Sunday, August 10
2 Peter 3:10-18: Since only God knows the length of the eleventh hour, the LordŐs return will confound all human calculations of its timing. The simile of the thief in the night, for instance, must not be taken literally, because it is never nighttime everywhere at the same time, and the Bible contains no hint that the Lord will return to the earth by following the sequence of its appointed time zones! This comparison with the thiefŐs nocturnal entrance was doubtless common among the early Christians (Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 3:3; 16:5). It will all happen with a "rush," this onomatopoeia corresponding to the Greek verb rhoizedon in verse 10. Watchfulness, therefore, and a holy life are the proper responses to our true situation in this world (verse 11; Matthew 24:42-51; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). Both heaven and earth will be renewed (verse 13; Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Revelation 21:1; cf. Romans 8:19-22). The expression "without spot and without blame" in verse 14 (aspiloi kai amometoi) contains the negative forms of the adjectives describing the false teachers in 2: 13 (spiloi kai momoi). PeterŐs reference to Paul indicates his familiarity with more than one Pauline epistle and probably suggests that PaulŐs letters were already being gathered into collections and copied. Peter likewise testifies to the difficulties attendant on the understanding of PaulŐs message. Christian history bears a similar witness, alas, in the modern divisions that have arisen among Christians over their differing interpretations of Paul. Paul himself was aware, even then, that some Christians were distorting his thought (Romans 3:8).
Monday, August 11
Acts 15:36Ń16:5: The "second missionary journey" of the apostle Paul, which apparently commences in the early spring of A.D. 49, was conceived as a plan to visit the new congregations founded during the previous journey. While the reason given here for the separation of Barnabas and Paul Ń their contention regarding John Mark Ń ties this story back to 13:13, a look at Galatians 2:11-14 suggests that there may also have been some of sources of tension between the two men. Notwithstanding the sharpness of their altercation (paroxsysmos in 15:39), nonetheless, it would be incorrect to see their separation as a complete and radical break. Indeed, one observes that it involved a simple dividing of the territory between them, Barnabas returning to Cyprus, and Paul going back to Cilicia. After their argument was over, we find no more evidence of bad feeling between the Paul and Barnabas (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1-6) or between Paul and John Mark (cf. Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11). Parting company with Barnabas, Paul is now accompanied by Silas, also known by the Latin name Silvanus, who will be with him for the next several years (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:19). Just as he was apparently PaulŐs secretary in the composition of the two epistles to the Thessalonians, Mark later did the same service for the apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:12). Early in this second missionary trip, Paul picks up yet another companion, young Timothy, from a family evidently converted during the earlier missionary journey (2 Timothy 1:5). As this young man matured over the next several years, Timothy would be given ever greater responsibilities in the ministry, amply justifying the reputation he already enjoyed (16:2; Philippians 2:19-20). Because PaulŐs usual approach to the evangelization of any city was to start in the local synagogue, he causes Timothy to be circumcised, so that the latterŐs presence in the synagogue would not be a source of scandal to the Jews (16:3). Later on, some of PaulŐs critics will apparently accuse him of opportunism in this matter (Galatians 5:11), but his intention seems best explained by his later reflections in 1 Corinthians 9:20. Paul was unwilling to give unnecessary offense that might impede the cause of the Gospel.
