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.
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Sunday, August 28
1 Timothy 6:1-12: Besides those social relations created by the structure of the Church itself, there were specific social relations that were brought into the Church from outside.
One of these was the relationship between slave and master, a relationship potentially problematic and sufficiently complex to be addressed several times in the New Testament (verses 1-2; 1 Corinthians 7:21-22; Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; Titus, 2:9-10; Philemon, passim; 1 Peter 2:18-21). In the present text, verse 1 deals with Christian slaves under pagan masters, and verse 2 treats of Christian slaves under Christian masters.
We cannot fail to note that Paul is not offended by the social inequalities inherent in slavery. Indeed, he takes these inequalities for granted, because the Gospel contains no mandate to dissolve all the political and social inequalities in the world. Paul endeavors, rather, to apply the principles of the Gospel to the world as he finds it, not as a social reformer might want it to be. Although Paul affirmed that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female" (Galatians 3:28), he showed not the slightest democratic impulse. Although he insisted that "you are all one in Christ Jesus," this truth never posed itself to his mind as a basis for an egalitarian political or social system.
In the present instance Paul was concerned that the Christian slave not bring the Church into disrepute by disrespecting his pagan master, and that the Christian slave not use his standing in the Church as an excuse for disrespecting his Christian master.
Monday, August 29
1 Timothy 6:13-21: The epistle closes with a rousing pastoral exhortation, of the sort useful for ordination services. The expression "man of God" places Timothy in an impressive line that included Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1) and other prophets (1 Samuel 2:27; 1 Kings 12:22; 13:1). He must remember the profession (homologia) that he made at his baptism (verse 12), a profession related to the homologia that Jesus made in the presence of Pontius Pilate (verse 13).
This profession (cf. Hebrews 3:1; 4:14; 10:23) is our first explicit reference to the recitation of a creedal formula at the time of baptism. From the closing verses of Matthew we know that the earliest baptismal creed (like all the later ones that followed it) was Trinitarian in structure and content.
Verses 15-16 seem to be borrowed from an early Christian hymn (cf. also 1:7; 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13).
Timothy's task as a pastor was essentially conservative. He was to hand on, intact and carefully guarded, the "deposit" (paratheke) that he had received. He was, therefore, to eschew, not only "profane and idle babblings," but also the subtleties of argumentative dialectics (antitheseis) that were only a pretence of knowledge (verse 20). Paul manifestly saw the truth of the Gospel in danger of being lost by pastors who replaced it with the working of their own minds (verse 21).
Tuesday, August 30
The Book of Judges: The Book of Judges begins with the word “and,” evidently indicating that it forms a kind of continuation of the Book of Joshua.
In the former book the various areas of the Promised Land were bequeathed by right to Israel's sundry tribes. Now the time has come to conquer those territories, and this chapter briefly recounts the efforts of conquest made by Judah (1:3-21), Joseph (1:22-29), and the other tribes (1:30-36). This narrative reflects the actual political situation that came to pass, namely, the dominance of Judah to the south and of Joseph (Ephraim/Manasseh) to the north.
These efforts of conquest were determined by an “inquiry” made of the Lord (1:1), evidently by following the procedure indicated in Numbers 27:18-21. Indeed, the final verse of that procedure forbade any sort of military action without the prior inquiry's having been taken.
Leading the way, Judah will be the first to “go up” (ya'aleh - 1:2), fulfilling the prophecy of Jacob to Judah in Genesis 49:9: “Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up ('alita).”
Simeon goes with Judah (verse 3), following the pattern set already set in Joshua 19:1-9, which apportioned Simeon's lot with that of Judah. The latter tribe would eventually absorb the former, and this text reflects that later political condition.
The character known as Adoni Bezek (1:4-7) had ruled over seventy other kings. This number, when referring to nations, symbolizes international power. Thus, we find seventy nations named in the Bible's first list of the nations (Genesis 10), and it was for this reason that Jesus, empowering His apostles for universal ministry to the whole world, numbered them at seventy (Luke 10).
Hence, the defeat of Adoni Bezek, the ruler over seventy nations, is of a kind of international significance. Judah, in defeating Adoni Bezek, symbolically frees these seventy nations, a fact of great theological significance. The oppressor of these nations is slain at Jerusalem (1:8), where God will, in due course, defeat by the power of the Cross those demonic forces of which Adoni Bezek is both an instrument and a foretype.
Wednesday, August 31
1 Peter 1:13-25: This section is an invitation to hope (verses 13,21). Christian hope is sustained by a twofold consideration. First, it is inspired by the final goal of the life in Christ (verses 13-17), and second, by the initial grace of the life in Christ (verses 18-21).
With respect to the first, hope is directed to the final “revelation of Jesus Christ,” his “being made visible” (apokalypsis-verses 7,13; 4:13). Relying “completely” (teleios) on this hope, believers refuse to conform to the deeds of their past, aware of their responsibility to be holy, even as God is holy (verses 14-16; Leviticus 19:2; 18:1-5,30; Clement of Rome, To the Corinthians 29.1-30.1).
