Sunday, December 21
Titus 1:1-16: This very solemn introduction (verses 1-4) rivals those of the longer epistles, which were addressed to whole congregations. In this respect the Epistle to Titus may be contrasted to the other epistles addressed only to individuals (Timothy, Philemon).
God's promise was made at the dawn of history (verse 2), but now it is manifest in the preaching of the Gospel (verse 3). All of history was guided by that original promise, so the Gospel embraces all of history in its scope and interest.
Paul's directions for the choice and ordination of ministers (verses 5-9) correspond to those that he had given to Timothy a year or so earlier (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Such a minister is called both an "elder" (presbyteros -- verse 5) and an "overseer" (episkopos -- verse 6). In these two Greek words we discern the etymological roots of the English words "priest" and "bishop." Only in the very early second century, it would seem (for our first extant witness, Ignatius of Antioch, wrote in 107), did the two terms come to signify two distinct offices. (This reasonable hypothesis argues only that there was a development in terminology, not a development in the ministry itself.)
It is imperative to observe that the authority of these men comes from their choice and ordination by Titus (and Timothy and so on), who in tern were authorized by Paul. The New Testament knows of no legitimate ordained ministry except by an historical continuity traceable to those eleven men who received the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). That is to say, Christian ordination is an historical institution, literally "handed down," conferred by the laying on of hands by those authorized to do so; the notion of a "succession" is essential to this ministry.
Paul is strict with respect to the moral and domestic life of these ministers (verses 6-8), whose service he describes chiefly in terms of teaching (verse 9). In this respect they are contrasted with Jewish heretics (verses 10). The latter, he suggests, Titus was likely to meet because of the large Jewish community on Crete (Josephus, Antiquities 17.12.1-2, å¤323-331; The Jewish War 2.7.1, å¤103; Ad Gaium 282). The ideas of these Jewish teachers, Paul explains, can likely expect a better hearing among the Cretans! (verse 12) According to Clement of Alexandria, the poet quoted here by Paul was Epimenides (Stromateis 1.14; cf. Tatian, Oratio 27), a writer from the sixth century before Christ.
These Christian ministers must not be like those who profess God with their lips but not in their lives (verses 15-16).
Monday, December 22
Titus 2:1-15: In the previous chapter Paul had spoken about being "sound in the faith" (hygiainosin en tei pistei -- 1:13). Such "soundness" is the mark that he further inculcates in the present chapter, exhorting Titus to "speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine" (hygiainousei didaskalioi -- verse 1), so that mature men may be "sound in faith" (hygiainantes tei pistei -- verse 2) and of "sound speech" (logon hygie -- verse 8). This "soundness" (in the Greek root of which, hygi-, we recognize our English words "hygiene" and "hygienic") is a noted theme also in the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3). Christian teaching, that is to say, should carry the marks of intellectual, moral, and emotional health. It will not recommend itself if it encourages thoughts, sentiments, and behavior that are manifestly unhealthy.
In verse 2 we observe the triad of faith, love, and patience. This conjunction, common to the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:10), is also found earlier in Paul (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).
In verse 5, as elsewhere in Paul (1 Corinthians 14:35; Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:11-14), wives are exhorted to be subordinated (hypotassomenas, from the verb tasso, "to set in order") to their husbands. With respect to this exhortation, the Baptist exegete E. Glenn Hinson observes: "The initiative is to be with the wife. . . . Paul did not tell husbands to subdue their wives." It is obvious, nonetheless, that Paul's exhortation runs directly counter to the contemporary egalitarian impulse.
Like Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12), Titus is to set a good example (verse 7). We recall that Paul rather often referred to his own good example. Pastors and missionaries surely teach more by example than they do in any other way.
The "great God" in verse 13 is identical with the "Savior Jesus Christ," because in the Greek text a single article covers both words, God and Savior, and the rest of the sentence speaks only of Christ. It is He whose appearance we await (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Timothy 6:14-15; 2 Timothy 4:1).
Christ's self-giving (verse 14) is a typical Pauline reference to the Lord's Passion and blood atonement (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; Ephesians 5:2,25; 1 Timothy 2:6).
