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.
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Sunday, January 1
Amos 5: To the prophetic eye of Amos the downfall of Samaria is so imminent that he speaks of it as already accomplished (verses 1-2). The impending devastation will bring about a dramatic decline in population (verse 3).
The next several lines (verses 4-6) are arranged in a chiastic structure:
A--seek Me and live (verse 4)
B--not Bethel (verse 5)
A'--seek Me and live (verse 6)
Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were all ancient cultic shrines founded by the Patriarchs (Genesis 21:33; 26:23; 28:10; 46:1-5), at which unfaithful Israel has been accustomed, says the prophet, to ˝seekţ (darash) guidance for individual decisions (cf. Exodus 18:15). However, this seeking has not been a search for God Himself, who is found only through repentance and a ˝lifeţ of communion with Him.
The poet Amos engages in paranomasion: ˝Gilgal shall go into exileţ--Haggilgal goleh yigleh.
The ˝house of Josephţ (verses 6,15) is synonymous with the northern tribes, since the two largest of them, Ephraim and Manasseh, are descendents of Joseph (cf. 6:6).
An understanding of verses 10-17 should start with the awareness of the city gate (verses 10,12) as the normal place of adjudication and the administration of justice. Israel is here condemned for its perversion of justice by the oppression of the powerless. The poor and oppressed man knows better than to seek justice in such a court (verse 13).
The final part of this chapter (verses 18-27) is a second ˝woeţ (hoy--verse 18). It contains the Bible's first instance of the expression ˝the day of the Lord,ţ meaning the day of the Lord's judgment. This is the significance of the expression in the rest of prophetic literature (Hosea, Isaiah, Zephaniah).
Like the other prophets of the eighth century, but most notably Isaiah, Amos condemns empty worship that has become a mere formality (verses 21-23), separated from the social demands of the moral life (verse 24).
Like Hosea (2:16) and Jeremiah (21:1-3), Amos looks back on the period of Israel's wandering in the desert as the golden age of its worship (verse 25). This fact shows that Amos does not condemn ritual worship in itself, but only the moral perversion thereof.
Monday, January 2
Amos 6: This short chapter is the prophet's third ˝woe,ţ which foretells destruction and exile for the socially irresponsible, pleasure loving, and self-satisfied rulers of both Israel and Judah (verse 1). If they doubt Amos this point, let them consider the plight of other unjust nations (verse 2).
There is a chronological problem here, inasmuch as all three of these cities were destroyed after the lifetime of Amos (Calneh in 738, Hamath in 720, and Gath in 711), though he speaks of their destruction as something that his listeners can go and inspect for themselves. Since this latter consideration seems to exclude the possibility that Amos is simply speaking of a future event in the past tense (which, as we have seen, he sometimes does), it is likely the case that a later editor of this book may have adjusted verse 2.
The northern tribes-that is, Joseph-yet enjoy their luxurious living (verses 4-6), but not for long (verses 7-8). The prophet's reference to a feast conducted during ˝the affliction of Josephţ puts the attentive reader in mind of Genesis 37:23-25-˝So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat a meal.ţ
The people's exile will be preceded by siege and famine (verses 9-11).
By his rhetorical questions (verse 12) Amos appeals to the people's sense of what is normal, conceivable, and possible. Horses and oxen need soil, not rock, on which to walk and work. Israel is showing less sense of reason than these dumb beasts.
Tuesday, January 3
Amos 7: Each of the next three chapters contains at least one ˝vision,ţ in which Amos perceives various dimensions of his own vocation and the divine judgment to which the Lord has summoned him to bear witness.
The first of these is a vision of locusts, one of man most threatening natural enemies (verses 1-3). In response to the intercessions of the prophet, this plague is canceled.
The second vision is the brush fire, another formidable enemy of man (verses 4-6). Once again the people are spared by God's mercy at the intercession of Amos.
The third vision is the plumb line (verses 7-9), an instrument designed to determine ˝uprightness.ţ This tool is a metaphor for the standard of righteousness that will guide the divine judgment. Whereas the locusts and the brush fire were images of irrational destruction, the plumb line is the symbol of objective, detached assessment. Amos here does not pray. Plumb lines, like all instruments of measure, enjoy a dispassion and objectivity that are without remorse or personal feelings.
It appears that Amos has been sharing these visions with the folks gathered at the shrine Bethel, because now the apostate priest at that shrine complains to King Jeroboam II (786-746) about the prophet's activities and his message (verses 10-11). This priest also reprimands Amos, telling him to head back south where he came from (verse 12-13). Amos suffers the usual accusation leveled by insecure governments-conspiracy.
By way of response the prophet tells of the rural circumstances and agricultural conditions of his calling (verses 14-15), adding a few choice words about what the accusing priest might expect in the near future (verses 16-17).