Tuesday, August 12
Acts 16:6-15: Beginning in verse 10 appears the first of the "we" sections of this book, those parts written in what grammarians call the first person plural. The present "daily reflections" on the Book of Acts assume as accurate the ancient view that the "we" sections of Acts narrate those incidents and events to which the bookŐs author, the physician Luke, was a personal eye-witness. Thus, it appears that Luke joined PaulŐs company at the coastal city of Troas, near the site of primitive Troy (16:6). Was Luke converted during PaulŐs brief sojourn at Troas, or had he already been a Christian for some time? The answer to this question should take into consideration that Luke already appears to be a mature Christian, capable of assuming difficult pastoral responsibilities. When Paul leaves Philippi only a short time later (16:40), he is able to leave Luke in charge of the new congregation in that city, where he will once again join Paul some eight years later (20:5). (Thus, it is reasonable to understand PaulŐs mention of his "loyal yoke-fellow" in Philippians 4:3 as a reference to Luke, who pastored that congregation, as far as we can tell, between the years 49 and 57.) The burden of the present reading in Acts is to show how the ministry of the apostle Paul passed from Asia to Europe (16:9-11). Thus, the last Asian city to be evangelized by Paul on this second journey was Troas, to which he would return briefly in the mid-50s (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:12). He would come back there one last time in A.D. 57, making his final journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:5-13). When in Troas at that time, Paul will lodge with a Christian named Carpus (probably the owner of that large three-storied house described in Acts 20:8-9), at whose home he inadvertently left a cloak, some books, and some expensive parchments (2 Timothy 4:13). In the present account we see that PaulŐs initial trip to Macedonia from Troas required only two days (verse 11), a trip facilitated by the steady current that flows from the colder Black Sea, through the Dardanelles, into the warmer waters of the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean basin. PaulŐs later return trip to Troas will take much longer and require either very strong favorable winds from the west or the labor of galley slaves (20:6). PaulŐs first European city, Philippi, was served by the port town of Neapolis ("new city"), which is the modern Kavalla. The river referred to here is the Gangites, slightly outside the city. It was at this river that the imperial forces of Octavius and Mark Anthony had defeated the republican army of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. The local Jews met at this site, outside the city, for reasons to be mentioned later. It is here that Paul makes his first convert in Europe, a business woman from the Asian city of Thyatira, which would eventually have a Christian congregation of its own (cf. Revelation 2:24). Lydia was a "fearer of God" (verse 14), much like Cornelius in Acts 10.
Wednesday, August 13
Acts 16:16-24: In the year 49, the very year in which Paul began this journey, the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome (cf. Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars "Claudius" 25; Acts of the Apostles 18:2). It should not surprise us that such a decree would be taken seriously at the Macedonian city of Philippi, where Paul and his company were struggling to found a new church. Philippi was, after all, a "colony" of Rome (16:12), a sort of legal extension of Rome itself. Founded by Philip II in 358 B.C., it was settled largely by the families of the imperial soldiers who had been bequeathed real estate in the place as a reward for their part in the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. These were Romans, whom the Roman penal code prohibited from becoming Jews (cf. Cicero, On the Laws 2.18,19; Dio Cassius, Roman History 67.14). in the present reading Paul is accused (falsely) of trying to win proselytes to Judaism, teaching customs which "we Romans," the Macedonians insist, could not lawfully accept (16:21). Indeed, unlike the other cities that Paul had evangelized, Philippi has no synagogue. The few Jews in the city are obliged, as we saw, to worship outside of the city limits , and these seem chiefly to be women (16:13). The matter of Roman citizenship will become rather ironical in this chapter. Whereas Paul is arrested for teaching thing unacceptable to Romans, it turns out that he is himself a Roman citizen and will make a sharp point of this fact at the end of the story (16:36-38; cf. Also 22:25-29; 23:37). This matter of proper citizenship will remain a touchy subject for the church at Philippi. Paul would later remind them that their real citizenship (politeuma) is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Therefore, they were to "live out citizenship (politevesthe) in the Gospel" (Philippians 1:27). Christians, after all, are "fellow citizens (sympolitai) with the saints" (Ephesians 2:19). We also observe that the citizens of Philippi do not object to what Paul is doing in their city until his activity begins to affect the economy (16:19; similarly, cf. 19:25-26). Whereas Paul has been preaching the kingdom of heaven, his critics insist on viewing the Gospel solely through the lens of politics and economics. That is to say, the Gospel is perceived to stand in the way of "business as usual." Their perception is, of course, correct.
