Sunday, January 11
John 2:1-2: In the Gospel of John, which never calls her by her own name, Mary is simply referenced as "the mother of Jesus." She appears in that gospel twice, once near the beginning (2:1Ý11) and once near the end (19:25Ý27), and in both of these places she is addressed by Jesus as "Woman." In the earlier of these passages, the story of the marriage at Cana, Mary’s intervention on behalf of the embarrassed wedding party leads to the first of Jesus’ "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 7:27Ý30), she told the wedding servants: "Do whatever He tells you" (2:5). Her faith in the power of Jesus’ word thus led to the faith of the other disciples as Jesus "manifested his glory" (2:11). Even though Jesus’ hour had not yet arrived (2:4), His mother’s 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 John’s 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.
Monday, January 12
Psalm 4: Like Psalm 3, which we pray in the morning today, Psalm 4 is set in the context of moral and spiritual strife. The man of faith begins and ends his day on the battlefield; warfare attends him everywhere. Since the very first verse of the very first psalm, the just man has found himself in conflict with the counsel of the ungodly, the way of sinners, the seat of the scornful. In Psalm 4 these latter are described as the "sons of men" who "turn my glory into shame."
The reason for this battle is that the just man has been chosen and set aside. He walks not in the counsel of the ungodly. He stands not in the way of sinners. He does not sit in the seat of the scornful. He is not of the world, just as Christ is not of the world. "But know," says the psalmist, "that the Lord hath set aside the godly for Himself." The servants of God are to be holy, just as their Father in heaven is holy. This is the meaning of the biblical doctrine of the divine election: the service of God in holiness of life. Thus, there are certain things the godly man does not do; there are certain places he must not be found. Holiness means separation from what is sinful.
The Hebrew term here, translated as "godly," is hasid. That is to say, the life in Christ is the life of the "holy ones," the hasidim; it is the "hasidic" life, the life of separation from the sinful standards of the world. This adjective, hasid, is used in the Hebrew Old Testament 32 times, of which 21 are found in the Book of Psalms, a proportion strongly suggesting that the prayer and praise of God are a major component of the biblical doctrine of holiness. One cannot live a worldly life and still expect to be able to pray the psalms. The Psalter has nothing to say to the worldly; it is not for the unconverted, the unrepentant. It is, rather, the prayer book of those who strive for holiness of life and the unceasing praise of God.
This separation of the godly for the service of the Lord is likewise the source of the conflict that we find all through the Psalter. Thus said the "blessed man" who is the key to the psalms: "If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, because I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18f). Such are the Christological dimensions of the conflict that we have seen in each of the first four psalms.
The traditional time for this psalm is the coming of night, the approach of darkness, and in such a context the psalmist remembers the true light, the light of glory that shines from the face of the Lord: "The light of Your countenance has been signed upon us, O Lord." Here we touch the deepest level of desire in the Book of Psalms — the longing for the glory of God, and the psalmist announces that this glory has already been "signed (or sealed) upon us" (esemeiothe In Greek, signatum est in Latin).
This verse reminds us that the Book of Psalms is not a universally available text, in the sense that just anyone can pick it up and make it his own at will. It is, rather, the prayer book of the Church, that assembly of those who, with faces unveiled, behold the glory of God shining on the face of Christ and are being transformed from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18 - 4:6). As such the Psalter is a kind of first-fruits of the very prayer of heaven, and the transforming light of God’s face will continue to be spoken of in various psalms: "God is the Lord who has showed us light" — "May God cause his face to shine upon us, and have mercy on us" — "Approach to him and be illumined" — "Show forth Your face, and we shall be saved." Such are the closing thoughts of the Christian’s day.
Tuesday, January 13
Matthew 6:1-15: Most of Matthew 6 is structured on the great triad of traditional Jewish piety: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Because these three components are authoritatively juxtaposed by our Lord Himself here in Matthew, it is normal for us to think of them together and as constituting a kind of ascetical standard for Christians. In truth, for a very long time Christians (for example, Hermas and Leo I of Rome, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor) have habitually spoken of the three together as sort of a paradigm. In pre-Christian biblical literature, however, that specific triad of prayer, fasting and almsgiving is found in only one place in Holy Scripture: Tobit 12:8.