Tuesday, December 23
Titus 3:1-15: As always, Paul is solicitous for the good reputation of Christians, knowing that the fortunes of the Church's evangelism and ministry in this world depend, in no small measure, on that reputation. Thus, in the previous chapter he urged that the conduct of Christian women be such as not to hurt God's cause (2:5). Now, following that same solicitude in the present chapter, he urges Christians "to be subject [hypotassesthe, the same verb as in 2:5] to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, . . . showing humility to all men" (verses 1-2; cf. verse 8). Few things, surely, would more seriously impede the cause of the Gospel than the impression that Christians are contentious, rebellious, disobedient, and unpatriotic (cf. also Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13).
The doctrine of baptismal regeneration in verse 6 (cf. also Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 5:26; Colossians 2:11-13), and the expression "renewing of the Holy Spirit," used in conjunction with this reference to Baptism, seems to refer to the post-baptismal laying on of hands (cf. Acts 8:14-17; 19:5-6; Hebrews 6:2).
It is possible that the phrases in verses 4-7 were taken from a hymn or other liturgical prayer that Titus would recognize. This would explain Paul's affirmation, in verse 8, that "this is a faithful saying" (cf. also 1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11).
The unrepentant "divisive man" in verse 10 is literally the "heretical man" -- haeretikos anthropos; the adjective appears only here in the New Testament. Paul's counsel that such a one be avoided after, at most, two admonitions was understood rather strictly by the early Christians (cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 1.16.3; Tertullian, De Praescriptione 16).
There were several cities named Nicopoplis, "city of victory," in the ancient world. It is likely that the city mentioned by Paul (verse 12) was the one in Epirus, south of Dalmatia, founded by Octavian in 31 B.C. to celebrate his victory over the forces of Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium.
Verse 13 names the two men who carried this epistle to Titus.
Wednesday, December 24
Matthew 1:18-25: In today's reading Joseph receives two commands that affect his legal relationship to Jesus: "Take to you Mary your wife" and "You shall call His name Jesus." In fulfilling these commands, Joseph establishes the legal relationship of King David to Jesus. It is for this reason that Joseph is here addressed as "Joseph, son of David"; this is the only instance in the New Testament where "son of David" refers to someone besides Jesus. Two other features of this text should be noted: First, the name Emmanuel, which is translated as "God with us," ties this passage to the very last verse of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord's promise to be with us always. Second, the expression "that it might be fulfilled," which here appears for the first of the eleven times that it is found in Matthew, more than in all of the other three Gospels combined.
These themes appear likewise in Psalm 89 (88), the first part of which we pray at evening today. This part of the psalm 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, 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: "For You declared: 'Mercy shall be built up forever.' Your truth is prepared in the heavens: 'A covenant have I formed with my chosen ones; to David my servant I swore an oath: Forever will I provide for your seed; I shall establish your throne unto all generations.' The heavens will confess Your wonders, O Lord, and Your truth in the church of Your saints."
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. Only in Christ do we find the key to the mystery of this psalm: "Once I swore by my holiness, nor would I ever lie to David. His seed shall abide forever, and his throne as the sun in My sight, and like the moon forever established, a faithful witness in heaven."
The theological bond, then, joining the creation to David, is Christ: "God . . . has in these last days spoken unto us by a Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds. . . . But to the Son He says: 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.' . . . And: (to quote another text we read today) 'You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands'" (Hebrews 1:2,8,10). 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.
Thursday, December 25
Psalm 85 (84): "Unto us a Child is born," the lyric prophet wrote, "unto us a Son is given" (Isaiah 9:6). And he wrote these things with respect to the Incarnation of the divine Son becoming a human Child. Both aspects of this Christian mystery, which Isaiah perceived so lucidly (cf. John 12:41), were likewise seen by the Wise Men who came with adoration to welcome this Newcomer to the scene, the divine Son and human Child. St. Ambrose of Milan comments on these Wise Men: "When they looked upon the little one in the stable, they said: 'Unto us a Child is born.' And when they beheld His star, they exclaimed: 'Unto us a Son is given.' On the one hand, a gift from earth, and on the other a gift from heaven, for both are one Person, perfect in both respects, with no change in His divinity, and no diminution of His humanity. Only one Person did these Wise Men adore, and to one and the same did they present their gifts, showing that He who was beheld in the stall was the very Lord of the stars" (De Fide 3.8.54).
