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Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.

The Daily Reflections will be updated weekly.

 



Sunday, January 5

Genesis 5: In this first biblical genealogy we draw
special attention to the figure of Enoch. After the Epistle to the Hebrews
gives its initial definition of faith as "the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen" (11:1), there follows the famous list of
the "great cloud of witnesses," those "elders" who "obtained a good
testimony" by exemplifying such faith (12:1).
One can hardly fail to observe in this list the strong emphasis on death
with respect to this saving faith. Throughout Hebrews 11 faith has to do
with how one dies, and "all these died in faith" (11:13). This emphasis on
death in the context of faith renders very interesting the inclusion of
Enoch among the list of faith's exemplars, because Enoch departed this world
in some way other than death. Indeed, in the genealogy here in Genesis 5,
the verb "died" eight times with respect to the patriarchs from Adam to
Lamech, but in the case of Enoch, "the seventh from Adam" (Jude 14), our
text says simply he "walked with God, and he was not found (ouk eurisketo),
for God removed (metetheken) him" (verse 24).
By way of commentary on this passage, the Epistle to the Hebrews says, "By
faith Enoch was removed (metethe) so that he should not see death, and was
not found (ouk eurisketo), because God removed (metetheken) him; for before
his removal (metatheseos) he was witnessed to have pleased (euariestekenai)
God" (11:5). That ancient "witness," cited here in the Epistle to the
Hebrews, is found in the Book of Wisdom, where Enoch is thus described: "He
was pleasing (euarestos) to God and was beloved of Him, so that, living
among sinners, he was removed (metetethe). He was snatched away so that evil
would not alter his understanding, nor deceit beguile his soul. For the
malice of what is worthless takes away things of worth, and the roving of
passion subverts a guileless mind. Made perfect (teleotheis) in a short
time, he filled out massive times, for his soul pleased (areste) God. So He
rushed him from the midst of evil" (4:10-14).
Such is the biblical witness about the "short time" that Enoch spent on this
earth (a mere 365 years, according to verse 23). Unlike the other heroes
listed in Hebrews 11, Enoch did not die in faith, for the unusual reason
that he did not die at all. He nonetheless deserved a place in that heroic
list, we are told, because "he pleased God" by his faith. Thus, when we
believers "draw near unto the Throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16), when we
approach "the general assembly and church of the firstborn registered in
heaven" (12:23), there stands Enoch among "the spirits of just men made
perfect (teteleiomenon)."
Living before both Noah, Abraham, and Moses, Enoch was participant in none
of the covenants associated with these men. Not a single line of Holy
Scripture was yet written for him to read. Much less did Enoch ever hear the
message of salvation preached by the Apostles. Yet, he was so pleasing to
God by his faith as to be snatched away before his time, not suffering that
common lot of death from which the Almighty spared not even His own Son.
What, exactly, did Enoch believe, then, that he should be such a champion of
faith, an example for the Church until the end of time? The Epistle to the
Hebrews explains: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he
who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of
those who diligently seek Him" (11:6). This was the sum total of all that
Enoch's faith told Him - God's existence and his own duty to seek God to
obtain the singular blessing that Holy Scripture ascribes to him. It is the
Bible's portrayal of Enoch, then, that affords us some hope for the
salvation of those millions of human beings who must pass their lives on
that bare minimum of theological information, for which Enoch rendered such
a marvelous account.

Monday, January 6

Genesis 6: In the New Testament the Deluge, to which the
next four chapters of Genesis are devoted, is understood as a type of
baptism. Thus, St. Peter, writing of Christ's descent into hell after His
death, goes immediately to treat of Noah, the Deluge, our own baptisms, and
the Lord's resurrection. For the early Christians, these are all components
of the same Mystery of regeneration: "For Christ suffered once for sins, the
just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in
the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to
the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine
longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, whole the ark was being prepared,
in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is
also an antitype which now saves us▄baptism (not the removal of the filth of
the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the
resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:18-21).
We must be baptized, because we are sinners, and our sins are washed away
in baptism: "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the
name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Or earlier, "Repent, and let every one of
you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins"
(2:38). Like the Deluge, there is something destructive about baptism.
Baptism has been given to the world, because the world is full of sin, and
through this water we are delivered from the world of sin. Whether we speak
of the baptismal type in the Deluge, therefore, or of the fulfillment of
that type in baptism itself, we must begin with sin.
Thus, the Deluge account begins with a description of a world full of sin
(verses 1-5,11-13), ending with God's sorrow at having made man and His
resolve to destroy man from the earth (verses 6-7). Noah alone pleased God
verse 8), so God will spare Noah and his family . God commands Noah to build
the ark, and He remains patient a while longer while the ark is being
constructed (1 Peter 3:20).
Then Noah and his family wait quietly in the ark for seven days, until the
rains come. The rains come "after seven days" (verse 10), which is to say,
on the eight day. The number "seven," reminiscent of the week of Creation,
signifies the old world, whereas the number "eight" serves as a symbol of
the New Creation. In the second century St. Justin Martyr remarked that
"the mystery of saved men happened in the Deluge, because righteous Noah,
along with other human beings at the Deluge - namely, his own wife, his three
children, and the wives of his sons▄who were eight persons in number,
contained a symbol of the number of the eighth day, in which our Christ
appeared, having risen from the dead" (Dialogue With Trypho 138.1).