In the New Testament the expression “be not conformed” (me syschematizesthe, in which we observe the English word “schema”) is found only here (verse 14) and in Romans 12:2-“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (We observe in passing that both of these works are associated with the church at Rome.) No less than the Chosen People of old, Christians are called to be a holy people in the midst of an unholy world. The latter is characterized by “ignorance” and “passions” (verse 14). We may compare this passage with 1 Thessalonians 4:5-“not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
Christians are reminded that God's judgment discerns the difference between His “holy ones” (“saints”) and the world (verse 17). In view of this divine discernment, Christians are to be ever mindful of the coming judgment (Romans 14:10-11; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 4:4; 2 Corinthians 5:10-11). Christian hope is not without this appropriate “fear” (en phobo-verse 17; cf. 2:18; 3:2,16; Acts 9:31).
The one who “ransoms” or “redeems” us is God (verse 18). This image is a figure of speech taken over largely from the Book of Isaiah, which habitually speaks of the Lord “ransoming” or “redeeming” His people from the Babylonian Captivity (Isaiah 41:14; 43:1,14; 44:6,22-24; 47:4; 48:17,20; 49:7,26; 51:10; 52:3,9; 54:5,8; 59:20; 62:12; 63:4,9). When the Lord “redeemed” or “ransomed” Israel from Babylon, it was not a commercial transaction. There was no quid pro quo. When the Lord is called Israel's “redeemer” (go'el), therefore, the word is being used in a metaphorical religious sense.
It is in this sense that the present passage, following the lead of Isaiah 53, speaks of our “redemption” through the blood of Jesus (verse 19; Mark 10:45-once again, both texts associated with the church at Rome). While we say that the blood of Jesus was the “price” of our redemption, it would be a violation of the religious metaphor to inquire “to whom” the price was paid. Such an inquiry turns the image into a matter of commercial use.
The redeeming by Christ was predestined in the very construction of the world itself (verse 20: Romans 16:25-26; Hebrews 9:26; Ignatius of Antioch, Magnesians 6.1).
Thursday, September 1
2 Peter 2:1-12: Having begun with hope, Peter now places the striving for holiness in its full context, which is life in the Church. Christian holiness is essentially incorporation into Christ, which is the being of the Church. Life in Christ is a social life.
For this reason the Christian's initial effort is to purify all his social communications (verse 1). Peter's list of communicative vices contains several that pertain to insincerity, and, by way of countering this. Peter introduces the “genuine” milk appropriate to newborn children (verse 2). Indeed, Peter's participle artigenneta means “just now born,” and their nourishment is associated with the new birth (1:3,23).
Peter's metaphor of milk was common among the early Christians and referent to the catechesis associated with Baptism (1 Corinthians 3:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 2:7; Hebrews 5:13; The Odes of Solomon 8.13-16; 9.1-2). Very early (at least by the second century, but perhaps earlier) this image affected even the liturgical customs at Baptism, when the newly baptized were given a cup of milk mixed with honey (Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition 23.2; Tertullian, Against Marcion 1.14; The Crown 3.3).
By means of this spiritual milk of Christian teaching, we “grow unto salvation” (avxsehete eis soterian). Salvation has to do with growth (cf. Mark 4:8,20; 2 Corinthians 10:15; Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 1:10). Few texts in the New Testament are more emphatic that salvation is the term of a growth, not a once-and-for-all event that is behind us. Salvation still lies before us (1:5,7,9). Drinking milk, therefore, is more than an obligation; it is a need.
Believers, having tasted this milk, know by experience that the “Lord is gracious” (verse 3; Psalms 34 :9; Hebrews 6:5). In Greek this expression, chrestos ho Kyrios, differs in only one letter from “Christ is the Lord”-Christos ho Kyrios. The psalm cited here (Psalms 34, but 33 in the Greek and Latin texts used by the Church) has long been a favorite at the time of receiving Holy Communion (cf. Apostolic Constitutions 8.13.16; Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis 5.20; Jerome, Lettters 71.6), nor is the imagination overly taxed to think that this may already have been the case at the time of St. Peter.
Peter is describing, then, the experience of the Church, so now he turns his attention to describing the theological structure of the Church (verses 4-10). As though he has the entire Psalm 34 (33) in mind, Peter continues, “having come to whom [the Lord]-pros Hon proserchomenoi” (proselthate pros Avton in the LXX of Psalms 33;6).
Peter's joining of these Old Testament passages together, for the purpose of exhortation, was probably already a commonplace in Christian doctrine. For example, the juxtaposition of Isaiah 8:14 and 26:16 (in verses 6,8) also appears in Romans 9:32-33. Similarly, Peter's appeal to Hosea 1-2 (verse 10) is found likewise in Roans 9:25-26. (Once again we remark that Paul's letter to the Romans and First Peter are both connected with the Church at Rome, a matter to be remembered when we find similarities between them.) We suspect that these applications of the Old Testament to the Christian life were standard and pre-Pauline, probably derived from the earliest Palestinian Christian sources.