Wednesday, January 4
Amos 8: The prophet's fourth vision is the basket of summer fruit (verses 1-3). The message associated with this vision, although perfectly clear to the first hearers of Amos, is a bit difficult to grasp without recourse to the original Hebrew. The summer fruit (qayis) suggests ˝ripenessţ (haqes), the sense being ˝the end is nigh.ţ This is a reference to the imminence of ˝the day of the Lord.ţ
Greed and a worldly spirit have been the dominating sins of the people who suffer the accusations of Amos. They have kept all the proper religious and liturgical rules. They would not think of violating the prescribed days of rest, such as the weekly Sabbath and the monthly New Moon (Numbers 28:11-15; Colossians 2:16), but what good has come of it? It has simply provided them with more leisure to plot new ways of acquiring unjust gain! Their perfectly observed religious practices have had no beneficial influence on the quality of their hearts, which are still consumed with greed and the relentless acquisition of wealth at the expense of the needy and the weak (verses 4-6).
Amos describes the punishment destined for these offenders (verses 7-10). In this description Amos reminds his listeners of the awful darkness they had all beheld during the total eclipse of the sun over the Holy Land on June 15, 763 B.C.
Thursday, January 5
Amos 9: The prophet's final vision is the altar at which the Lord stands to commence the day of judgment (verses 1-6). This is apparently the altar in the shrine at Bethel. The burden of this message is that no one will escape the judgment of God, for the whole universe belongs to Him, and no one can hide from His presence.
The closing verses introduce a reassessment of the very notion of Israel as God's ˝chosenţ people. Chosen for what? For privilege? Hardly. For responsibility, rather, at which the people have abjectly failed. It has become obvious to Amos that if God chose Israel, it was for reasons larger than Israel, which has so thoroughly repudiated the implications of His choice. The history of all nations, in fact, is under His sway, and the history of Israel fits into the larger designs of His heart.
For that reason the destruction of Samaria is not the end of God's interest in the world. Judah yet remains (verse 8), and God has other purposes in mind in the sometimes violent sifting process of history (verse 9).
The Northern Kingdom was never party to an independent covenant. The house of David was, however, and the Lord will honor that covenant (verse 11). Christian readers correctly see in this proclamation the promise of the Messiah, in whom will converge all the developments of history.
Thus, the nations condemned in the opening two chapters of this book are blessed on its final page.
Friday, January 6
Matthew 2:1-12: Matthew's Gospel contains ˝trial scenesţ near both the beginning and the end. Indeed, the messianic trial before Pilate (27:11,29,37) already commences in today's reading about Herod. Both trials have to do with ascertaining the true King of the Jews. (Herod, no son of David, was an Edomite usurper.)
Gathered together with Herod we already see those who at the end will reject and condemn their Messiah - ˝the chief priests and the scribes of the peopleţ (2:4). This is the first assembly of the Lord's enemies.
We also see in today's reading the first Gentile converts to the Lordship of Jesus. They come "adore" (proskyneo Him. This corresponds to the final scene in Matthew where the disciples, in this identical act of adoration (28:17), receive the mandate to go out to all nations and make disciples of them. Today's visit of the Magi is the forewhadowing of that great commission.
Saturday, January 7
Hebrews 6:1-12: Today's reading refers to those initiated into the Christian Church, when it speaks of ˝those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.ţ From the earliest times, believers have joined the Christian Church through the rites of Baptism (still called Holy Illumination among Eastern Christians), the Gift of the Holy Spirit (called ˝Chrismationţ in the East and ˝Confirmationţ in the West), and the Holy Communion. All three of these rites take place in the context of the proclamation of the Holy Scriptures, in which we ˝tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.ţ
What is striking in this description of Christian initiation is the emphasis on the enjoyment of the things of God and the pleasure derived from sharing them. The things we do in the Church-the experience of prayer, the participation in the Sacraments, the proclamation of God's Word-are portrayed as events that bring joy to our hearts, matters that only a terribly perverse person would deprive himself of.
The Sacred Text hints, moreover, that this enjoyment is but a first taste of something greater, described as ˝the age to come.ţ
How do we explain the thinking of Christians who have never learned to love the things of God? They confess willingly they find no delight in prayer, no joy in the Sacraments, no relish in the singing of hymns, no consolation in the reading Holy Scripture.
Because these matters demand discipline--they are what we call acquired tastes-it is understandable that some souls do not yet enjoy them.
What is not comprehensible, at least to me, is why these same souls still want to participate in ˝the age to come.ţ If they do not relish God's Word, what makes them think that they will care much to meet the Author? If they find no joy on earth from eating the Bread of Angels, how do they imagine it will be more enjoyable in heaven? If they even now here with great reluctance the invitation, ˝Let us pray,ţ why would they want to hear the invitation, ˝Enter into the joy of Thy Lordţ?
If worship and the things of God are not sweet to us now, what makes us think we will enjoy them in heaven? If we find nothing but a burden in the brief time we spend worshipping on earth, how shall we endure the everlasting worship of heaven? If we now find onerous the bare nibbling of pleasures of heaven, what shall we feel when the whole banquet is spread out before us?
An important task facing us in this life is the development of our spiritual taste buds. The call to repentance is God's summons to us to take possession of our own hunger. Only gradually will this be done. Day by day, and only as we deliberately cultivate the process, will the Holy Spirit give us a deep relish for God, for worship, for contemplation, for the Sacraments and the inexhaustible wealth of Holy Scripture. Day by day we will learn to taste and see that the Lord is sweet.
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