This psalm is a canticle honoring both facets of the Incarnation, for the latter is that history-defining encounter of two worlds, wherein "the Lord will grant His mercy, and our earth shall give its fruit." "Truth has arisen from the earth," we pray in this psalm, speaking of the Child born unto us, "and righteousness has stooped down from the heaven," we go on, telling of the Son given unto us. This union is the sacrament of God become Man, in which "mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have shared a kiss."
Thus, still following St. Ambrose, when mankind cried out in Psalm 85, "O Lord, show us Your mercy, and grant us Your salvation," it was a prayer for the Incarnation, in which "He, who is God's Son, is born as Mary's Child and given to us" (op. cit. 3.8.56),
Such, ultimately, is the meaning of the lines with which we begin this same psalm: "Kindly have You been to Your land, O Lord, bringing back the captivity of Jacob. You have forgiven Your people their iniquities; You have covered all their sins. An end have You given to Your anger; You abandoned the fury of Your wrath." All these blessings of reconciliation between two realms were accomplished, when the Father sent His only-begotten Son, "that in the dispensation of the fullness of times, He might gather in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth -- in Him" (Ephesians 1:10).
In this mystery of God's reconciliation, then, is fulfilled the prophecy of our psalm: "For His salvation is near to all those who fear Him, so that glory may inhabit (kataskenosai) our earth." This glory inhabiting our earth is what was first seen when (as we shall read this coming Saturday) "the Word was made flesh and dwelt (eskenosen) among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him" (John1:14,18).
The Father sent His Son in response to the most profound aspirations of men's hearts, because Isaiah spoke for all mankind when he pleaded: "Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down" (64:1). Driven from God's presence in paradise and retained in bondage to unclean spirits by reason of transgression, the human race with Adam and Eve cried out in our psalm: "Convert us, O God of our salvation, and turn Your fury from us. Will You be angry with us forever? Or from generation to generation prolong Your wrath? O God, You will convert us and restore us to life, and Your people shall rejoice in You."
Christ, then, "is our peace" (Ephesians 2:14), and likewise our "righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30). It is of these things that our psalm says: "Righteousness shall go before Him, and He will set His foot-steps in the way." This is the Christ who "came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near" (Ephesians 2:17). This the Christ, "being both begotten of the Father before all ages, and created from the Virgin in these final times" (Ambrose, op. cit. 3.8.60).
Friday, December 26
Matthew 2:1-15: This arrival of the first Gentiles is a promise and foreshadowing of the Great Commission to "all nations" at the end of Matthew's gospel. In this story we also find the first collusion between the civil and religious authorities against Jesus. Thus, this is the first appearance of "chief priests and scribes" who will eventually hail Jesus to His trial before Pontius Pilate (27:11). In both the beginning and ending of Matthew, then, there is a "trial" to determine exactly who is the true "King of the Jews" (2:2; 27:29,37).
This Gospel reading is further reflected in Psalm 2, which we prayed yesterday. A king of this world, Herod, immediately felt threatened at the birth of God's anointed one. Well he should, for there can be no compromise nor compatibility between the wisdom and power of this world and the wisdom and power of God. They are at deep enmity (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:4-14), and our second psalm is concerned with this historical conflict. Psalm 2 is a Christological interpretation of history.
Psalm 1 had spoken of the "counsel of the godless," and now Psalm 2 will go on to describe that counsel: "The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered in counsel, against the Lord and against his anointed [Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek]." The counsel of this world will not endure the reign of God and Christ. "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us," they say.
The early Christians knew the meaning of these words, and they included them in one of their earliest recorded prayers: "Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them; who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: 'Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered in counsel, against the Lord and against His Christ.'" And about whom are these things being said? The prayer goes on: "For truly against Your holy Servant [pais, also meaning 'servant' or 'boy'] Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together" (Acts 4:24-27).
The context of this prayer was the persecution of the Church by the authorities at Jerusalem (cf. all of Acts 3-4). That is to say, the psalm's meaning, to those Christians, was not something in the distant past; it was something contemporary to on-going Christian history. It was fulfilled, for instance, in the martyrdom of Stephen, whose feast we remember today.
This psalm is not impressed by all the sinful revolution against the reign of God and his Christ. Like the first psalm, Psalm 2 will finish on the theme of the divine judgment, which blesses the just and condemns the wicked. Both psalms end much like the Creed: "He will come again in glory to judge."