Tuesday, January 7

Genesis 7: Noah's construction of the ark represented
his faith, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews: "By faith Noah, being
divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an
ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and
became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (11:7).
Noah not only lived in righteousness; he also preached righteousness to his
contemporaries. The Apostle Peter referred to Noah as "a preacher of
righteousness" (2 Peter 2:5), and late in the first century Clement of Rome
wrote that "Noah preached repentance, and those who heeded him were saved"
(First Epistle 7.6). Evidently, however, their number included only members
of his own family! This picture of Noah as a somewhat unsuccessful preacher
came to the early Christians from Jewish lore. Flavius Josephus wrote of
Noah's relationship to his contemporaries in this way: "Noah was most
uncomfortable with their actions, and, not at all happy with their conduct,
he persuaded them to improve their dispositions and their actions. Seeing,
nonetheless, that they did not obey him but remained slaves to their own
wicked desires, he feared that they would slay him, together with his wife
and children, as well as the spouses of the latter, so he departed out of
that land" (Antiquities 13.1).
Unlike Noah's contemporaries, we ourselves hearken to his preaching. That is
to say, we submit to this new baptismal flood because we repent at the
witness of Noah. Baptism presupposes and requires this repentance of our
sins, this conversion of our hearts to the apostolic word of Noah. In
repentance we plunge ourselves into the deeper mystery of Noah's flood,
which is the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:3;
Colossians 2:12).

Wednesday, January 8

Genesis 8: The dove sent out by Noah is also rich in
symbolism. Since, as we have seen, baptism is the fulfillment of that
mystery of which the flood was a type, we should rather expect to find the
dove to appear in the New Testament descriptions of baptism, and indeed it
does. At the baptism of our Lord, the Holy Spirit assumes that form in order
to confirm the testimony of the Father, who proclaims Jesus His beloved Son.
Thus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, "Some say that, just as salvation came
in the time of Noah by the wood and the water, and as the dove came back to
Noah in the evening with an olive branch, so, they say, the Holy Spirit
descended on the true Noah, the author of the new creation, when the
spiritual dove came upon Him at His baptism, to demonstrate that He it is
who, by the wood of the cross, confers salvation on believers, and who, by
His death at eventide, conferred on the world the grace of salvation."
The ark, on which the Spirit descends, is a symbol of the Church, the
vessel of salvation. In the ironical words of Cyprian of Carthage in the
mid-third century, "If anyone was saved outside the ark of Noah, so a person
outside the Church can now be saved" (On the Catholic Church 6). That is to
say, it is impossible to be saved outside of the Church, because the name of
Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven given us by which we must be
saved, and the Ark-Church is the vessel which holds all of those who call
upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ unto their salvation.
We may summarize the Christian teaching on the story of the Flood with
these words of John Chrysostom in the second half of the fourth century:
"The narrative of the Flood is a mystery, and its details are a type of
things to come. The ark is the Church; Noah is Christ; the dove, the Holy
Spirit; the olive branch, the divine goodness. As in the midst of the sea,
the ark protected those who were within it, so the Church saves those who
are saved" (Homily on Lazarus 6).