The emphasis that Matthew places on this triad is purity of heart, integrity of intention. That is to say, we are warned against almsgiving, praying, and fasting that are done for the purpose of obtaining human respect. We are to do these things to please our Father in heaven, not to impress those with whom we share this earth (verse 1).
The first component of the triad is almsgiving (verses 2-4). This word, eleemosyne, is related to the Greek word for "merciful" (eleemones) in 5:7.
Nowhere in the Bible is the importance of eleemosyne more evident than in the Book of Tobit, where the word appears with greater frequency than in any other book of the Septuagint or, indeed, in even the entire New Testament. Eleemosyne includes everything that Tobit did by way of selfless service to his fellow man: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, burying the dead, etc. ---- all those activities encapsulated in the Last Judgment scene of Matthew 25 and later known as the corporal works of mercy. Eleemosyne was thus Tobit’s most characteristic mark.
The contextual and specific nuances that eleemosyne came to assume in Christian ascetical vocabulary are suggested by the fact that this Greek biblical word was regarded as a distinctive technical and sacred term, for which there existed no adequate substitute in other languages. So, as the peoples of Europe were evangelized, they borrowed and gradually altered eleemosyne, much as they did the technical Greek words for church (ekklesia) and bishop (episkopos). Thus, this Greek noun passed into the many tongues spoken among Christians; through Slavonic (milostyni) it became the Russian milostinya , the Polish milosierdzi, and the Romanian milostenie; through Latin (eleemosyna) it developed into the Italian elemosina, the French aumône, the Swedish almosa, the Spanish limonsa, the German Almosen, the Danish almisse, and the English "alms."
The second component of the triad is prayer (verses 5-15). The prohibition in verse 7 is against excessively wordy prayer (polylogia), not repetitious prayer. Repeated prayers are actually recommended in Holy Scripture; for instance, one notes the use of the imperfect tense of the verbs, descriptive of ongoing and repeated activity, in Luke 18:3-5,13,38. Indeed, it would difficult for most Christians to arrive at the state of constant prayers, which is certainly an ascetical goal prescribed in the Bible, without some measure of repetition.
The address to God as "Father" is reflected in a number of the Lord’s parables (Luke 11:11-13; 15:11-32). To think of God as our Father, however, should be interpreted solely within the context of Christian revelation. God is not "like" a father. We do not call Him "Father," instead of "mother," because His relationship to us is of a more paternal than maternal quality. The fatherhood of God is not a metaphor or figure of speech. By divine grace we actually become His children, because we participate in His nature (2 Peter 1:4).
The relationship between divine forgiveness and human forgiveness (verses 12,14-15) will be taken up later in 18:35 (cf. Clement of Rome, To the Corinthians 13.2; Polycarp of Smyrna, To the Philippians 6.2).
Wednesday, January 14
Matthew 6:25-34: The "therefore" of verse 25 means that the following verses are a conclusion of the message enunciated in the preceding section of this chapter. If we are not to covet (as we were told in the preceding verses), we are also not to worry; the disciplining of inappropriate desires should diminish inappropriate anxiety. Both coveting and worrying are simply variations on the disloyalty of trying to serve two masters.
Verse 25 once again gives us the "but I say to you." The command of Jesus ("all things whatsoever I have commanded you") is based on the identity and authority of Jesus ("all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me"). Jesus appeals to no general moral law that has validity apart from the authority of His own person.
Verse 26 testifies to the supreme dignity of human beings within creation. It does appear that the secular environmentalist, on being asked, "Are you not of more value than the birds of the air?" would answer, "Well, not really."
In verse 27 Jesus points to the self-evident, but largely ignored, truth that worry never accomplished anything practical. No one’s plight in this world has ever been improved by anxiety on the subject.
An important part of Christian "learning" (manthanein) is the habit of "considering" (kata-manthanein—verse 28) the world around us. Jesus directs our particular attention to flowers and birds in order to ascertain a moral lesson. This directive follows that of Israel’s wisdom tradition, which similarly sends us to ants and other animals for aspects of our moral instruction (Proverbs 6:6; 30:25; Job 12:7).