Friday, September 2
1 Peter 2:13-25: When we have turned to Christ and received His grace, being incorporated into His Church through the Sacraments, we still find ourselves living in the world. More specifically, we still find ourselves someplace in the structures of society, our obligations to that society not whit diminished. Indeed, it may occur to us to inquire just how our responsibilities in society may be altered by our new status as Chrstian believers.
That is to say. How am I, now that I am a Christian, to live as a husband? Or as a wife? Does being a Christian lay some special obligations on me as a son or daughter, perhaps obligations of which I was not aware before? What are my duties, as a Christian, with respect to my being a buyer or seller, an employer or employee? Suppose, indeed, I am a slave. How, as a Christian slave, am I to be different than I was before? In fact, suppose I own slaves. What are my duties to them, whether they are Christian or not? All such concerns about one's station in life fall under the heading that Martin Luther called Haustafel, “household code.”
Since Christians from the very beginning have struggled to understand how the Gospel affects their duties in whatever state they find themselves, it is not surprising, therefore, that early Christian pastors addressed such concerns at length. This is true of the Apostle Paul (Colossians 3:18-4:1; Ephesians 5:22-6:9; 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 6:1-2; Titus 2:1-10), Ignatius of Antioch (Polycarp 4.1-6.3), Polycarp of Smyrna (Philadelphians 4.2-6.3), and Clement of Rome (Corinthians 270-275,286-291). It also appears in standard pre-baptismal catechesis of the period (Didache 4.9-11; Pseudo-Barnabas 19.5-7).
This is the social setting for Peter's treatment of the same theme in the section that we come to now. Even while we are sojourners in this world, he says (2:11), we are still citizens that have obligations to society and the government, including the emperor [Nero!} (verses 13-17). Some of us are servants, with obligations to their masters (verses 18-25). Some are wives, with duties to their homes and husbands (3:1-6), and others are husbands, responsible for the wellbeing of their wives (3:7).
In the present chapter Peter speaks of Christian citizenship under the authority of the State and of Christian servants under the authority of their masters.
Like Paul in Romans 13, Peter reminds Christians that all legitimate authority in this world comes from God and must not, therefore, be disdained by those who believe they have a higher and more immediate access to God. They are to obey the government “for the Lord's sake.” That is to say, they will be no less good citizens than non-Christians, but their motivation will be directed to Christ, as the true author of all legitimate authority in this world (verses 13-17).
This exhortation stands even today as a warning to those Christians that seem ever to be going out of their way to pick fights with legitimate governments, always, of course, appealing to the testimony of their conscience. Like Paul, Peter prefers cooperation with the government when possible, not making government's life more difficult than it already is.
Even bolder is Peter's exhortation to the servant, under legal obligation to a master (who, in many cases, surely, was not a Christian). These servants he reminds that God's own Son became a servant for our sake and suffered indignities gladly out of love for God (verses 18-25).
Saturday, September 3
1 Peter 3:1-12: In the first few verses Peter finishes his treatment of the Haustafel from the previous chapter.
He begins with the wives, whom he exhorts to be submissive to their husbands. This is to be the case, says Peter, even in those cases where the husband is an unbeliever (verse 1). (This is the situation in which a woman already married becomes a Christian. In no case may a Christian woman actually marry an unbeliever-2 Corinthians 6:15-18.) In this case, as in the case of a Christian living in civil society (2:15), Peter hopes for the good influence of the believer on the unbeliever.
Peter probably intends some of his comments here to pertain to Christian women generally, and not just to wives. This is surely the case respecting chastity and modesty (verse 3-5). His concern in this regard is similar to that of Isaiah (3:16-24), who apparently enjoyed poking fun at the way the women in the eighth century loved to preen themselves.
In spite of Abraham's frequently unhappy home life, much of it caused by wife's dramatic mood swings, Peter still holds out for Christian wives the example of Sarah (verse 6). This is not the only time in the New Testament where Sarah is “given a pass” (cf. Hebrews 11:11 compared with Genesis 18:12-15).
Christian husbands are to be good husbands precisely because they are Christians (verse 7). What is owed to the wife is “honor,” and this because she is “weaker.” This does not refer physical weakness generally (and certainly not to any alleged intellectual or moral weakness in women, something that only an inexperienced fool would fancy), but to a certain delicacy in the female. Peter is quietly presuming that a woman's constitution, which is far more “complicated” than a man's, renders her inherently more vulnerable to danger, much like the delicacy of an expensive vase. Indeed, Peter even uses the metaphor of a “vessel.” This is a dining room vessel, not a ship. Certain things of beauty and delicacy in the home are given special honor. Wives are to be treated in a similar way by Christian husbands. They are NEVER to be handled roughly, not even in thought and most certainly not in word.
The affection, respect, deference, courtesy, compassion, and tenderness necessary to life in the home is to be extended to the larger home of the Church, and thence to the rest of society (verses 8-9). This effort will be expressed in a stern control of one's tongue (verse 10) and the steady quest to create atmospheres of peace (verse 11). Blessing must cover all things (verse 9). (I refer the reader here to the Book of Ruth, where he is counseled to count the constant blessings that its sundry characters heap on one another. Christians must pass up no opportunity to bless.)
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