Sunday, November 7
Psalm 34 (Greek and Latin 33): Summarizing an entire Wisdom theme of Holy Scripture with a single question, this psalm asks: “Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good?”
By “life” we mean, of course, much more than material, animal survival, for man does not “live” by bread alone. True human life is a far more ample thing, a matter of the soul’s relationship to God; true life involves living in a particular way. The psalmist goes on, then, to answer his own question: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
These verses of Psalm 33 are later paraphrased in 1 Peter 3:10-12 — “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” For the Apostle Peter, these lines of our psalm provide an outline for how the Christian is to live. He comments on them: “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (3:8f).
Choosing life over death clearly has a great deal to do with the discipline of one’s mouth: “Keep your tongue ... and your lips,” says the psalmist, for “if anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man” (James 3:2). Seeking and pursuing peace is nine-tenths a matter of keeping bad things out of one’s mouth.
And how does one accomplish this difficult vigilance? By constantly, over and over, putting the words of prayer into his mouth, and this was how the psalm began: “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” This ceaseless prayer, manifestly a standard teaching of the New Testament, is also a theme in our psalm: “This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him. . . . The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears.”
This life of constant, sustained calling on God involves also a certain cultivation of “taste” that leads to vision: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.” Once again, it is 1 Peter that comments on our psalm by contrasting the sins of the tongue with the godly discipline of the Christian mouth: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (2:1-3; see also Hebrews 6:5).
Monday, November 8
Luke 21:20-24: Comparing this text to its parallels in Mark 13:14-20 and Matthew 24:15-22, we observe that Luke’s description of the siege and fall of Jerusalem is portrayed simply an an historical event that is to come. It seems to be the case that Luke (unlike Mark) was written after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. The end of the world, however, had not accompanied that event. Consequently, in Luke the Lord’s prophecy of this event is plainly spoken, and simply as a matter of fact. It is not loaded with eschatological significance, not regarded as an immediate harbinger of the final times.
We note in particular Luke’s omission of the Abomination of Desolation (cf. Mark 13:14; Daniel 9:27; 12:11; 1 Maccabees 1:57).
When the invading Roman legions arrive to besiege the city, flight is the only rational response, because Jerusalem will offer no protection to those who remain there (verses 21-22). As a point of history, before the siege was established, the Christians in Jerusalem fled eastward across the Jordan to Pella (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3). Warned by Jesus’ prophecy of the city’s fall, they did not stay around to defend it. Indeed, they felt no special loyalty to the very city that had rejected the Messiah, certainly that a level of loyalty that would prompt them to stay and defend the place against a doom they knew to be inevitable. That decision of the Jerusalem Christians, which separated them from so many of their countrymen, doubtless contributed to the further alienation of Christians and Jews.
How much time will elapse between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world? Only God knows, and Holy Scripture discourages believers from speculating on the point. However long this period endures, the time must be spent in evangelizing the world, “until the times of the nations has been fulfilled.”
Tuesday, November 9
Luke 21:25-28: Having treated of the downfall of Jerusalem without attaching to it a note of eschatological immediacy, Luke now turns to speak of the Lord’s return, when “until the times of the nations has been fulfilled” (verse 24).
The assertion that Jesus Christ is the meaning of history implies that He it is who will bring history to a close. The Lord’s return at the end of time is so integral and necessary a part of the Christian faith that the First Council of Nicaea, in 325, enshrined it in the Nicene Creed.
We observe that the language of verses 25-26 draws heavily from the biblical prophets (cf. Isaiah 13:9-10; 34:4; Jeremiah 4:23-26; Amos 8:9; Micah 1:3-4).
The expression “your redemption is nigh” (verse 28) is found only in Luke. Indeed, among the four gospels the Greek word for “redemption,” apolytrosis, is found only in this place. Luke, often a companion of Paul in his travels, had doubtless heard the Apostle to the Gentiles use this word many times (cf. Romans 3:24; 8:23; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:7,14; 4:30; Colossians 1:14). The root meaning of this verb, “buying back,” is a metaphor that should not be pushed as a precise description. In the Bible it does not convey a legal or commercial sense. When God “redeemed” Israel out of Egypt, for instance, He did not pay a price to Pharaoh; on the contrary, He hit Pharaoh with a series of disasters. Similarly, when Jesus “redeems” us from the power of Satan, there is no legal or mercantile transaction, as though Jesus paid a price to Satan for our release. On the contrary, the victorious Jesus descended into the realm of death, conquering Satan and taking the spoils of him.
In the present context in Luke, we may note, “redemption” refers to our deliverance at the return of Christ at the end of time; in the writings of the Apostle Paul that final redemption is more often called “salvation” (soteria).
Wednesday, November 10
Luke 21:29-33: Throughout the era of the Church there will be times when the fig tree will appear to have died. Nothing looks deader than a fig tree in the wintertime. We may see in the harsh conditions of winter an image of the many persecutions and hardships that the persevering community of Christ must endure until the spring of His return. One thinks, in this connection, of the condition of the Christian Church behind the Iron Curtain for so many decades, in such places as Russia and Poland. From the outside it certainly appeared to be, in not dead, at least near death. As soon as the Iron Curtain was brought down, however, immediately the new buds appear. The tree had been alive all along.