Except for Luke 12:28, the adjective "of little faith" (oligopistos) is found only Matthew among the New Testament writers; besides here in 6:30, it also appears in 8:26; 14:31; 16:6. Matthew is familiar with the weak faith that often characterizes individual Christians and congregations. Even the weak in faith, however, Jesus does not repudiate.
According to verse 33, God provides all necessary things for those who seek first His kingdom (or, to put it differently, who love Him — cf. Romans 8:28). As in the Our Father, the interest of God’s kingdom precedes the request for the daily bread. As in the Beatitudes, the real hungering and thirsting is for "righteousness" (cf. Mark 10:30; 1 Timothy 4:8).
Thursday, January 15
Matthew 7:1-12: This chapter continues the theme of freedom from distraction, so that God receives our entire attention. Just as the preceding verses, in chapter six, told us not to worry about ourselves, these verses tell us not to worry about others. In neither case are we to take the place of God.
The command not to judge, lest we be judged, is a variation on the theme of divine and human forgiveness. Matthew will later illustrate this theme by the parable of the unmerciful servant in 18:23-35. The repeated references to the "brother" in these opening verses indicate that these commands directly affect the life of the Christian congregation. Self-righteous superiority provides not solid basis for fraternal correction. This teaching appears everywhere in early Christian literature (cf. John 8:1-11; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Clement of Rome, To the Corinthians 13.2; Polycarp of Smyrna, To the Philippians 2.3).
Directly after the exhortation not to pass judgment, we find an irony. Immediately after being told not to "size up" others (verses 1-5), we are exhorted to size them up! (verse 6). Dogs and pigs were unclean animals; they were not to be given what was holy. The saying in verse 6 was taken up by the early Church as providing a principle for the discipline of the sacraments. The sacraments were not to be squandered on those unable to appreciate their value (cf. Didache 9.5; Tertullian, On Baptism 18). In short, this dominical saying also pertains to the life of the Christian congregation.
Having given the Church a formula for prayer in the previous chapter, Jesus now comes to speak of petitionary prayer (verses 7-11). In the Greek text, the asking, seeking, and knocking of verse 7 are all in the present tense (as distinct from the aorist tense). Thus, the meaning is "keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking."
With respect to the bread and fish in verses 9-10, two facts may be borne in mind. First, these two foods were staples in the Galilean diet; Jesus will multiply both kinds of food in chapters 14 & 15. Second, the juxtaposition with stones and snakes is justified by the fact that a loaf of bread is shaped like a stone (cf. 4:3), and many snakes have a skin resembling the scales of fish (and fish without scales, in the Old Testament, are unclean animals, not suitable for food).
Finally, in the Golden Rule of verse 12, we have a fundamental principle, not only of life in the Christian Church, but of life in human society as such. Once again, as in the ascetical triad in chapter six, there is a reliance on the Book of Tobit (4:15), the Old Testament work that most explicitly dictates the Golden Rule.
Because the Golden Rule can stand on its own, as it were, recommending itself by the sheer force of its rhetorical structure, variations of it are found all over the world; it is the equivalent to an ideal found in other ethical philosophies. These latter include Greek authors like Herodotus (Histories 3.142) and Isocrates (Niklokles 61. and even classical Confucianism (Cf. Ku Hung Ming, The Conduct of Life: A Translation of the Doctrine of the Mean, London: John Murray, 1906, p. 26).
In spite of the positive form of the Golden Rule in Matthew and Luke, Tobit's negative form was generally maintained, not only in the apocryphal (e.g., Ps.-Aristeas, Epistle to Philocrates 207) and rabbinical traditions (e.g., Babylonian Talmud, "Shabbat" 31a; Targum Yerushalmi I of Leviticus 19:18), but also in Christian sources as diverse as the Didache 1.2; the Coptic Gospel of Thomas 6 ; the Apostolic Constitutions 1; Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 2.22; Didymus the Blind, De Spiritu Sancto 39; John Chrysostom, Homiliae de Statuis 13.3; Augustine, Sermones in Vetus Testamentum 9.14f; Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job 6.35.54; 10.6.6 (539); and, from the Latin Middle Ages, Peter Damien, Sermones 14.9; Stephen of Grandmont, Regula 28; and Isaac of Stella, Sermones 3.3; 31.6.