Thursday, January 9

Genesis 9: The word "covenant" (berith), which appeared
in Genesis 6:18 for the first time in Holy Scripture, is now taken up and
developed. The earliest explicit account of God's covenant, that is to say,
is the covenant with Noah. The second divine covenant, which we shall see in
Chapters 15 and 17, is God s covenant with Abraham. In Genesis the idea of
God's covenant is found in only these two narratives.
The first, the Noachic covenant here in Genesis 9, is God's covenant with
all of the world and with mankind in particular. The second, the Abrahamic
covenant especially as described in Genesis 17, is God's more particular
covenant with the descendents of Abraham, which will be further defined as
the biblical narrative continues. There are several significant theological
features shared by these two covenant narratives in Genesis, features
reflected in a distinctive vocabulary that distinguishes them from the other
covenants recorded in Holy Scripture.
One of the distinguishing features shared by these two covenants, in Genesis
9 and 17, is the choice of verbs employed to predicate it. In most of Holy
Scripture, the verb used for "making" a covenant is karat, literally "to
cut." Although the initiative in the covenant is always God's, the verb
karat does suggest something of a mutual agreement between two parties. In
fact, both the verb karat and the noun berith were commonly employed in the
ancient world to designate political treaties. Examples of this usage are
the treaty between Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 21:27, and the treaty
between Isaac and Abimelech in Genesis 26:28. In God's covenant with Abraham
in Genesis 15:18, moreover, karat is the verb employed for the making of the
covenant, as is the case in most of the Hebrew Scriptures (for instance,
Deuteronomy 5:2).
In these Genesis covenants of God with Noah and Abraham, however, two other
verbs are employed: natan, "to give" (9:12; 17:2), and haqim, "to establish"
(9:9,11; 17:7). The first of these verbs emphasizes the gratuity, the
generosity, of God's act in making the covenant; it is pure, unmerited
grace. This is why, in each case, God's calls it "My covenant" (9:15; 17:7).
The second verb places the accent on God's resolve in the covenant; God
Himself will not break the covenant. Each of these covenants is a perpetual
pledge of hope for the future.
A second distinguishing feature of these two covenants in genesis 9 and 17
is the 'oth berith, "the sign of the covenant," a distinctive symbol of
each covenant. In the case of Noah the 'oth berith is the rainbow (9:12-17),
and in the case of Abraham it is circumcision (17:1).
In the covenant with Noah, the function of the rainbow as a "sign" is to
cause God to "remember" His covenant (9:15-16). The covenant sign serves as
a reminder, as it were, a "memorial," a zikkaron in Hebrew, an anamnesis in
Greek. This theme will be taken up later on in Holy Scripture, when Jesus
describes God's definitive covenant with the Church in terms of an anamnesis
(Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). The Lord's Supper, that is to say, is
not simply an occasion for Christians to remember Jesus and His saving work
on our behalf; as a "sign of the covenant," the rite of Breaking the Bread
and Sharing the Cup is even more the ineffable 'oth berith to God Himself,
in which He is called upon to "remember" the redemption that He has
definitively given and established with us in the Lord Jesus. This is why
the Church's celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the defining act of her
existence.

Friday, January 10

Genesis 10: Already at the end of the previous chapter
we found that all was not well among the sons of Noah, and the tensions of
that chapter will be developed extensively in the rest of the biblical
story. More particularly, the discussion of the variety of nations in the
present chapter prepares the way for the account of the diversity of tongues
in the Chapter 11.
The present chapter describes the fortunes of Noah's three sons, with a view
to the later stories of the Exodus and the conquest of the Promised Land.
The Egyptians and Canaanites, after all, are the descendents of Cham, while
the Israelites are the descendents of Shem.
The present list of the nations, however, seems more preoccupied with
geography than ethnicity. We note that the descendents of Shem (still called
Semites) mainly inhabit the Fertile Crescent, while the offspring of Cham
inhabit areas to the south and southwest of the Fertile Crescent, and the
children of Japheth live to the northwest, in the area of the Turkish
peninsula and the Aegean Sea. That is to say, this list covers roughly the
three land masses that contain the Mediterranean Basin: southern Europe,
western Asia, and northern Africa.
About seventy nations are listed. We remember, in this respect, that Jesus
sent out exactly that number of apostles (Luke 10:1), a number indicating
the universality of their mission to "make disciples of all nations."

Saturday, January 11

Genesis 11: In spite of the national diversities
outlined in the previous chapter, all of mankind, up to this point, speaks
with a common tongue (verse 1).
The construction of Babel, the second city to be founded in the Bible,
prompts us to recall the moral ambiguity of the first city, founded by the
world's first fratricide (4:17). Babel, like that first city, represents the
development of technology (verse 3; 4:22). The tower of Babel symbolizes
man's arrogance and his rebellion against the authority of God. Not trusting
God's promise never again to destroy the world by flood (9:15), the men of
Babel decide to build this tower as a sort of insurance policy against God's
punishment. Its construction, therefore, is of a piece with all the earlier
rebellions against God that we have seen, starting in Chapter Three.
God s response is twofold. It is both a punishment against the rebels and
a preventative measure against their becoming even worse. That is to say,
even God's punishment is an act of mercy. In the more general symbolism of
Holy Scripture, Babel also represents Babylon, the city of power and godless
rebellion, which is overthrown definitively in the Book of Revelation. There
is a symbolic identity, therefore, uniting the present story to the
destruction of Babylon described in Revelation 17 and 18. This city
represents any political and economic establishment characterized by
arrogance and the love of power. It's punishment by the division of tongues
was especially appropriate. Augustine of Hippo comments on this chapter: "As
the tongue is the instrument of domination, in it pride was punished, so
that man, who refused to understand God when He gave His commands, should
also be misunderstood when he gave commands. Thus was dissolved their
conspiracy, because each man withdrew from those who could not understand
and banded with those whose speech he found intelligible. So the nations
were divided according to their languages and scattered over the face of the
earth, as seemed good to God, who accomplished this in hidden ways that we
cannot understand" (The City of God 16.4).



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