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.
The Daily Reflections will be updated weekly.
Please report any problems with Daily Reflections here.
Sunday, November 27
Revelation 2:18-29: Thyatira, the modern Akhisar, was a city more modest than the previous three. The church in that city, too, was praised for its works, love, service, faith, and patience (verse 19).
Notwithstanding that praise, the congregation was tolerating in its midst the activities of a pseudo-charismatic woman whom John likened to the ancient Queen Jezebel of Israel, the Phoenician feminist responsible for so many of the ills condemned by the prophet Elijah in the ninth century B.C. (verse 20). The moral offenses of the woman at Thyatira, which included the advocacy of sexual sins and the eating of food sacrificed to demons, seem
similar to those of the Nicolaitans, but in the present case John took care to single out an individual rather than to talk about a group. Against her he prophesied a dire judgment (verses 22-23). This woman seems also to have been a sort of mistress of the occult, here called "the depths of Satan" (verse 24).
But John does not condemn that woman alone; he speaks very critically, in addition, of the church that tolerated her (verse 20). Toleration, which everywhere today is regarded as a virtue to be cultivated, is everywhere in the New Testament regarded as a vice to be avoided (for example, Romans 1:32). In the instance studied here, the church at Thyatira was permitting a very forceful woman, who claimed the authority of a prophetess, to bring moral havoc into the congregation. Perhaps they were intimidated by her influence, or simply reluctant to deal harshly with someone of the female sex. John, as we see, suffered from neither that intimidation nor that reluctance. In the present text he accomplished the moral equivalent of that robust defenestration suffered by the aging Phoenician princess of Samaria an the unforgettable day that Jehu came a-riding.
Monday, November 28
Revelation 3:1-6: In antiquity Sardis had been the capital city of the famous Croesus, king of Lydia, and in Persian times it was the greatest city of Asia Minor, linked by a major highway to the Persian capital of Susa. Its acropolis was so high and well fortified that the city was nearly impregnable. In fact, it was never taken by direct assault. It was captured twice, however, both times by sneak attacks, once by Cyrus in 546 and once by Antiochus the Great in 218.
It is against another surprise attack that John warns the people of Sardis now (verse 3), using an image found elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 24:43; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Truth to tell, lack of vigilance was a great problem in the church at Sardis, part of its more general condition of laziness and despondency. After all, John does not mention a single heresy at Sardis. The evil in that congregation was apathy and boredom; the Christians at Sardis were too dead to be sick (verse 1).
Therefore, John summons them to vigilance (verse 2). Very few Christians in Sardis have measured up, he says (verse 4), and the others are in danger of being removed from “the Book of Life” (verse 5; cf. also 17:8; 21:27). This latter image is not a metaphor for eternal predestination, precisely because the names in it can be removed from it.
The Book of Life is, rather, a register of the citizens of heaven, and the metaphor of a possible erasure testifies that the names written therein, as long as those who bear those names still live on earth, can be removed. There is no question, then, of some sort of eternal roll call already fixed and unchangeable, independent of the choices each man makes in his own heart during the course of his life. As long as he is on this earth, there always remains the possibility that a man's name may be erased from the Book of Life.
Tuesday, November 29
Revelation 3:7-13: This is the most cheerful, complimentary, and optimistic of the letters to the seven Asian churches. Not one word of criticism is directed to the Christians at Philadelphia. On the contrary, they are twice praised for their perseverance (verses 8,10).
The problem at Philadelphia is external, involving conflict with the local Jews (verse 9), the sort of problem we saw at Smyrna. “The key of David” (verse 7) alludes to Isaiah 22:22, where Eliakim is described as having exclusive power of the keys. A minister with this power was the man who decided who would and who would not be admitted to the royal presence. In describing Jesus in this way, John asserts that if anyone wants to go to God, he must go through Jesus. This emphasis on the unique mediation and finality of Christ is common throughout the New Testament.
The Christian congregation at Philadelphia was evidently small and of limited resources, but we gain the impression that it was about to make significant missionary gains (“open door” - see Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3). Also, there will soon be a trial (verse 10), and those who overcome in that trial will receive the name of God and the name of New Jerusalem (verse 12), the holy city that comes down from heaven (21:2; Galatians 2:9).
St. Paul contrasts the new Jerusalem with the now Jerusalem (he nun Hierousalem), which is simply a city in Palestine (Galatians 4:24-25). By the time that John wrote the Book of Revelation, he latter city, the earthly Jerusalem, had already been destroyed by the Romans.