About the year 252, an African Christian bishop, Cyprian of Carthage wrote with respect to these verses, “the Lord had foretold that these things would happen. Instructing with the voice of His foreknowledge, teaching, preparing, and strengthening the people of His Church unto all endurance of things that lay in the future. He foretold and declared that wars, famines, earthquakes, and plagues in each place. And lest an unexpected and new fear of evils should overtake us, He earlier warned us that in the final times adversities would grow more and more” (De Mortalitate 2).
The “nearness” (eggys) of the spring (verse 30) symbolizes the nearness (eggys) of the Kingdom of God (verse 31). This is identical to the nearness (eggizei) of our redemption (verse 28).
Until then, the Lord’s disciples are to cling to His words. These words will remain steadfast, even if everything else passes away (verse 33).
In speaking of the words of Christ in this fashion, Luke takes up again his own final verse of the explanation of the parable of the sower: “But that on the good ground are they, which in a noble and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (8:15). That Lukan emphasis on purity of heart comes here again in verse 34 (compare 8:14).
Thursday, November 11
Luke 21:34-38: This section, proper to Luke, bears notable affinity to the teaching of the Apostle Paul. For example, the exhortation to avoid excessive drinking and eating, lest we be overtaken suddenly by the events of the final times (verses34-36) is very reminiscent of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10.
The stress on constant prayer (verse 36) is, of course, very typical of Luke (cf. 18:1).
Verse 36, which contains the last of Jesus’ public teaching in Luke, calls forth ideas contained in the beginning of Jesus’ public teaching. For instance, it speaks of endurance for the sake of the returning Son of Man (cf. 6:20-23; 9:26).
Verses 37-38, which prepare immediately for the account of the Lord’s Passion, portray Him as teaching each day in the Temple, beginning early (orthrizen), after spending the night in prayer on the Mount of Olives. It was, Luke will tell us (22:39), the “custom” of Jesus to pray there during the night. This pattern is also found in John 8:1-2.
Friday, November 12
Luke 22:1-6: Although Luke agrees with Mark and Matthew placing the events of Holy Week in the context of the Passover, he is less precise than the others with placing those events on particular days. (This trait would explain why Luke is less used in the traditional daily lectionaries of the Christian Church during Holy Week.) Thus, for instance, we are not told here on what day the Sanhedrin met to plot the death of Jesus (contrast Luke here with Mark and Matthew).
Writing for Gentiles, Luke is not careful to distinguish Passover from the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which immediately follows it. In this respect he resembles Josephus (Antiquities 3.10.5, §248), who was also writing for Gentile readers.
In addition Luke does not specify how Judas was to betray Christ to His enemies, nor does he indicate how much money Judas was to receive for doing so. Luke explains the entire episode by saying that Satan entered into Judas (verse 4; John 13:2,27; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:8). In Luke it is apparent that the Passion is a battle between Jesus and Satan.
In this respect the Passion in Luke takes up where the early Temptations scene left off. At that time, we recall, after Jesus had resisted all of Satan’s blandishments, Luke remarked that Satan left Him “for a while” (4:13). The “while” is over. Now Satan returns in dead earnest.
Saturday, November 13
Luke 22:7-13: Verse 7 refers not only to the impending annual sacrifice of the paschal lamb in obedience to the Mosaic Law, but also to the approaching immolation of the true Paschal Lamb on the following day, the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The time has now arrived, declares Luke. All the previous parts of his account have led to this moment. From the beginning of his story, when the life of the First Born Son was redeemed by two turtle dove or young pigeons (2:24), through the Lord’s entire earthly life, during which His face was steadfastly set toward Jerusalem, all has been directed to this hour when the Paschal Lamb (to Pascha —see also 1 Corinthians 5:7; Deuteronomy 16:26) would be offered and the new Exodus (9:31) inaugurated. All of this “must” happen, says Luke, using one of his typical words, dei (cf. 9:22; 13:33; 17:25; 24:7,26,44).
Luke is the only Evangelist to name Peter and John as the two apostles deputed to make the Seder arrangements for Jesus and the apostolic band (verse 8). Luke’s considerable attention to these two apostles (cf. Acts 3:1,3; 4:13,19; 8:14) suggests that they may have been among the chief sources of his information about the events of Holy Week. Indeed, among the three Synoptic Evangelists, Luke’s account most resembles that of John’s Gospel.
Two things are particularly to be noted in verse 10. First, a man carrying water would easily be picked out in a crowd, because in the Middle East this labor was (and is) normally allotted to women. Second, Jesus is portrayed as clairvoyant with respect to the future (cf. also 19:29-30).
One did not simply show up in Jerusalem at Passover time and expect to find a suitable place for the Seder, because the holy city at such a time was crowded with thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, and accommodations were precious. In such a setting, nonetheless, Jesus was provided with a “large room upstairs” (verse 12).
The preparations made by Peter and John included obtaining a sacrificed lamb from the Temple and procuring wine, unleavened bread, and the other foods requisite for the Seder (cf. Exodus 12:1-27).