Thursday, August 14
Acts 16:25-40: When God hears in heaven the prayers of His faithful, dramatic things begin to happen on earth. Paul and Silas are singing their hymn, and immediately God answers their prayers with an earthquake (16:25-26; Revelation 8:4-5). The jailer, who evidently lives nearby, is roused from his slumber (exs-hypnos) and comes running at the disturbance, only to find that the door of the jail is ajar. Presuming that his prisoners have escaped, and knowing that his own life is forfeit if this is the case, he draws his sword to kill himself. Paul, his eyes better accommodated to the darkness, sees all this, as the view from the "inner cell" of the double-cell prison (16:24) takes in the front door and the area immediately outside. (This jail was excavated beneath the ancient church of Saints Paul and Silas. I was able to enter it on July 17, 1973, but in recent years it has not been open to the public. Still, it is possible to examine it visually through the grating that now guards the outer entrance.) When a light is brought (verse 29), the jailer discovers that his prisoners are still there. Now, no longer concerned that they will escape, he suddenly becomes concerned for his own salvation (verse 30). His question, "What must I do to be saved?" is met with a call for faith, and the man, with his family, is catechized during the few remaining hours of the night (verse 32). Three things should be noted by the remark that the manŐs "whole household" was baptized. First, it is extremely unlikely that they were fully immersed in water. There would have been no facility for such a thing in the humble dwelling of a jailer, and the distance to the Gangites River, especially in the middle of the night, would have been prohibitive. This seems, therefore, to have been one of those occasions where the baptism was done by the pouring of water over the head, such as we see prescribed as an alternate rite even prior to the year 100 (cf. Didache 7). Second, no distinction is made (in this text of Acts) between adults and children, or even infants. It is the household itself that is baptized, the entire family, and precisely as a family. A "believing household" does not mean that every person in it has come to the full realization of adult faith. Children and infants in such a household share in the faith of their parents, according to the individual capacities that are proper to their age and condition. There is nothing in the text to suggest, even faintly, that they were excluded from baptism. Third, the expression "whole household" seems to have, in this context, a more technical meaning, indicating that the home in question is now a possible "safe house," where Christians can gather without fear of denunciation or betrayal to oppressive political authorities. (cf. also 5:42; 11:14; 16:15; 18:8; John 4:53). Such a home can in principle be, if large enough, the place where missionaries are lodged, the Gospel discussed, and the Eucharist celebrated by the whole congregation (cf. Acts 2:4; 20:7-8; Romans 16:4-5; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2).
Friday, August 15
The Virgin Mary: From at least the sixth century, Christians at Jerusalem observed this day in commemoration of ChristŐs virgin mother, and it is still so observed to this day by Eastern Orthodox (her "Dormition," or Falling Asleep), Roman Catholic (her "Assumption" into heaven), and Anglican Christians. The Gospel passage traditional for this day is Luke 10:38ř42; 11:27f. Other appropriate texts may include all or part of Luke 1:26ř56.
All of Old Testament history was preparatory for the "Be it done unto me" of the young maiden of Nazareth. MaryŐs yes to GodŐs plan is the Old TestamentŐs final and culminating act of faith, through which God himself assumes a human role in history. This is why the Christian poet Dante regarded the mother of Jesus as the last of the Old Testament saints (Paradiso 32.19ř30). There is a sense in which Mary pertains to the Old Testament ("born of a woman, born under the Law"ŃGalatians 4:4). She represents the culmination of GodŐs long, providential, and prophetic cultivation of a people proper unto himself, intent solely on the doing of his will. All of GodŐs historical preparation found its fulfillment in the assent of that soul who gave herself over completely to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is through the virgin mother of Christ that the whole of the Old Testament is filtered into the Incarnation, which is why Amadeus of Lausanne, in the twelfth century, spoke of her as containing the mysteries of all the Old Testament saints. Thus, Dante calls her the termine fisso dŐetterno consiglioŃ"the fixed goal of the eternal plan" (Paradiso 33.3).