Wednesday, November 30
The Feast of Saint Andrew: Because of the narrative sequence in John 1:35-40, the Apostle Andrew is remembered in Christian history as “the first-called.” He also deserves to be remembered, however, as “the first-calling,” because he immediately introduced his brother Peter to the Lord (1:41-42).
Indeed, as he is portrayed in the Gospel according to John, Andrew seems to have enjoyed a special gift of bringing other people to Jesus. Thus, when some Greek-speaking pilgrims approach Philip (the only other apostle with a Greek name), asking to see Jesus, Philip immediately went to Andrew as the man best able to arrange the meeting (12:21-22).
Andrew is recalled in the Christian memory as a gentle man, a person easy to approach and comfortable to be with. He was the apostle, for example, who was able to identify, in a crowd of five thousand men, the little boy who had five little fish and two barley buns (6:8-9).
After the Lord's Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit, Andrew preached the Gospel north of the Black Sea between the Danube and the Tanais, the area known in antiquity as Scythia (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 3.1.1). Theodoret of Cyr (On the Psalms 116) says that he also went to Greece. This corroborates the testimony of Gregory Nazianzen, who speaks of him visiting Epirus, on the western coast of Greece (Orationes 35). Later stories place him further north, even Kiev and the frontiers of Poland.
The old sources agree, however, in placing his martyrdom at Patrae in Greece, where he was buried. In 357 his body was removed to the new Church of the Apostles in Constantinople, and in 369 an abbot named Regulus brought an arm of St. Andrew from Constantinople to the monastery of Abernathy on the Fife in Scotland. On this site is now the city of St. Andrew's, and St. Andrew has always been the patron saint of Scotland.
The rest of St. Andrew's relics lay in Constantinople until the sacking of the city of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. In 1210 the crusaders brought his bones to Italy, and his head was presented to Pope Pius II in 1461. In an act of ecumenical charity, Pope Paul VI restored the head of St. Andrew to Patrae (Patrasso) in 1966.
Although the observance of November 30 as the feast of St. Andrew is probably older than the observance of December 25 as the birthday of our Lord, there is a great deal of poetic propriety that the feast of this saint introduces us to Advent, the time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah. In the West this season always begins on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew, the saint remembered best for his ready access to Christ our Lord.
Thursday, December 1
Revelation 3:14-22: We commented, with respect to the church at Philadelphia, that John had no criticisms to make. Writing to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pegamos, Thyatira, and Sardis, he paid some compliments and made some criticisms. Now, however, writing to the Christians at Laodicea John has nothing at all encouraging to say! He is unable to find a single item for which to praise that church. To John's thinking, the church at Laodicea is simply a lackluster group of slackers living in an affluent, self-satisfied society. Although this church was been evangelized by Paul's companion Epaphras (Colossians 4:12-13), it has lost its fervor and is now mediocre (verse 16).
The city itself is famous for three things: (1) large banking interests, (2) a thriving textile industry, and (3) a special eye-salve that the great physician Galen called “Phrygian powder.” John alludes to all three things in verse 18, where the church at Laodicea is told to come to God for (1) gold refined in the fire, (2) clothing to cover its nakedness, and (3) a special anointing of its spiritual eyes. The Laodiceans must admit, in short, that they are “poor, blind, and naked” (verse 17).
There are three points of Christology to note in this letter to Laodicea: (1) Christ in the past; the relationship of Christ to creation (verse 14; cf. Colossians 1:15-18; Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:3). (2) Christ in the present, exhorting and inviting His Church, communing with those who open to Him (verses 19-20; cf. 19:9; Luke 22:28-30). (3) Christ in the future, rewarding those who vanquish in His name (verse 21; cf. Matthew 19:28). The image of the divine throne appears over forty times in the Book of Revelation.
Firday, December 2
Revelation 4:1-11: This scene portrayed is the throne room of heaven, where all God's holy ones (for such is the meaning of "saints") are engaged in the eternal worship. In Chapters 2 and 3 John has warned the Christians of the seven churches of Asia that judgment is imminent. He has endeavored to strengthen them for an impending outbreak of chaos and disorder.
