jerusalem, the Book of Acts begins at Jerusalem and ends at Rome.) We note that there are already Christians living at Damascus, doubtless having fled there at the persecution following the death of Stephen. At the time of Paul’s conversion Damascus was governed, under Rome, by a Nabatean king named Aretas IV (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:32). In Jesus’ words to the persecutor of Christians (“Why are you persecuting Me!”), we should see the seed that would grow into Paul’s doctrine of the Church as “the body of Christ.” His three-day fast in preparation for baptism, a sort of early Lent, became standard in the Church for centuries to come. Verse 15 indicates the three groups that we will find Paul addressing throughout the rest of Acts: Jews (13:5,14; 14:1; 16:13; 17:1-4,10,17; 19:8), Gentiles (17:22; 18:6-11; 19:10), and kings (26:1-29).