In the Gospel of John, which never calls her by her own name, Mary is called simply "the mother of Jesus." She appears in that gospel twice, once near the beginning (2:1ř11) and once near the end (19:25ř27), and in both of these she is addressed by Jesus as "Woman." In the earlier passage, the story of the marriage at Cana, her intervention on behalf of the embarrassed wedding party leads to the first of JesusŐ "signs," the initial manifestation of his glory, in the transformation of the water into wine. Not put off by an initial refusal that apparently the Lord used to test her faith (2:4; compare Mark 7:27ř30), she told the wedding servants: "Do whatever he tells you" (2:5). Her faith in the power of JesusŐ word thus led to the faith of the other disciples as Jesus "manifested his glory" (2:11). Even though JesusŐ hour had not yet arrived (2:4), his motherŐs perfect faith brought about a foreshadowing of the abundant grace effected in his atoning redemption. At that event, which formed a new family, she thus became the first and a model among those who "believed" (See also Luke 1:45).
When the mother of Jesus next appears in the Gospel of John, his "hour" has certainly arrived (12:23; 13:1; 17:1), and she now stands beneath the cross of redemption with "the beloved disciple" (who also remains anonymous in JohnŐs gospel). Indeed, the mother of Jesus is the first mentioned among those four disciples who form the nucleus of the new community of faith (in contrast to the four soldiers also present at the cross and representative of the forces of this world). Once again, a new family is formed: "Woman, behold your son. . . . Behold your mother!" And "from that hour the disciple took her to his own" (19:27). The mother of Jesus now becomes the mother of all Christian believers, of whom the anonymous "beloved disciple" is the representative, and who now takes her to his own home.
Saturday, August 16
Acts 17:1-15: Leaving Luke to pastor the new congregation at Philippi, which contains at least two household (16:15,34) and probably a good number of others (16:20), Paul travels some thirty miles eastward, accompanied by Silas and Timothy. Going along the Egnatian Road that joined the Adriatic and Aegean seas, they come to the capital of Macedonia, Amphipolis (17:1), where they could not fail to observe the large stone statue of a lion that had been placed beside that road centuries earlier and still beckons to the cameras of tourists today. They go another thirty miles to Apollonia, and then about thirty-five miles to Thessaloniki, where, once more, they begin their ministry in the local synagogue (17:2; cf. 13:514; 14:1; 17:10,17; 18:4,19; 19:8; 28:17,23; Romans 1:16; 2:9-10). Although Paul and his missionary team will remain in Thessaloniki only three weeks, the congregation that they establish during those three weeks remains there to the present day, an unbroken history of almost two thousand years. Because his initial instructions to the new congregation are so severely shortened, Paul will be obliged to write them two epistles over the next eighteen months, in order to answer their several questions and to deal with matters that he was not able to cover adequately during the three weeks that he spent in their company. Those two Epistles to the Thessalonians will thus become the (probably) earliest writings collected into the New Testament. As usual, PaulŐs converts here include both Jews and those Gentiles who regularly attend the synagogue (17:4). Two of these are Secundus (20:4) and Aristarchus (27:2). Once again also, it is the unbelieving Jews who make trouble for PaulŐs ministry (17:5). In his letter written to the congregation some months later, Paul will have some fairly harsh things to say about those Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). Leaving Thessaloniki, Paul and his companions go some fifty miles southwest to Beroea, the modern Verria, which Cicero called an out-of-the-way town. Here they once again commence by preaching in the synagogue, where their efforts meet considerable success (17:11-12). One of the new converts in Beroea is a man named Sopater (20:4). Meanwhile, news of the apostolic success in Beroea reaches back to Thessaloniki, where that group of particularly malevolent Jews, who had already driven Paul from their own town, decide to come and make more trouble for him in Beroea. Since most of the opposition is aimed at Paul specifically, he alone leaves town this time, while Silas and Timothy remain in Beroea for the nonce (17:14-15). Paul goes on to Athens. After Timothy joins him in Athens, Paul will send him back to strengthen the Macedonian congregations (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3). Both Timothy and Silas will later join him at Corinth (Acts18:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10). In response to their report, Paul will then send the First Epistle to the Thessalonians from Corinth, either in late 49 or early 50.