In the present chapter, John turns their vision on high, to the throne of God, which is the source of all order. Like Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and other prophets, John slips into an ecstatic trance, a rapture in which he is seized by the Holy Spirit. He hears a voice, and a mysterious door opens (verse 1). He is introduced to the heavenly worship before God's throne (verse 2), over which is the rainbow of the covenant (verse 3; Genesis 9:12-17). The dominant color is green, the symbol of spring and hope.
As in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:23), which was modeled, after all, on the heavenly throne room, there is "a sea of glass, like crystal" (verse 6), symbolizing the chaos over which the Holy Spirit brooded in Creation. Other details remind us of Isaiah 6 (which is also read today) and Ezechiel 1. This should not surprise us, because in all of Holy Scripture we are dealing with the same God and the same heaven. The hymn, with which the chapter closes, concentrates on Creation. Recall that this vision takes place on Sunday (1:10), the first day of Creation.
Saturday, December 3
Revelation 5:1-14: Because the earliest Christians were Jews, their experience of worship was tightly tied to the experience of the synagogue style. In the weekly worship at the synagogue, a special liturgical moment came when a reader took the Sacred Scroll of God's Word, opened it, read it to the congregation, and then explained it.
For Christians, this solemn rite held a particular significance, because those Christians believed that the Words of Sacred Scroll were completed and fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah. Thus, the opening, reading, and interpretation of the Sacred Scroll was regarded as a symbol of what Jesus accomplished in His ministry, death, and resurrection.
There is a story bearing this symbolism in Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus Himself tool, read, and interpreted God's Word in the synagogue at Nazareth, finishing by referring the entire Text to himself. That Lukan passage at the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry forms a literary inclusion with the action of Jesus at the end of Luke, where the risen Lord explains the meaning of Holy Scripture to the Church by referring it to His own ministry, death, and resurrection (24:25-27,32).
That is to say, the Church believes that the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ the Lord has an exegetical quality; it is interpretation in act. This primitive conviction of the Christian faith that only Jesus can “open the Scroll” is at the heart of what John now sees in the throne room of heaven (verse 7). The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, can open this Scroll precisely because He died and rose again (verse 9). This Lamb “stands” before God, standing being the proper posture of a priest (cf. Acts 7:55-56; Hebrews 10:11).
While the image of Christ as the Lamb is fairly common in the New Testament (John 1:29,36; 19:36; Acts 8:32; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19), it is utterly dominant in the Book of Revelation, where it appears twenty-eight times. The Lamb in Revelation 5 stands in His immolated, mactated state, “as though slain,” still bearing in His flesh the wounds of His Passion (cf. John 20:25,27). This picture of Jesus as the wound-bearing Lamb, opening the Scriptures, is strikingly parallel to that of the risen Lord at the end of Luke's Gospel (Luke 24:38-46).
In this scene “the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb” (verse 8) in the posture of adoration. This is the posture that we commonly find people assuming in the presence of Jesus in the gospel stories, but more especially in the Gospel according to Matthew (cf. 2:2,8,11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9). Jesus is adored as equal to the Father.
Likewise, two of the three short hymns in this chapter are addressed to Christ. The first is called a “new song,” an expression derived from the Book of Psalms and Isaiah 42:10-13. It is a “new song,” not in the sense of the “latest hit,” but because it comes from and gives expression to the definitive newness of life given us in redemption. The new song is of a piece with our new name, the new heaven, and the new earth. This is the eternal newness purchased by the blood of Christ (verse 9), who makes us kings and priests (verse 10; cf. 1:5-6; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Exodus 19:6).
He has drawn us “out of (ek) every tribe and tongue and people and nation”; this idea appears repeatedly in Revelation (79; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15) and is largely inspired by the Book of Daniel (3:4,7; 5:19; 6:25).
In verse 11 the whole choir of heaven joins in the “new song” of the twenty-four elders who ascribe seven things to the Lamb (verse 12), and in verse 13 the whole of creation follows suit. This hymn extends the praise of God in Chapter 4 and joins the Lamb to that praise, in which heaven and earth are united in a common worship. To understand the significance of this common worship, we should bear in mind that the context of these visions is the Church at worship in the Sunday Eucharist (cf. 1:10). These hymns in Chapters 4 and 5 were surely sung by the Church on earth as well as the Church in heaven
Copyright © 2004 by the Fellowship of St. James. All rights reserved.
Home - Mere Comments - Daily Reflections - Store - Speakers & Conferences - Archives - Contact Us