Matthew’s version of the Golden Rule is both positive and radicalized by its context in the Sermon on the Mount. Specifically, we note his use of "all things whatsoever" (panta hosa), an expression that will appear again in the Great Commission (28:20).
Friday, January 16
Matthew 7:13-20: Here begins a series of contrasts that will finish out this chapter and the Sermon on the Mount: two different ways and gates (7:1314), two kinds of trees and fruits (7:15-20), two sorts of people (7:21-23), two contrasted builders (7:24-27), and two opposed styles of teaching (7:29).
Although the image of two gates is not a common one in Jewish writings, the image of two ways certainly is (verses 13-14). The gate here is a pyle, the gate of a city or a large, public building, not a thyra, the door of a home. The choice between two ways, a motif of early Christian catechesis for Baptism (Didache 1.1; Cyprian of Carthage, Epistles 4.5), extends a traditional biblical metaphor (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Jeremiah 21:8; Sirach 21:10), also favored in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 4).
The warning against false prophets seems to appear out of nowhere, which may suggest that it is included here because Matthew found it (in some collection of Jesus’ sayings) already connected to either the preceding or following verses. It is reasonable to suggest that this particular saying of our Lord was preserved in connection with that about the two gates and ways, because false prophets rather generally point their hearers toward the gate that is wide and the way that is broad (verse 13). Concerns about such false prophets are often expressed in Holy Scripture (e.g., Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22; Matthew 24:11; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). In his last sermon to the elders of Ephesus, St. Paul also compared false teachers to ravening wolves ( Acts 20:29). They move in disguise; their sin, that is to say, involves hypocrisy, and in that respect they resemble Jesus’ standard enemies in the gospels.
To speak of the "fruits" of the wolf (verses 15-16) is an unusual mixing of metaphors, of course, but that sort of thing bothered the ancients a great deal less than it bothers modern writers.
Verses 16-20 are based on a chiastic construction:
A — You will know them by their fruits.
B — Do men gather grapes from thorns,
or grapes from thistles?
C — Even so, every good tree bears good fruit,
but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
C' — A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
B' — Every tree that does not bear good fruit
is cut down and thrown into the fire.
A' — Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Saturday, January 17
Matthew 7:21-29: The Sermon on the Mount closes with two more references to the day of judgment (verses 22-23 and 25-27), the motif on which ends each of the five great discourses in Matthew (cf. 10:42; 13:50; 8:35; 25:40). Indeed, throughout Matthew we are never permitted to put from our minds the coming judgment of God.
One can hardly fail to observe a great irony here in verses 22-23. We would think that the ability to prophesy, cast out demons, and work many wonders would qualify among the sorts of "good fruit" by which to recognize a good tree (verses 17-18) . Yet, it is clearly not the case here. Nor does Matthew provide the slightest hint for the resolution of this apparent contradiction. He leaves both perspectives standing in place, side by side.
Just as the "I never knew you" of verse 23 will be repeated to the foolish virgins in chapter 25, the following contrast between prudent or wise person (phronimos) who survives the final judgment and the foolish person (moros) who does not (verses 24-27) will be paralleled by the five prudent or wise virgins (phronimai ) and the five foolish virgins (morai) in that same later chapter.
The reference to the building by a wise man puts the reader in mind of Solomon, remembered in Holy Scripture as both a wise man and a builder. It is the day of judgment which will reveal whether or not a man has wisely built on a strong foundation (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
It is important, not only to hear the word of Jesus, but to "do" it (verses 24,26). This verb "to do" (poiein) appears twenty-two times in the Sermon on the Mount.
In contrast to the Jewish scribes, Jesus teaches with "authority." None of those scribes would ever have pronounced, "but I say unto you." This same authority (exsousia) of Jesus will be the basis for the teaching of the Church (28:18,20).