Indeed, the parallels of Psalm 2 with the "last days" described in the Bible's final book, the Apocalypse, are quite remarkable: the anger of the nations and the wrath of God (11:18), the political conspiracy against God (19:19), the Messiah's "rod of iron" inflicted on his enemies (2:27; 12:5; 19:15).
God, meanwhile, may laugh at his enemies: "He that thrones in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord will hold them in derision." His Chosen One and Heir is already anointed. In the verse that explains the Church's partiality to this psalm at Christmas time, the Messiah proclaims: "The Lord said unto me: 'You are My Son; this day have I begotten You.'" These words, partly reflected at the Lord's baptism (Matthew 3:17) and transfiguration (17:5; 2 Peter 1:17), came to express the essential Christological faith of the Church. This verse is cited explicitly in the apostolic preaching (cf. Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5; also 1 John 5:9) and directly answers the major question posed by Christian evangelism at every age: "What think ye of the Christ? Whose Son is He?" The most likely earliest of the Gospels thus commences: "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1).
"This day," God says, "today have I begotten You." So early in the Book of Psalms is the Christian mind elevated to eternity, that undiminished "today" of Christ's identity -- "Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and the same forever" (Hebrews 13:8). No one knows the Father except the Son and he to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Matthew 11:27).
Saturday, December 27
Psalm 98 (97): The latter part of the Book of Isaiah, in which the dominant theme is Israel's return from the Babylonian Captivity, speaks several times of God's "arm," a metaphor especially used in conjunction with the noun "salvation" and the adjective "holy" (Isaiah 40:10; 51:9; 52:10; 53:1; 59:16; 63:5). This robust image of God's arm, which had first appeared in the Bible in the context of the people's deliverance from Egypt (cf. Exodus 6:6; 15:16), was thus applied to their return from exile in Babylon. In each case, the redemption of the oppressed was ascribed to the holy flexing of God's muscle, as it were, on their behalf.
It is significant that the Mother of God summoned this same metaphor to describe God's definitive historical intervention on behalf of His people: "Holy is His name, and His mercy is on those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm" (Luke 1:50f). God's arm in these contexts is an image of His "power according to the Spirit of holiness" (Romans 1:4), "the power of God unto salvation" (1:16).
The same reference to God's holy, salvific arm appears several times in the Book of Psalms, one example being the opening of Psalm 98: "Sing to the Lord a new song, for the Lord has done wondrous things; His right hand and His holy arm have wrought salvation."
God's salvation is not simply a thing announced, but a "wrought" reality. In saving us, God truly does certain deeds, "wondrous things," by which we are redeemed. God saves man by the forceful intrusion of His holiness into man's history. God's arm is a metaphor of this irrupting redemptive holiness. In the "wondrous things" of the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, God's arm invades the processes of human destiny with the outpouring of His own life. Man's life is thereby given access to the incorruptible life of God.
This, says our psalm, is the substance of the Gospel proclaimed to the nations and peoples of the earth: "The Lord has made known His salvation; unto the nations has He revealed His righteousness. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God."
The substance of the Gospel, then, is not some theory about God or even some set of norms by which man is to live. At root, the Gospel has absolutely nothing in common with even the highest religious speculations. In the strictest possible sense, beyond all human reckoning or expectation, the Gospel is a "new song," a radically different voice on the human scene. It is the revelation of God's holy arm taking charge of man's history. It is that redemptive, holy activity by which "He has shown strength with His arm." It is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24).
Such is the meaning of Theophany, literally "the appearing of God" in man's history. This appearing of God is not a general and pervasive luminosity to which the human race has a ready and easy access. It is, on the contrary, most particular, very specified with respect to time and place. God has become incarnate only once. Only once has the price of our sins been paid. Only once has He "appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has ordained." Moreover, "He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). Only once has God done all of these "wondrous things."
Our psalm speaks likewise of this latter judgment of the world by one Man whom He has ordained. "For He comes to judge the earth," it says, "He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with uprightness." All of human history will, at the last, be summoned before the same Judge whom God has ordained, giving "assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." This single, unique standard of the final judgment is likewise a component of the Gospel itself: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him" (Matthew 25:31f).
Particular in the time and place of its appearance, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is nonetheless universal as the canon and measure of man's destiny, being solely the source of the "knowledge of salvation" (Luke 1:77).